Kenwood House? Tick. Kensington Palace? Tick. Syon House? Tick. If you love to explore London's stately homes — but feel like you're running out of options — it's time to sift your way through these.
1. Hall Place
Are these the least scary monsters in London? we once asked of Hall Place's topiary beasts. Anywhere else, a lion with a middle-aged spread, shaved out of a bush would surely be the highlight. At this medieval/Elizabethan/Stuart mansion — nestled between Bexleyheath and Crayford — there are scores of highlights: walls and ceilings slathered in oak beams, minstral galleries, sunken gardens and, er, creepy tin toys. If you stay awake at night worried you don't give this corner of London enough attention, here's your excuse to go.
Hall Place, Bourne Road, Bexley DA5 1PQ. Open year-round, all week
2. Charlton House
They're still unearthing secrets at Charlton House. When we visited, the staff had just drilled their way into a vault, stumbling upon a cache of first world war memorabilia and a sack of milk bottle tops. Though you can't snoop around every nook and cranny (and certainly can't bring your own Black & Decker), this Jacobean mansion does welcome visitors on weekdays throughout the year. Admire the corkscrew hair and beards of the marble figures flanking the fireplaces. Soak up the view from the house described by John Evelyn as "one of the most noble in the world". Tuck into a jacket potato in the Mulberry Tea Rooms. Savour the lack of tourists.
Charlton House, Charlton Road, SE7 8RE. Open year-round, Monday-Friday. There are also regular Friday concerts in the library
3. Crofton Roman Villa
You might argue this house isn't in the best of nick, but then it is over 2,000 years old. At one time, Crofton Roman Villa was a sprawling farmhouse comprised of at least 20 rooms. These days you can view the ruins of 10 of these rooms — complete with Roman concrete (opus signinum if you're showing off), tessellated floors and under-floor heating channels. You'd struggle to make a day out of this (30 mins max will do it), but then how many stately homes have an entrance fee of £1.50?
Crofton Roman Villa, Crofton Road, Orpington BR6 8AF. Open April-October, Wednesday, Friday, first Sunday of the month and bank holiday Mondays.
4. Eastbury Manor
Eastbury Manor was built around 1573, and is one of your best bets for harking back to Elizabethan London. Pace the corridors once inhabited by the wealthy merchant Clement Sisley, and scamper around the garden sniffing the lavender borders, and looking out for bee boles. If you're looking to impress a companion, take them for afternoon tea with fizz at the Butter tearoom. If it goes really well, come back here at a later date to get married.
Eastbury Manor, Eastbury Square, Barking, IG11 9SN. Open sometime in March-sometime in December, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.
5. Down House
Sir David Attenborough (the voice of, anyway) guides you around the former home of Charles Darwin. Pore over objects including Darwin's microscope, notebooks and a copy of Das Kapital inscribed to the world's most famous evolutionist, by Karl Marx. In the gardens, take a stroll along Darwin's 'thinking path', and see if you're hit by inspiration. The pièce de résistance is manuscript pages from Origin of the Species. Although for kids, it might be the dress-up box.
Down House, Luxted Road, Downe, Orpington BR6 7JT. Open year-round, days vary
6. Valentines Mansion and Gardens
A saturated calendar at Valentines Mansion and Gardens includes craft workshops, Victorian kitchen experiences, dress-up days for kids and Christmas carol concerts. Inhabiting the top floor of Valentines, meanwhile, are artist studios, which open to the public on certain days. Gardener's Cottage Café is a culinary world away from your average tea and biccies affair, and the walled garden is one of the prettiest in London.
Valentines Mansion and Gardens, Emerson Road, Ilford IG1 4XA. Open spring and summer, and for special events throughout the year.
7. Southside House
"Not a work of art but something more precious". So writes Simon Jenkins of Southside House, in England's Thousand Best Homes. Like some of the best house experiences in London (think Dennis Severs' House, 18 Stafford Terrace), Southside evokes the lives of those who once lived there. In this case, it's via the gimcrack-laden William and Mary-style pad of the Pennington Mellor Munthe families. The chaotic grandeur of the inside is matched by a woodlandy garden woven with 'secret' pathways. Though the house closes in winter, you can still catch jazz concerts here.
Southside House, 3-4 Woodhayes Road, SW19 4RJ. Open spring-autumn, Wednesday, Saturday Sunday afternoons and bank holidays. Open for special events year-round.