Ham House sits on the edge of the River Thames in Richmond and, having promised ourselves on countless occasions we’d visit this Grade I listed building, we finally hopped in the car and made our way there.
We couldn’t have chosen a better day for it. The sun was shining, it was mothering Sunday and I was feeling the love from my boys. Even the hassle of finding a parking spot nearby didn’t dampen our spirits. After being stuck behind several cars in the minuscule public car park for some time, we managed to scoot into an available space on the road.
The walk up to the Ham House is pleasant, with the river on one side, the path is surrounded by large trees and green spaces – and a view straight ahead to the edges of Richmond Park.
Monkey kept asking where we were heading to, but he was in no doubt as we approached the huge ornate iron gates that surrounds the mansion.
We stood for a while marvelling at the intricacies of this impressive property. Flanked by a Coade stone statue in the foreground, Ham House is a wonderful example of 17th Century architecture – and is home to a vast historic collection of textiles, furniture and paintings dating back over 400 years.
But before we discovered the treasure trove inside, Monkey wanted to explore the grounds. After veering off to the right of the house, we came upon the Orangery Café, which was heaving with hungry customers. We were all a bit peckish, so while I waited at a table with the baby, Monkey happily ran around the Kitchen Gardens, which has been at Ham since at least 1653 and is currently one of the most productive walled kitchen gardens in London, providing the café with fresh produce.
After we were all revived with some tea and cake, we made our way to the formal gardens at the back of the house. It was hard to equate the tranquility of our surroundings with being in a busy city, as we felt so far removed from the hustle and bustle.
We soon discovered the Cherry garden filled with domes of lavender and santolina. It did feel like an exclusive spot, as we were the only people wandering in and amongst the plants. And this was much the same in the Wilderness, which was part of the original garden and apparently the place to think and read. While there wasn’t much thinking going on during our leisurely stroll, we certainly appreciated the stillness around us. Monkey was in his element as he had free reign to run and run.
After making our way back towards the house, Monkey and I decided we’d go Below Stairs, where we were able to interact with various exhibits in the Ham Kitchen, and visit the beer cellar and servant’s quarters – where there were activities for children such as crafts, colouring and dressing up costumes.
We then headed Above Stairs – and ascended the huge staircase to peruse priceless paintings in the gallery, including a large portrait of King Charles I, who gave Ham House to his friend, enterprising courtier William Murray, in 1626. The lavish furniture made by master craftsman, as well as the grandeur of the Great Hall made for interesting viewing.
Back outside in the sunshine, we couldn’t resist another turn around the gardens. Monkey was fascinated by the abundance of ladybirds everywhere, and we enjoyed being able to push the baby in his pram.
It was soon time for us to head home, but not before we strolled towards the river to watch the boats sail past. A perfect end to a perfect day…
Ham House is a rare example of 17th Century life and became a place for entertaining in the 1660s. People from all over the country would visit and be bowled over by its extravagance. So Ham has really stood the test of time…
Ham House, Ham, Richmond, Surrey, TW10 7RS;Tickets: Adult £10.80; Child £5.40