When I gave my lesson on English Palladianism to Pisa’s Liceo artistico a couple of weeks ago and compared the Thames as a sort of river Brenta for eighteenth century aristocrats I clearly mentioned the obvious glories like Chiswick house and Marble Hill house.
However, there are plenty more villas along or near the Thames west of London that may be not exactly Palladian in style but are equally fascinating and picturesque.
I first discovered many of these houses as a teenager and it was a challenge I set up to myself to cycle from south-east London where I then lived and visit them all.
These are the main ones I saw:
- Osterley Park
- Syon House
- Marble Hill House
- Chiswick House
- Kew Palace
- Strawberry Hill
- Gunnersbury Park
There was, however, one house I never visited, Boston Manor, and the reason I gave for not seeing it was that its grounds were cut up by the M4 motorway (which, incidentally does a similar job to Osterley Park) and that it would, therefore, be a great disappointment.
During my last visit to London we made amends and took the Piccadilly line alighting at Boston Manor station to visit the house and itss gardens
A very pleasant surprise awaited us. The house is a three-gabled grade one listed Jacobean mansion dating back to 1623 and originally owned by the Clitheroe family who sold it to the local council three hundred years later in 1923.
Although the whole house is worth visiting what two features stand out most for me are the beautiful Jacobean staircase with trompe-d’oeil painted sides and an elaborate entry.
There’s also some original wallpaper from the 17th century:
The other feature is the state drawing room with one of the most amazing strap work ceilings I have seen anywhere in the UK. It was designed by Dutch artist Marcus Gheeraerts and is decorated by many symbolic elements which are well documented on the central table which also has a mirror with which to examine the ceiling’s details without getting a neck-ache. (Perhaps more of these mirrors should be made available in Italian palaces and churches…)
The chimney piece is equally elaborate with a depiction of Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of Isaac, based on a design by Flemish Abraham de Bruyn.
It’s no wonder that Boston Manor’ wonderful interiors have been used for several costume-drama film and TV series.
Even though that ghastly M4 cuts the grounds in half, the noise does not unduly affect the peace of the manor house and our walk through the woodland park and lakeside became a very pleasant excursion transporting us miles away from the hurley-burley of this busy part of London.