Inside historic London mansions and stately homes: ornate interiors and striking architecture on show across the capital

·7-min read
Chiswick House  (Alastair Hilton)
Chiswick House (Alastair Hilton)

There is nothing quite like a trip to a stately home on a sunny weekend. Sauntering around grand, beautiful buildings; admiring their lavish furnishings; gazing out onto the immaculate grounds. And, naturally, imagining what it would be like to live there.

Thankfully, there are plenty to visit – and there’s more variety than you might expect. Here are some of the best historical homes in London which are open this bank holiday weekend.

West London: Chiswick House and Gardens

Burlington Lane, Chiswick, London W4 2RP

Chiswick House was a bold architectural experiment when it was built between 1725 and 1738. It was inherited by Richard Boyle, the third Earl of Burlington, who had just come back from a Grand Tour of France and Italy with trunks packed full of paintings and musical instruments and wanted somewhere to show off his art collection and entertain his friends.

Together with architect and designer William Kent, they created a square, symmetrical design based on Italy’s classical architecture, known as neo-Palladian style. It was a divergence from the showy, Baroque design which was popular in England at the time, and went on to influence other buildings in Europe and America.

 (Handout)
(Handout)

That said, if it’s luxury you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. Kent designed the Blue Velvet Room and Red Velvet Room with rich velvet wall coverings, ornate painted ceilings and carved, gilt chairs made to match the proportions of the villa.

In the late 18th century, two new wings to the house were constructed, and some of the house was redecorated in Anglo-French, neo-classical style, intended to exude lightness and elegance.

Don’t miss the Old Masters painting collection, the conservatory with the oldest collection of camelias in Britain, or the gardens, where the English Landscape Movement was supposedly born.

  • Chiswick House is open Thursday to Sunday, 10.00-16.00.

  • Adults £11; children half price. Book online here.

East London: Eastbury Manor House

Eastbury Square, Barking, IG11 9SN

Eastbury Manor is one of the few remaining gentry houses from the Elizabethan era. And it very nearly didn’t make it. The property narrowly escaped demolition in the 1910s, when campaigning spared it from the jaws of the bulldozer.

First known as Estburie Hall, this H-shaped building was constructed between 1560 and 1573 and still looks every bit the Tudor house.

Eastbury Manor narrowly escaped demolition in the 1900s (Damian Griffiths, 2021)
Eastbury Manor narrowly escaped demolition in the 1900s (Damian Griffiths, 2021)

Inside, you can see how the house has changed over time – especially after modifications in the 19th century. The Buttery, for example, where butts and barrels were stored, has been converted into a living room, while the Great Hall, which was originally 40 metres long, has been partitioned – although its impressive fireplace still stands.

There are two tranquil gardens: a herb garden on the west, next to the kitchen, and a walled garden on the east. You’ll find rosemary, lemon balm, marigold and mint in the herb garden, while the walled garden, trapping the heat, enjoys a warmer microclimate.

  • Eastbury Manor House is open on Sundays, 10.00 to 16.00.

  • Adults £7; families £16.50. Free to Barking and Dagenham residents. Book online here.

The characterful attic of Eastbury Manor in east London (Damian Griffiths, 2021)
The characterful attic of Eastbury Manor in east London (Damian Griffiths, 2021)

West London: Osterley Park and House

Jersey Road, Isleworth, Middlesex, TW7 4RB

Situated at the far end of the Piccadilly Line in west London, Osterley House stands in the middle of more than 350 acres of parkland. And, with its grazing Charolais cattle and rolling meadows, it has the feel of being much, much further away.

Built in the 1570s by merchant Sir Thomas Gresham, Osterley House was remodelled to its current neo-classical style in 1761 to serve as an impressive family home.

Inside, you’ll find lavish decorations, friezes and furniture designed by neoclassical architect and designer Robert Adam. Visit The Tapestry Room, where guests would have been entertained, and the State Bedchamber, with its enormous eight-poster bed. Supposedly, this cost so much that Robert Child, the building’s former owner, ripped up the bill after paying it to keep the price a secret.

