On Saturday, I finally got around to visiting a place I’ve been meaning to get to for years; Osterley Park, the only stately home owned by the National Trust within the M25. It was given to the nation in the 1940s by its owner the Earl of Jersey, and is a beautiful example of Robert Adam architecture. I’m sure when it was first built, it would have been surrounded by open countryside and a pleasant retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. Unfortunately, it is now very much part of the West London suburbs; the motorway cuts right through the park, it’s directly beneath the flightpath of Heathrow Airport, and it is ringed by streets of identikit semi detached 1930s houses. This does detract somewhat from the impression of grandeur the house creates, but nevertheless, it is still a breathtakingly lovely spot, and a wonderful surprise considering that it is accessed via a perfectly ordinary suburban street.
The house is currently decorated for Christmas, and the curators have done a marvellous job of making the most of the house’s history to show the various ways in which Christmas has been celebrated over time. The tour starts in the Georgian period, with largely natural decorations of laurel, fir and dried fruits decorating the walls, and a lavish feast of pies and meat covers the huge dining table. The rooms then become more like the Christmas we recognise, with beautifully decorated Christmas trees and Christmas carols playing softly to demonstrate a Victorian Christmas. Finally, the tour moves down into the basement, where visitors are transported to the Second World War, and can see how Christmas was affected by rationing. At this time of year, much of the house is closed to the public, but even so, there was plenty to see and we were enchanted with the classical proportions of the house, its tasteful and unpretentious decor, and the inventiveness of the displays on offer.
After our tour, we had a lovely lunch in the restaurant, which has been created within the old Jacobean stables, and then popped into both the secondhand book shop, where I picked up a couple of bargains, and into the regular gift shop, which was heaving with Christmas goodies. Despite the freezing weather, we then went for a stroll around the prettily autumnal grounds, stopping to look at a huge flock of geese and the cows that live on the Park’s farmland, before heading back to the magnificently art deco tube station (via the eccentric Osterley Bookshop). It felt rather strange hopping on a tube just minutes after walking around a stately home; Osterley is quite magical in that respect. It’s a real slice of country life within the city; definitely a place to visit if you’re ever in the neighbourhood.