Ham House, London: Stuart royalist grandeur near Richmond

In our series ‘A very good house’, we take a tour of the very best houses to visit around Britain. This week: Ham House in Ham, near Richmond in southwest London
Ham House London Stuart royalist grandeur near Richmond

There can occasionally be something suspect about country houses within the M25; after all, the very idea of a country house in the city is counterintuitive. No such worries with Ham House, however, which in grassy Ham near Richmond is set amid muddy meadows a stone’s throw from the river Thames. Those meadows, of course, are divided from the house proper by orderly gardens of 30 acres, and the house is appropriately majestic. The house's grand interiors and gardens can be spotted in the background of many a favourite period film or TV show, and given its rich history and luxurious decoration, we can see why.

Where is Ham House?

Located in Richmond, and just a stone’s throw from the expansive Richmond Park, Petersham and just across the river from Twickenham, this National Trust property is easy enough to get to. It’s just over a mile on foot from Richmond Train station, and drivers will be pleased to know that it’s easily reached from the M3, M4 and M25.

When was Ham House built?

Ham was built from 1610, but was improved and developed by a courtier to James I and VI called William Murray, who had been educated alongside the king and who was given the house by him as a gift in 1626. Murray’s daughter Elizabeth was also key in ensuring its long-term security – a secret Royalist after Charles’ deposition and execution, she maintained good relations with Oliver Cromwell after the Civil War, but continued to correspond with supporters of the prince in France throughout the Interregnum. When he returned to be crowned Charles II, the Murrays were once again in favour, Elizabeth married a close ally of the King, and Ham House became one of the richest houses in Stuart England. Her descendants, the Tollemache family, lived there for the next 300 years.

Relatively few changes have been made to the house since then. Some decorative changes were made in the 1740s, and again in the 1890s, but it’s still broadly a good example of 17th-century taste. Since 1948, it has been in the possession of the National Trust.

View of the 17th-century mansion at Ham House, London

©National Trust Images/John Miller

Who lived in Ham House?

Though the house was originally built for King Charles I, it was soon leased and eventually bought by his close friend William Murray. Following his death, it was his daughter, Elizabeth Murray, who then became the 2nd Countess Dysart and took ownership of the house. Elizabeth retained ownership during the civil war and eventual republican rule of Britain.

Elizabeth lived in the house with her first husband, Sir Lionel Tollemache until 1669. In 1672, Elizabeth married her second husband, John Maitland: The 1st Duke of Lauderdale.

The property passed to Elizabeth’s son, Lionel (3rd Earl of Dysart), following Elizabeth’s death, and continued to pass through the family until finally it belonged to William, 9th Earl of Dysart. With no children, William’s house was left to one of his closest living relatives, Lyonel Tollemache in 1935.

Having suffered significant damage during the war, the house was in disrepair when Lyonel eventually transferred the house to the care of the National Trust in 1948. It has since been restored to its original glory, with furniture reinstated, rooms repaired and the gardens tamed.

What was filmed in Ham House?

The houses' grand exteriors, sprawling gardens and luxurious rooms certainly make for a fantastic filming location for a period drama. Below are some of the many films and TV shows which have made good use of the house as a set:

  • A Little Chaos (2014)
  • John Carter (2012)
  • The Young Victoria (2009)
  • Anna Karenina (2012)
  • Victoria & Abdul (2017)
  • BBC’s Sense & Sensibility (2008)

The alcove in the Queen's Closet at Ham House, Surrey.

©National Trust Images/John Hammond

What are the opening times at Ham House?

The house and its gardens are open throughout the summer, though the hours vary depending on what you’re going to see: the actual house opens at 12pm and shuts at 4pm (last entry is at 3.30pm). The gardens, shop and cafe are open from 10am to 4.30pm.

How much do tickets to Ham House cost?

A standard adult ticket costs £14.00. A child’s ticket is £7.

For more information, visit nationaltrust.org.uk