London’s Secret Jacobean Mansion

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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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2 thoughts on “London’s Secret Jacobean Mansion

  1. A brilliant gem to be enjoyed by all built in an unlikely part of the London surrounding area well hidden and only recently discovered by us less so is the other gem of a Jacobean property Charlton House in Charlton Village built around 1607 by the architect John Thorpe for Adam Newton tutor to Prince Henry, James 1st eldest son who never made it to the throne. This is a much larger grander property with amazing strap work ceilings marble fireplaces adorned with marble statues it also has a spectacular wooden partly carved staircase. Equally this property has been used in many tv dramas and films and the old library is now used for wedding events concerts and other meetings. Several years ago many diverse adult education courses were held here that I also attended very nice too in such regal surroundings! The most fascinating gathering held around the grounds of this property is the Horn Fair to which we also contributed in terms of dressing up in pseudo medieval costume designed by me for a day and thoroughly enjoyed the event not at all any signs of debauchery as in the day,centuries ago to the point that this merriment had to be suspended for several years. Here too is the mulberry tree imported by James 1 for the silkworm however it seems that the wrong kind was planted it should have been the white berry not the red species – although it is the fresh leaves that the silkworm needs to eat in order to produce the silk cocoon which I just managed to confirm with my now 94 year old Mother who aged 20 in Italy enjoyed the task of feeding the silkworms on her Fathers farm – this is a circa 500 year old tree which is still with us but now rests on its side due to the last UK great storm that toppled it over but happily it still bears good red fruit.

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