With the ridiculously good weather last weekend I had a yearning to be rid of the city so went on a journey to Osterley Park and House. It was much less of a journey than I anticipated as, after a bit of research I realised it is only a 15 minute canter on the H91 from Hammersmith along the road to Osterley.
And lo and behold, this was the sight that met me upon getting slightly lost in the suburbs and popping my head through a hole in the wall:
I can’t tell you how much joy I had from walking through this field. There was swaying grasses, swooping birds, wildflowers and fields of horses. From the fields I joined the main drive, where you then swoop round and skirt the pond up to the house.
Osterley was acquired by Mayor of London, Francis Child, in 1713. The house passed down through the family, first to Francis Child Jnr who hired architect and designer, Robert Adam, to upgrade the House , and then to Robert Child and his wife Sarah, who decided to retain the services of Adam to continue with the considerable refurbishments.
Once inside the first thing you encounter is the Grand Staircase. In the ceiling is a Rubens painting – sadly not the original, which was destroyed in a fire when put in storage just after the war, but still pretty impressive nonetheless.
On the first floor you firstly enter the dining room. At first it seems very bare and you just assume the National Trust doesn’t have the funds to furnish the room but actually the room was intentionally kept free of furnishings to avoid the smell of food lingering in the room. Along one wall, however, are two notable pieces of furniture. Inside one urn would have been a large ice bucket, and in the other, a commode!
From the dining room you enter a long corridor which at one time would have been open. This was used for exercise when the weather was bad. Over time it was covered and paintings were hung for interest and to display wealth and taste.
At the opposite end of the corridor from the dining room is the drawing room, where the ladies would apparently have retired to after dinner to drink tea while the men no doubt imbibed whisky, smoked cigars and discussed pressing matters of state. These rooms were purposely set far away from each other.
The Tapestry Room was my favourite. It was used to entertain only the creme de la creme and is so over the top it defies belief. The theme of the tapestries reflects Sarah Child’s apparently love of gardens and horticulture and it is a bit of a sight to behold. You definitely want to kick back with a sherry and listen to a harpsicord when you come in here.
The OTT theme continues into the State Bedroom with the opulent king sized bed, designed by Robert Adam. None of your four poster nonsense for Child, this is an EIGHT poster.
Onward to the Etruscan Room where the walls were hand painted, with a different design for each figure. Due to the use of fires and candles the room was seemingly quite severely damaged by soot, but have been restored by the National Trust, apart from a small soot stain beside the fireplace where you can see the effect candles had on the decor.
Compared with the other rooms the Library feels a bit more “plain”, although it is not at all. It also has a very exciting secret door that you have to try and spot.
Unfortunately when I was there the upper floor was closed off due to lack of volunteers but from the families quarters you could still go down into the servant’s domain at the bottom of the house. Many people would have made their livings from working in the house. Seemingly the Childs were far ahead of their time and Osterley was one of the first houses in Britain to install a bell system to call the servants as opposed to just having them hover about outside each room at their beck and call.
There is some very interesting information available about the roles of men and women in service during these times. Initially it was only men who were employed in service but gradually more and more women were engaged as they were considerably cheaper than men, often earning less than half of what a man would be paid. Men were also given several fine outfits to wear, on top of their salaries, whilst women were not given this luxury as they were employed downstairs and generally out of sight of the family and any guests.
The house is impressive but the garden is stunning. There are several formal gardens and buildings to see but my favourite is the meadow, which has never been ploughed. You can take a saunter around the “Long Walk” which goes round the edge to the furthest point where you can look back up to the house over the meadow, or paths have been cut through so you can cut across it and enjoy the flowers. Some shots of the garden:
On the way out I found vegetable heaven at the Osterley Park Farm shop. I bought as much as I could carry and have enjoyed lots of smug meals in the last couple of days.
Osterley Park and House is owned by the National Trust. For more info see here.