The aptly named 40-metre Long Gallery houses 49 works of art, and was featured in the films The Young Victoria and Belle.

Outside, there are lakes, meadows, parkland and formal gardens to explore on foot or by bike (available to hire). Picnics are encouraged.

Osterley House also has a popular second-hand bookshop which sells plants grown on the grounds.

  • The park is open 9.00-17.00 and garden 10.00-17.00 every day. The house is open Wednesday to Sunday from 11.00-15.30.

  • Adults £14.50; children £7.20. Book online here.

North London: Forty Hall Estate

Forty Hill, Enfield, EN2 9HA

Built in 1632 by the former Lord Mayor of London, Sir Nicholas Rainton, Forty Hall is a Grade I listed Jacobean building set in its own estate.

As well as a museum with 273 acres of gardens and parkland, the Forty Hall Estate contains the remains of Elsyng Palace, a former home of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth I.

Forty Hall was built to the south of the old Palace, which was demolished in 1656. Today, it is a museum presented as a multi-period house, showcasing features from different centuries.

In the Great Hall, for example, there’s a recreation of Rainton’s elaborate fireplace, painted to mimic walnut, marble and tortoiseshell. Upstairs, you’ll find detailed stained glass windows installed during a renovation in 1896, while the Withdrawing Chamber, used as a breakfast room in the 1800s, is also on display.

In the grounds, there’s an ornamental lake, fishing ponds, a walled garden and pleasure grounds to enjoy.

  • The museum is open Thursday to Sunday, 11.00-17.00. The park is open every day from 8.30-21.30 in June.

  • Free entry. More information here.

South-east London: Beckenham Place Mansion

Beckenham Place Park, Beckenham, BR3 1SY

Once the home of merchant and landowner John Cator, Beckenham Place Mansion has since been reinvented as a people’s palace.

This Grade II listed Georgian building was built for Cator between 1760 and 1762, intended, with its ample parkland, as a pleasant retreat from London.

In 2011, the building’s stable block caught fire, destroying its historic clock tower. With National Lottery Funding, it has thankfully been restored – and in 2016, Copeland, the team behind Copeland Park and Bussey Building in Peckham, took over as caretaker managers of the building.

Today, it’s a community centre, housing artist studios, a wellbeing centre, arts and craft classes and a café, as well as holding regular public events. This weekend, there’s an artisan craft fair, street food festival, vintage market and open studios, which are all free to attend.

Thanks to its restoration, many of the Mansion’s original features are still intact, including the Georgian fireplaces, ornate plastered ceilings and grand formal rooms.

Come for the house; stay for a swim in Beckenham Place Park’s swimming lake, which opened in 2019.

  • Open every day from 8am to 10pm.

  • Prices vary. More information here.

East London: Sutton House

2 and 4 Homerton High Street, Hackney, London, E9 6JQ

At almost 500 years old, Sutton House is the oldest house in Hackney. It was built in 1535 as a home for Sir Ralph Sadleir, who was secretary of state to Henry VIII, but has had many reincarnations since. It has served, for example, as a Victorian school, a church institute during the First World War, a Trades Union office in the 1960s and 70s, and a punk squat –known as the Blue House– in the 80s.

These many evolutions are on display inside, from the Tudor oak-panelled rooms with their original carved fireplaces and windows, to the big, bold artwork upstairs, enduring from the house’s days as a squat.

You won’t get rolling acres of manicured parkland at Sutton House, but it does have an award-winning garden, Breaker’s Yard, named because it was once a car-breaker’s yard. In 2011, it was transformed into a community garden. Some hints of its past still remain in an upcycled 1970s two-storey caravan, and its gates, crafted with more than 1,000 toy cars.

  • Open for tours on Wednesdays and Fridays 11.00-14.00, and Sundays 11.00-15.30.

  • Adults £8; children £4. Half price for Hackney residents. Book online here.

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