For my culture day out this week, the location was somewhere I had always wanted to visit, and a place where I could make good use of my English Heritage ‘Pensioners’ Membership card (however, it turned out in the end that I didn’t actually need them to gain admission).
So – this week’s enty onto my London Shoes website – is all about the history of the delightful ‘Kenwood House’.
Kenwood House is an old stately home located at the very northern boundary of Hampstead Heath.
The very first ‘house’ at Kenwood (or Caen Wood, as it was known as then) was a Jacobean mansion built around 1616, by a John Bill, who was at the time, the official ‘printer’ for King James I.
Around 1705, a new two-storey red brick house was constructed, that had large sash windows and a hipped roof.
In 1754 the house was bequeathed to William Murray, the future Earl of Mansfield, who in the same year was appointed the UK’s Attorney General at the age of 49. William Murray was very successful at his job because he soon became the Lord Chief Justice, and ended up presiding over the English court for the next 32 years.
Lord Mansfield and his wife used Kenwood to entertain friends and also as an escape from the polluted air of central London.
Lord Mansfield’s wealth enabled him to make improvements to Kenwood House – and he appointed the famous and influential architect Robert Adam, to completely redesign the interior and exterior of the house.
In the grounds of Kenwood House, the Wood Pond and the Thousand Pound Pond were created and the overall landscaping was done so as to give a view of St Paul’s, Greenwich and the Thames (on a clear day, of course).
Lord Mansfield died at Kenwood in 1793 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.
In 1793 Mansfield’s nephew, David Murray, Viscount Stormont (1727–96), succeeded to the earldom and began to make big changes to the House. His first job was to have a new road built, diverting the main road directly outside Kenwood (e.g. Hampstead Lane) away from the forecourt grounds of Kenwood, so as to provide the house with a lot more privacy.
Throughout the following couple of centuries, a number of descendant Earls inherited Kenwood – and all of them made significant alterations and renovations to the property to satisfy their personal tastes and to enhance the estate. These enhancements included:- the building of the north-east and north-west wings – an elegant dining room – a music room – a service wing with kitchens – a Brewhouse – a bath-house – a laundry – gate lodges – a farm and stables – a working dairy – an orangery and the installation of large bookcases in the niches and alcoves of the library.
Everything was ticking along nicely until 1914, when the 6th Earl of Mansfield decided to sell Kenwood – and the next lot of occupants were tenants of nobility and considerable wealth, which included the likes of Grand Duke Michael Michaelovitch, 2nd cousin to the last Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, who lived there until 1917.
In 1925 Kenwood House and the 74 acres of land surrounding it, was purchased by ‘Edward Cecil Guinness’ the 1st Earl of Iveagh, for the sum of £107,900 – and he used the property to display his vast and valuable collection of 63 ‘old masters’ paintings.
Upon his death in 1927, Lord Iveagh left the entire Kenwood estate to ‘the nation’ and bequeathed that the house should be preserved and should be open, free of charge, to the public.
In 1949, the trustees of Lord Iveagh who were looking after the estate were struggling with the running costs and there was a need for some extensive repair work to be undertaken, and so they handed Kenwood over to what was then the ‘London County Council’.
In 1986, Kenwood House and the estate were taken over by ‘English Heritage’ – who remains its owner today.
Entry to the Kenwood Estate is free of charge and even the ‘grounds’ themselves are worth a visit in their own right, particularly the lake and the magnificent colourful displays of rhododendron bushes/trees, which are a prominent part of the gardens.
All in all – Kenwood House is a cheap and enjoyable day out, and in my opinion, well worth a visit.
So – before setting off back home, I strolled 5 mins up the road from Kenwood House, and popped in to the famous “Spaniards Inn”– for the customary ‘cheeky’ beer and a bowl of chips.
The “Spaniards Inn” is a pub that is most definitely steeped in history. It was built in 1585, as a toll-gate at the then boundary of Finchley and the Bishop of London’s Estate.
The pub was named after the Spanish Ambassador to King James I of England, and it is also said to be the birthplace of the legendary highwayman ‘Dick Turpin’, whose dad was landlord there in the early 1700’s.
An original boundary stone from 1755 can still be seen in the front garden, and opposite it there is a toll-house that was built in 1710.
Both the pub and the toll-house are now listed buildings and traffic that passes between them is still reduced to one lane.
The pub has been mentioned in novels such as Dickens‘s ‘The Pickwick Papers’ and Bram Stoker‘s ‘Dracula’ – and it used to be a regular haunt of the poets Keats and Byron – in fact it is claimed that Keats wrote his famous “Ode to a Nightingale” in the pub’s gardens.
The beer garden of the ‘Spaniards Inn’ can seat up to 300 people – and on a warm sunny day, it is most definitely one of the best pubs in London to neck down a few beers.
All in all, Kenwood House and The Spaniards Inn, is a quality day out.