National Trust, National Treasures, Ham House on DVD.
National Trust: National Treasures is a private tour of a selection of The National Trust's spectacular houses, castles and abbeys. Here, the 17th century Stuart mansion on the banks of the Thames: Ham House.
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An artsworld production
An exclusive private tour of a National Trust property
Approximately 1 hour running time
In a world of late trains, lousy weather and international sporting losses, it's easy to forget the things Britain is uniquely good at. Constitutional monarchies, for example, or Marmite, depending on your point of view. But perhaps best of all is The National Trust. Where would we be without the Trust's meticulously-preserved historic houses, beautifully-tended gardens or, (let's face it) diet-endingly delicious cream teas?
The National Trust was founded in 1895 by Victorian philanthropists. Over a century later, it now looks after over 612,000 acres of countryside in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, 700-plus miles of coastline and over 200 houses and gardens, monuments and mills, and churches and chapels of outstanding interest and importance.
This series, National Trust: National Treasures examines a selection of these properties in detail. It takes you on a private guided tour of the selected properties, charting each of their often colourful histories and revealing a selection of their art treasures - from 17th-century tapestries and Renaissance stained glass to sculptures by Henry Moore and oriental rugs - with the help of the Trust's many and varied experts. Atmospheric, lavishly-shot and with great attention to detail and illuminating explanations from members of the properties' staff, it's almost as good a good as being there - although of course, you do have to provide your own scones and jam
Built in 1610 on the banks of the Thames between Richmond and Kingston and extended in the 1670s, Ham House is one of the most outstanding Stuart houses from that period.
The house was constructed for Sir Thomas Vavasour, Knight Marshal to James I, but in 1626 the house fell into the ownership of William Murray, who had been the 'whipping boy' for the future Charles I. He took punishment on behalf of the young prince, and formed a close bond with him, growing up to share his taste in art and architecture.
During his tenure, he extensively remodelled the interior of Ham, creating the Great Staircase and a suite of sumptuous rooms on the first floor. The decoration is intact in most of these rooms and the remaining part of Murray's art collection gives us a rare picture of fashions under Charles I.
In 1655, Ham passed to Murray's eldest daughter, Elizabeth. Her father's titles were conferred upon her in 1655, after his death, when she became the Countess of Dysart. Described by contemporaries as beautiful, ambitious and greedy, she married Sir Lionel Tollemache, a wealthy and cultivated squire in 1648 and had eleven children with him. She became renowned as a political schemer, and is said to have belonged to the Sealed Knot, the secret organisation supporting the exiled King.
Following Tollemache's death in 1669, in 1672 Lady Dysart married John Maitland, 1st Duke of Lauderdale, Secretary of State for Scotland, and together they extended and refurnished Ham as a palatial villa reflecting the Duke's status as one of the most powerful ministers of Charles II. Much of this luxurious interior decoration survives today, along with rare textiles, furniture and paintings.
After the Duke's death in 1682, the Duchess was forced to curb her extravagance and was eventually reduced to pawning her favourite pictures and jewellery. Following her death in 1698, her son, Lionel, took little interest in the house but by contrast, the 3rd Earl's grandson and heir, another Lionel and the 4th Earl, carried out major structural repairs in the 1740s. filling many of the rooms with new furniture and paintings.Most notably, the Queen's Bedchamber, furnished by the Lauderdales for Charles' Queen, Catherine of Braganza, was converted into a first-floor drawing room. The mahogany chairs, gilt pier-glasses and tables, and tapestries after Watteau survive in situ.
The 5th Earl partially re-landscaped the garden and was succeeded in 1799 by his brother, Wilbraham, who immediately made improvements inside and outside the house. The 6th Earl was a generous patron of Reynolds and Gainsborough. He created the striking Yellow Satin Bedroom, but most of his changes were antiquarian in spirit, enhancing Ham's 17th-century character.
19th century - the present:
Little changed at Ham between the 6th Earl's death in 1821 and 1884, when William, 9th Earl of Dysart came of age. Sixty years of benign neglect had left the house and its contents in urgent need of repair and Lord Dysart embarked on a thorough restoration campaign. The roof was renewed, electricity and heating installed, and much of the 17th-century furniture repaired. The 9th Earl died in 1935, when Ham passed to his second cousin, Sir Lyonel Tollemache. Sir Lyonel and his son, Cecil, gave Ham to the National Trust in 1948.
The beautiful gardens include the much-photographed Cherry Garden. It features lavender parterres flanked by two berceaux (vaulted trellises) of pleached hornbeam and a statue of Bacchus at its centre. There are also eight grass plats; a south terrace border with clipped yew cones, hibiscus and pomegranate trees; a maze-like wilderness and a 17th-century Orangery.
The tea terrace is reputed to have the oldest Christ's thorn bush in the country. Walnut and chestnut trees in the outer courtyard act as roosts and nesting sites for a large flock of green parakeets. The formal listed avenues are formed by more than 250 trees. In addition, it is said that the Duchess still haunts the house today, along with a number of other ghostly inhabitants