Hampstead Heath

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Kenwood House

On the northern fringes of Hampstead Heath lies Kenwood House, one of the most glorious country houses in London. Although it appears to be a marvellous whole, it was nevertheless built in two main stages.

The central core of the house was built in the early 18th century. Then in 1754 it was acquired by Lord Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice, and one of the great British lawyers. (It was he who, when a slave was brought before him, made the great judgment that England had always been free, and that when any slave set foot in England, he was automatically free).

Mansfield employed Robert Adams to re-model the house into what we see today. Adams added the great Library in the wing to the right, and the matching orangerie to the left. He also added the third storey to the house, and then stuccoed the whole facade, and applied the central pilasters that give the house its imposing presence.

 

Detail of the front of the house, showing the fine stuccoing applied by Robert Adams.

 

The most magnificent room in the house is the Library, designed by Robert Adams, and occupying a wing at the east end of the house.

 

At the other end of the house is the Orangerie, now restored to its original use as a place for growing Orange trees. For long however it was used as a picture gallery, with a fine Gainsborough portrait of the Countess Howe on the far wall. However there is too much light to display pictures properly, so the pictures are now displayed in the rest of the house.

Kenwood indeed has a very fine picture collection, from Rubens onwards. The finest paintings however are those of the eighteenth century, notably a very fine series of country gentlemen and their ladies by Gainsborough and Reynolds.

For long, Kenwood remained a private residence. However in the 1920s, it was due to be sold off, but eventually it was purchased by Lord Iveagh, the Guinness millionaire, who presented it to the nation, and it is now in the care of English Heritage. Unfortunately however, before Lord Iveagh could buy it, the furniture had already been sold, which is why today it is used as a very fine picture gallery.

 

 

One of the finest features of Kenwood are the magnificent gardens which stretch down to the ponds at the bottom.

To the left, the white of the 'bridge' over the ponds can be seen. This is in fact wholly pseudo: the 'bridge' is just a wooden folly designed to look like a bridge. However English Heritage have built a stage next door to it (not visible from here) where concerts are held in the summer.

The gardens are the work of the second Earl Mansfield, who in 1793 employed Humphry Repton to produce the layout.

 

 

Coach houseJust beyond the house, hidden away, is the old Coach House. Today it is a restaurant and coffee house, where visitors can gain welcome refreshment after their tour of the house.

 

Visit the rhododendrons at Kenwood

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