Ham House can be found situated on the bank of the River Thames, around a mile from Richmond. Supposedly one of the most haunted houses in the country, it certainly doesn’t fail to impress and can easily be visited as a short day trip from London.
A history of Ham House
Having been built in 1610 by Sir Vavasour, an advisor to King Jame’s I, it was then leased to William Murray in 1626. He had been a close childhood friend and ‘whipping boy’ for Charles I. This meant that William was the one who was punished whenever Charles misbehaved.
The idea was that as Charles I was divine, he was unable to be punished by anyone other than his father, the King (pretty sweet deal for Charles if you ask me). Murray was a royalist and so exiled to France during the English civil war. When this occurred, his wife, Catherine took control of affairs.
Upon Catherine’s death in 1649, her daughter, Elizabeth, acquired the house. The house then remained within the same family for the next 300 years before being donated to the National Trust in 1948. In more recent years, the house served as a film location for the ‘Hailsham Boarding School’ in the 2010 film ‘Never Let Me Go‘, starring Keira Knightley and Carrey Mulligan.
The Ham House Guided Tour Experience
I visited Ham House on a Friday and so only had the chance to see the house via a guided tour. On most other days of the week, you have the chance to visit on a self-guided tour, leading to as much time as you want to explore each room!
The reason for Friday being guided tour only is that there are restrictions on the amount of light levels and UV rays that the property can be subject to during the year. Should it be subject to higher levels, it would most certainly deteriorate even quicker.
Guided tour or not, however, Ham House is most definitely still worth a visit – if only to be able to walk through the original oak door that King Charles I himself walked through! After all, as soon as you walk through the 17th-century door into the dimly lit entrance hall, you can’t escape the sudden chill or goosebumps that accompany it.
Highlights of Ham House: Long Gallery
The dimly lit rooms are alive with atmosphere and the house has an inescapable history. What is particularly spectacular about the visit is the long gallery (pictured above) lined with paintings of Murray and his descendants. This is the very room where Murray and Charles would have discussed political matters in the very midst of the English civil war.
There is a real ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ feel to the house and it is possible to see the kitchens and cellars with just a garden ticket. The upstairs/ downstairs feeling is the result of very few passageways connecting the main house to the cellars, and thus ensuring that the tenants would never have had to have seen ‘the help’.
In the basement area, it is possible to see a reconstruction of a 17th-century bathroom. People would only have washed once a month on average! It is also possible to try cider in the cellars; the same type that would have been brewed and drunk in Elizabethan times. Back then, it was believed that the water was so contaminated that weak alcohol was the only beverage available.
Visiting the Ham House Gardens
The gardens are grade II* listed, meaning that they have special protection due to their historical and aesthetic value. While in the gardens, be sure not to miss the herb room. The Herb Still room is not only a rare 17th-century survival but an interesting glimpse into how potions, medicines, and herbs were made and stored prior to the invention of the modern fridge!
Elsewhere in the beautifully landscaped gardens, there’s a walled garden to explore, as well as a fully manicured topiary garden which is perfectly pruned. Should you opt to visit Ham House during the Summer Months when the garden is in full bloom.
How to visit Ham House
Ham House can be found around a mile away from Richmond tube station. As such, you can either take a bus there or walk to the property along Richmond Canal. I’d personally recommend the walk on a sunny day as it’s so pretty and offers an entirely unusual and rarely seen perspective of London!
Just make sure you don’t go on a Friday if you want to guarantee a full exploration of the house. The entrance to the house and gardens cost a small fee. And, as always, this National Trust property is free for national trust members.