Kenwood House

 

On the edge of Hampstead Heath sits a beautiful white stuccoed Adam-designed villa, perched atop a hill that provides breathtaking views of the London skyline. Kenwood House dates from the 1600s and would once have been a country home; now it is part of the London suburb of Hampstead, that, though still retaining its village charm, is less than half an hour on the tube from central London. It was bequeathed to the nation in 1927 by Edward Guiness, 1st Earl of Iveagh (who was once Diana Mitford’s grandfather-in-law), and it is an absolutely wonderful treasure trove of sumptuous rooms, gorgeous furniture and impressive paintings, including a Rembrandt self portrait. It is not an overwhelmingly large house; in fact, it’s quite small, considering the amount of land it is surrounded by. It was designed to make the most of the gorgeous views across the Heath, and the sunny, light filled rooms all frame the lovely vistas that unfold from every angle. Every room is a delight, and I especially loved the Orangery, which was absolutely filled with sunshine as one wall is made up of floor to ceiling sash windows. I could have spent all day in there gazing across the Heath, which today was crowned by a bright blue (yet freezing) sky and was an ever changing, swaying mass of lacy branched trees, smudgy brown and green bushes and acres of undulating grass that could have been in the wilds of the Yorkshire Moors rather than a mere stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of Oxford Circus.

Kenwood House has been featured in several films; I recognised it from Notting Hill, in the scene when Julia Roberts is filming a Henry James adaptation and Hugh Grant comes to try and win her back. It really is a magnificent setting, and you would never know you were in the vicinity of London at all until you mount the top of the hill outside the back of the house and are suddenly greeted with the incredible sight of London spread like a blanket before you, its skyscrapers shimmering hazily on the horizon.

As of April, the house will be closed for 18 months to carry out essential restoration, particularly on the servants’ wings. I hope they are going to put back the original features of the servant’s wing and make it into an authentic recreation of the lives of the teeming mass of servants who would have cleaned the miles of corridors and served up sumptuous banquets in the chandeliered dining room. As much as I love wandering through the rooms of stately homes, you never really get a real insight into how real life was lived there. No one can lie with their feet up watching tv on a 17th century silk and gilt sofa surrounded by Rembrandts, can they?! Servants’ quarters show the reality of most people’s lives on these huge old estates and I am looking forward to going back in 18 months’ time to see what the restoration work has revealed.

20 comments

  1. It looks beautiful inside and out. A few years ago I took a study abroad course at King’s College in Hampstead. I was there for five weeks and walked past Kenwood House several times but never went inside. I’m so sorry. The library is beautiful. I’ll definitely put it on the to do list — even though it will be a couple of years before I get the chance again.

      1. It “is” beautiful…so many cute little restaurants and lovely places to walk. The course I took was on the writings of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. I was in seventh heaven the whole time I was there.

  2. That’s so right – about the reality below stairs. Châteaux here are good at showing rows of battered pans and huge pots and so on. Such hard work, probably dangerous at times too.

    Hampstead is one of the best parts of London – I love arriving at the tube station where there are still original architectural details. My very first taste of adult life was working as a mother’s help there when I was 16. Although Hampstead no longer has the same ‘village’ feel, it’s a gorgeous place.

    Thank you for the visit to Kenwood House – I’m glad to see that photography was allowed.

    1. Oh yes – Hampstead tube is beautiful, isn’t it? What I love about Hampstead is that it’s so accessible but it feels so different and chilled out – even the air is fresher! Plus the crazy man bookshop down the little alley just by the tube station is amazing!

      Oops..photography wasn’t allowed but I couldn’t resist…I see a rule and I just want to break it!!😉

  3. I remember visiting Kenwood House in 2009, it’s stunning. I came to it after walking through a patch of the most massive rhododendron bushes ever, they were the size of large houses! It was a Sunday and I remember the bells from two churches ringing and ringing. I drank it all in because the bell tones from our local church are courtesy of a recording played through a loudspeaker, how artificial can you get!?

    1. I can’t believe the story of those bells!! Recorded bells! That’s hilarious!! I bet you loved Kenwood – I thought while I was there that you would have been in raptures at it all!

  4. Oh I am so happy to learn about Kenwood House, another treasure to put on my list of things to see in London. It looks absolutely beautiful and so elegant. i remember visiting Keats House many years ago which is also on Hampstead Heath, I believe. Another treasure and I would love to go back. I love your description of the view of London from the Kenwood House!

  5. When I was a teenager I used to attend outdoor concerts at Kenwood House. I remember one magical evening when Beethoven’s Pastoral was being played, I was lying on a rug, having just had a lovely picnic with friends and the sun setting. Wonderful.

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