A visit to Ham House & Gardens, Surrey

by Jan

Ham House is an elegant 17th century house with a gorgeous setting on the banks of the River Thames in Richmond.  This hidden gem near London has a world-class collection of treasures and one of the best-kept gardens around.

Ham House is one of west London’s finest National Trust houses and one of the few we hadn’t visited.  So, on the final day of our National Trust membership, we headed to Ham,  a delightful village west of Richmond Park.

The Orangery Café

Flowers in Kitchen garden, Ham House, Surrey, UK

As we’d come directly from Kingston, where we’d been trying the new riverside Sculpture Trail, our first stop was at the café.   The Orangery Café is a typical National Trust café, with a choice of light lunches and snacks.

The café was extremely busy on a sunny Sunday afternoon, but we were able to eat al fresco overlooking the Kitchen Garden.  Ham House is extremely dog-friendly, and the kids spent lunch drooling over the many canine visitors.

Walled Kitchen garden, Ham House, Surrey, UK

Feeling sated, we set out to explore the gardens.  The gardens at Ham House have been restored to their former 17th century design.  Even at the end of season, the historic kitchen garden had a delightful selection of flowers, fruit, and vegetables.  The garden not only looks good but provides seasonal produce for the café throughout the year.

The gardens at Ham House

Lavender garden with conical shrubs and white statue seen through a gap in the leaves.

The gardens were originally styled by the Duchess of Lauderdale, who put heart and soul into creating the beautiful outside areas.   They have a formal layout with immaculate symmetry in the terraces, flower beds, pots, and hedges.

It’s easy to understand why they were the filming locations for many period dramas such as Anna Karenina, Sense and Sensibility and Victoria & Abdul.

The furthermost area is a more fluid zone, the Wilderness.  Here you’ll find cosy summerhouses, benches and a network of intersecting avenues just calling out for some hide and seek.

The highlight of the gardens at Ham House is the Cherry Garden at the side of the house.  A statue of Bacchus oversees the stunning rows of lavender and conical bushes in the parterre.  I think it would have looked even more stunning if we’d been a few weeks earlier when the purple was at its most vibrant.

And so to the house……

A brief history of Ham House

Formal Cherry Garden overlooking Ham house, Surrey, UK

Built in 1610, the original Ham House belonged to Thomas Vavasour.  However, the lavish decorations are the design of Elizabeth Maitland, the Duchess of Lauderdale and her second husband.  The house came to Elizabeth from her father, William Murray, who had been gifted the property by Charles I.

Murray became close friends with the king during their student years, when he was Charles’ “whipping boy.”  I had to explain this new term to the kids, but we all agreed we’d take a few beatings in return for this fantastic mansion!

Eventually in 1948, after numerous proprietors, the Tollemach family handed Ham House to the National Trust.  They later restored it to its original splendour and today it has international recognition for its collection of treasures.

Inside Ham House

Ornate Ceilings in Ham House, Surrey, UK

Just like the gardens, Ham House is very symmetrical.  The tour of the house starts in a grand entrance hall with a giant fireplace and black and white marble floor.

An ornate staircase leads to the upper floor where fine art and tapestries adorn the walls.  Throughout the house the furnishings and décor are luxurious and elegant.  William Murray and his daughter accumulated the exquisite collection over many years to impress their distinguished guests.

Drawing room, Ham House, Surrey, UK

What’s great is that today’s furnishings are as it would have been back in their day.  You can see the drawing room and the four-poster bed.  And don’t forget to look up!  The ceilings are amazing.

You can also see the secret passageways that connected to the servants’ quarters.

The Duchess of Lauderdale loved her house so much that she still haunts the property today.  Apparently Ham House is one of the most haunted houses in England and the ghostly duchess has been seen roaming the corridors at night.

Practical information for your visit to Ham House

How to get to Ham House

Ham House is in Ham, near Richmond in south-west London.

It is only 10 minutes from central London and really easy to get to.  One option is by train or by underground on the District Lane.  It is then a gorgeous walk along the river from Richmond (about 1.5 miles).

You can get there easily by car on the M3, M25 or M4, then A307.  There is a free car park a short walk from the estate.

If you’re coming from Twickenham, you could take the foot ferry.

Opening hours at Ham House

The gardens at Ham House are open from 10:00 to 17:00.  Ham House itself is open from 12:00 to 16:00, but not on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Admission is free for National Trust Members.  Click here for admission prices for non-members.  It’s cheaper to go in the winter, but obviously there’s not as much to see outside.

Have you been to Ham House & Gardens?  We’d love to hear your comments below.

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