Victorian theatre and Stuart Mansion

Today’s jaunt was based on Richmond upon Thames, a borough in the south-west of London. Today known as a pleasant place to live or spend time, Richmond has ancient royal connections. It was originally called Shene (these days spelt Sheen) and in the Middle Ages the Royal Courts were held in Shene Palace. Henry VII rebuilt the latter after a fire and named it after his northern earldom, Richmond. Later, Charles I hunted here on what is today extensive parkland.

Richmond Lending Library
Richmond Lending Library
Once the Free Lending Library and today the central central lending library, it was built in 1880

The town of Richmond was not our intended destination, but we walked through it and enjoyed revisiting the town and some of its historic buildings, such as the 1880s library, shown above.

Richmond Theatre
Richmond Theatre
The successor to Richmond’s previous theatres, this one, now known as Richmond Theatre, was built in 1899

Right next to the library, though younger than it by nearly two decades, is this handsome theatre, dating to 1899. There were two previous theatres in Richmond, including the Theatre Royal (1760s), named after the theatre in Drury Lane of which it was a scaled-down copy. It was pulled down in 1884 to make way for a villa.

Theatre entrance
Theatre entrance
We thought this was as far as we could go with our cameras but,
happily, we were allowed in

The previous theatres had stood on the Green (and had sometimes been known as the Theatre on the Green) but for a new theatre, a new site had to be found. Accordingly, the new theatre was built in 1899, next to the library, on Little Green.

The lobby
The lobby
What some have called “Victorian extravagance” others regard as a fine, rich décor

At first called the Theatre Royal and Opera House, it is today known more simply as Richmond Theatre. It was designed by Frank Matcham, the famous theatre architect.

Chandelier and painted ceiling
Chandelier and painted ceiling
Every surface is decorated with paintings, mouldings or grained stone, giving a luxurious atmosphere as befits the name “Theatre Royal”

Though we were allowed to take photographs, we were confined to the lobby and immediate area. While it is beautifully appointed, this area is quite small and it is hard to get an angle for a wider view of the whole.

Stairway
Stairway
If not to heaven, then at least to the Dress Circle

The combination of stone and dark woodwork characterises the décor and would, I think, be especially effective at night when you enter the lighted interior and feel yourself wrapped in its elegant richness.

Exterior lamp
Exterior lamp
One of the exterior lamps designed to recall flaming torches

We now took a bus towards our next destination. This brought us near parkland called King George’s Field. The area nestles in a curve of the Thames near Ham and Petersham. (If you are interested in old houses you might now guess where we’re heading.)

The Royal Oak
The Royal Oak
The name of this pub echoes the royal theme of the area

We stopped off for refreshments at a handy pub that just happened to be called the Royal Oak, reflecting the royal theme of the area. Afterwards we set out to walk to our goal.

A village street?
A village street?
Once it was open land around here but gradually built up as people moved here from London

There is still a lot of open land in Richmond but it has gradually been eaten up with housing. When the Royal Courts were here, the rich and important moved into the area. Later it was people seeking a better environment than London with the added motive of avoiding the plagues and epidemics.

Street names
Street names
These names have a rural flavour

While some of the houses around here deserve the designation “cottage”, along with these there are more commodious homesteads with grounds to match.

Gate lions Wall lion
Lodge gate
A handsome gatehouse
Lions are a popular motif and so are references to royalty

Walking along rural-seeming roads, passing fine houses and beautiful green open spaces, we eventually came to King George’s Field, a stretch of green parkland that is continuous with the grounds of the place we had come to visit – Ham House.

King George's Field
King George’s Field
This park is continuous with the gardens of Ham House

The Borough of Richmond’s Web site explains the name of the Field thus:

Together with the adjacent riverside playing field, this sports ground takes its name from King George V Trust which made funds available for councils to purchase land for use as sports fields in the 1930s.

The Thames borders King George's Field
The Thames borders King George’s Field
The view of yachts, launches and houseboats along the Thames added a picturesque element to the walk through the Field

As we walked along the path, we could see the bank of the Thames and the various craft moored there. Water always exercises an attraction, I find, and we determined to walk down to the river after our visit to Ham House. In the meantime, we had come within sight of the latter.

A view of one side of Ham House
A view of one side of Ham House
The front was covered with scaffolding and green netting and was not fit to be photographed

The front of the house was covered with scaffolding and green netting, making it unattractive to photograph. The above picture, showing a side view of the house, at least gives an impression of the style of the façade.

Moody Neptune Classicla style bust
Sculptures in the forecourt
A moody looking Neptune presides over the forecourt, lounging on a rock. Around the walls are busts.

A striking scene meets our eyes already in the forecourt, where Neptune lounges majestically if moodily on a rock and classical-style busts line the walls, one of which is shown in close-up above.

The front entrance
The front entrance
Despite the scaffolding, the entrance gives a hint of the splendours awaiting
discovery within

Described as “a treasure trove” and “an extraordinary 17th century survival”, Ham House was built in 1610 but, for our purposes, comes into its own with the third owner, William Murray, in 1626. Murray was a courtier and in fact a personal friend of Charles I, whose whipping boy he had been, a relationship said to create a close bond between the two young men.

The long gallery
The long gallery
A place to walk for exercise on rainy days and to hang portraits of the ancestors, the richest of family albums

Sharing the same tastes as the King and not being short of cash, Murray set about turning the house into a showcase of gracious living in the Stuart age. When Charles (unfortunately, no doubt, from Murray’s point of view) lost his head, Murray had to flee abroad until the Restoration enabled Royalists such as himself to return.

