Twickenham's Marble Hill House reopens on Saturday 21 May, after being closed for restoration for 2.5 years.
The Marble Hill Revived project involved removing over 1,000 historic items — including delicate gilt furniture and historic paintings — from the 18th century Palladian villa while work took place.
Improvements included repainting the exterior, and restoring and repainting the interiors of the building. A lift has been installed to the first floor to make the house more accessible to visitors.
The objects on display have been reinterpreted to tell the story of Henrietta Howard, who was responsible for having Marble Hill built in the 1720s. She's often referred to simply as the mistress of the Prince of Wales, later King George II, but visitors to Marble Hill can now learn more about her in her own right — she was orphaned by the age of 12, ended up in an abusive marriage, and was partially deaf, but still managed to earn a place in the Royal Court.
During the works, several discoveries were made, including evidence of previously unknown doorways. The restoration project also enabled the team to take a closer look at the 18th century grotto in the grounds, which was thought lost until its rediscovery in the 1940s.
In August 2021, archaeologists from Historic England investigated further, uncovering huge lumps of coral, fully intact exotic shells from the Caribbean and a floor encrusted with flint, pebbles and knuckle bone. It's thought that Henrietta Howard herself was responsible for decorating the grotto.
Work to analyse samples from within the grotto continues, and reconstructions will soon be on show for visitors to the house — though the grotto itself isn't open to the public. Of course, it's not the only subterranean fascination in the area —Pope's Grotto, around a mile away, occasionally opens to visitors.
The 66 acres of riverside parkland surrounding the house have been open throughout the project, providing locals with somewhere to enjoy during the Covid lockdowns. Some restoration and improvement work did take place outside, including improving the drainage on the sports pitches, and the planting of 4,000 bulbs and thousands of shrub and native hedgerow plants. The Coach House Cafe in the grounds was also refurbished, and reopened in summer 2021.
Marble Hill House has been closed since autumn 2019, and was originally due to reopen in 2021, but this was delayed to the pandemic.
Marble Hill House reopens on Saturday 21 May 2022 with a weekend of special events. It's free to visit but you need to book in advance. It will open to visitors five days a week for seven months of the year. The Hammerton's Ferry moors up right outside, connecting Marble Hill on the north bank of the Thames with Ham House on the south — or you can incorporate your visit into this Richmond to Twickenham walking route.
Find out more about the Marble Hill Revived project.