Drawing room
Drawing room
This is just one of the rooms to which visitors might have been admitted and which were designed to show off the owners’ wealth and style

Murray’s eldest daughter Elizabeth took the house in charge during her father’s absence. Intelligent and determined, she continued the work of furnishing and decorating the house and protecting it during the Cromwell era. After her death in 1698, the house remained unchanged as she had left it, providing for us today a priceless historical monument and document.

The Round Gallery
The Round Gallery
This was originally the Great Dining Room until they cut a hole in the floor to give light and space to the entrance hall below

The house as we know it today did not come into being overnight. It evolved over many years, yet somehow converged towards a harmonious whole. As evidence of the process of evolution, we can cite the conversion of the Great Dining Room into a gallery which, impressive in its own right, added light and space to the entrance hall, increasing its impact on visitors.

Pictures everywhere
Pictures everywhere
Pictorial art abounds in Ham House, not only in framed paintings but also in painted ceilings and wall hangings

The Murrays, father and daughter, evidently shared a love of pictorial art. There are paintings everywhere, not only portraits but also scenes from mythology, religious themes and military subjects. There are ceiling paintings, pictorial decorations on furniture and rich wall hangings depicting all sorts of events and peoples.

Family dining room
Family dining room
This is a more intimate setting than the public rooms. Notice the high chair for a child.

There are generally speaking three groups of rooms, firstly those to which visitors are admitted, whether for business or for social events. Examples of these have already been shown. Secondly, there are the more intimate accommodations for family and close friends only, such as the dining room above.

A bedroom
A bedroom
The private apartments, though luxuriously decorated, do not have the same air of conspicuous wealth as the public rooms which are clearly designed to impress

Private quarters have a more intimate feel but are still decorated with careful regard to style. After all, close friends and relatives would have been admitted and the rich elegance of the house as a whole therefore needed to be reflected here. It was becoming the custom to entertain particular friends in places such as dressings rooms which in consequence needed to be properly furnished and decorated.

Not so much a secret door...
Not so much a secret door…
more an entrance for servants and thus a door you pretended wasn’t really there

Most of the doors and doorways in the house are as much interior design features as the rest of the décor, sculpted and painted with care and attention to detail. Here and there, though, one encounters doors intended to blend into the background. These are not secret doors (the door lock is obviously a giveaway!) and much less priests’ holes. They are more likely to give access to the separate corridors and staircases used by servants, doors that are “there but not really there”.

Murray's study
Murray’s study
This small room, relatively plain and unfussy, was Murray’s inner sanctum where he took care of business

The private room that perhaps had the biggest impact on me was Murray’s study. This small room, despite showing the attention to detail that was characteristic of the house as a whole, is relatively plain and unfussy. It is the one where I could most easily imagine that the occupant had just stepped out for a moment and would soon return. Note the manly naval battle scene painted above the fireplace.

The kitchen
The kitchen
A modern day cook prepares food using recipes and methods current in the 17th century

The third group of rooms is that used exclusively, or almost exclusively, by servants. Most of these are, alas, not open to the public, but glimpses of them suggest that they were meanly appointed compared with the family parts of the house. That, of course, was standard for the age when people knew their place and did not aspire to what was not theirs by god-given right.

Chinoiserie cabinet
Chinoiserie cabinet
While the orientalist design of this cabinet stands out, there were
many such “exotic” items in the house.

While I have concentrated on the house and décor, I should mention that the items of furniture show as much care as the rest. Nothing was too exotic for this family yet, somehow it all fits together in a har­mo­ni­ous way. (Pictured below, a table leg.)

Carved table leg

As you enter, you are given a pamphlet to guide you around but this tells you very little. Moreover, the house is so full and complex that it would take several visits to really understand the layout and function of all the parts.

The garden, from a first floor window
The garden, from a first floor window
The formal gardens were designed and made with as much care and attention as the interior of the house

After our visit to Ham House, we naturally gravitated towards the river. We saw terns diving and picking something off the surface of the water (you may just be able to see them in the next picture).

Down to the river
Down to the river
Greenery, boats and terns fishing

Nearby is a small ferry capable of carrying a dozen or so passengers across the water. We were the only customers on our trip but the cheerful ferryman was happy to take us. Then we walked along the shady bank towards Richmond. There was plenty to see here, too, such as…

a duck teaching her ducklings to forage...
a duck teaching her ducklings to forage…

prospecting swans...
prospecting swans…

ladybirds exploring the leaves...
ladybirds exploring the leaves…

Marble Hill House
and Marble Hill House, standing on, well, Marble Hill, I assume.

Marble Hill House is another place to visit, one of these days, a listed 18th century house, built for the mistress of a Prince of Wales, no less.

Richmond Bridge
Richmond Bridge
An elegant 18th century building in its own right

And thus we came to Richmond Bridge, an 18th century listed building, and crossed back to the other side of the river once more. We had coffee in a quiet cafe bar where we were the only customers and then caught the bus for home.

If the visit to Ham House was the highlight, the rest of the day provided many other pleasures, such as seeing the ornate interior of Richmond Theatre, exploring “rural” Ham or taking a gentle stroll along the leafy bank of the Thames to Richmond Bridge. We shall certainly return.

A stroll along the leafy bank of the Thames
A stroll along the leafy bank of the Thames

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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