Sunday, November 8, 2015

Kenwood House Part 1 of 3...

I think Kenwood House can make it into our Great Estates of Britain Series... just. We visited Kenwood in August, deciding to see more of the local London houses rather than spend all our time driving hither and yon. 

Kenwood is a former stately home on the northern border of Hamstead Heath near Highgate village. The original house was built in the 17th Century by John Bill, printer to James I. It was known as Caen Wood House...

Above: The Original Caen Wood House.

It was bought by Brook Bridges in 1690 for 3,400 GBP. It changed hands several times, being owned by the 4th Earl of Berkeley, the 2nd Duke of Argyll, and then John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute in 1746. It was probably he who was responsible for the addition of the first new wing to the house. The manor was kept as a corps de loggis when the orangery wing was added (which made the house rather lop-sided). 

Below: The house as it was later augmented showing the Orangery (left wing) and Library (right wing), with the new Ionic column portico added.

In 1754 is was bought for 4000 GBP by the 1st Earl of Mansfield, William Murray. 

Above: The 1st Earl of Mansfield, William Murray.

In 1764 after living in it for a few years (and upon becoming Lord Chief Justice, along with the income that this position brought) he commission Robert Adam and his slightly lesser known brother James Adams to remodel the house. 

Adams added a library with an ornate plastered ceiling, on the other side of the house, which restored the symmetry; as well as adding the Ionic column portico.

The house stayed as the family home for several generations, with Caen Wood evolving into Ken Wood..

The estate and gardens are thought to have been designed by Humphry Repton, who was employed by the 2nd Earl to re-landscape the estate. 

 Above: Hampstead Heath and Kenwood as it is today.

Below: The views towards the large pond at the bottom of the hill upon which the house is built.

Eventually, the 6th Earl leased Kenwood in 1910 to an exiled Russian royal, Grand Duke Michael Mikailovich and his wife Countess Sophie of Merenberg. In 1925 Edward Cecil Guinness, Lord Iveagh (of Guinness family fame) bought the house, leaving to to the nation upon his death a brief 2 years after he purchased it.

All of the artwork inside Kenwood is from two bequests, The Iveagh Collection, which was bequeathed along with the house, and The Suffolk Collection. Unfortunately much of the furniture was sold off, although some of it has been found and repurchased. 

The entrance from Hampstead Lane...

The impressive portico... 
Above photo from Wikipedia

The exterior is a mixture of London brick and plaster render, with the brick sections representing the later additions of the Music room and the Dining room. Below: A modified Venetian window within a brick arch.

The lower floor plans...
Entering through the portico one finds oneself in the entrance hall, which separates the east from the west wings. It is furnished with some dining room furniture, as Lord Mansfield used it as a dining room.

Below: A portrait of Lady Elizabeth Finch (Lord Mansfield's Wife) and Lady Henrietta Finch (Elizabeth's sister) by Charles Jervas Ca. 1731.

Below the portrait is a dresser, from which butlers would serve food. The rail at the back would have had a curtain hanging from it to protect the walls from splashes of meat being carved etc.

On either side of the dresser were a pair of Georgian knife boxes in the shape of urns...

Of course one couldn't open them, but they would resemble these urn knife boxes below:

Then below the dresser was a large Georgian wine cooler (tin lined to hold ice without leaking, an possibly once with a lid)...

 Below: A statue of ?Hermes, which is in the niche centered opposition the portico doors.
 Above and below: Ceiling details of the entrance hall.
East of the entrance hall one enters the Great Stairs

The lower floor of the stair well is furnished with some armorial furniture. Below are a pair of bench seats with Talbot hounds and a Lion rampant...

and a lovely torchiere stand...

Passing through the lower floor of the stair well one enters the anteroom to Adams' library...

The library is a long hall with an apse at each end, famed for its (newly restored) plaster ceiling, which is a pastel pink and blue confection....

The 19 paintings are the works of Antonio Zucchi, an 18th century Italian painter who worked on several commissions with Adams.

The central medallion of the ceiling is Zucchi's depiction of Hercules between Glory and The Passions. Hercules forgoes the temptations of the flesh and senses of the Passions (left) and turns towards the Goddess Minerva, who is gesturing towards the temple of Glory.

Below: Curved library shelving recessed into the apse walls.

Below: Lord Mansfield above the fireplace.

Below: Fireplace details... 

Below: A cross section through the long axis of the library, showing the fireplace with the portrait above, and the mirrored niches on either side, which are still resplendent with their gilded filigree work over the mirrored glass.
 Above: A bust of the 1st Earl.

Below: The gilded marble consoles with pier lights above.
In part 2 of Kenwood House, I shall show you the rest of the lower floor, before moving upstairs for part 3.


  1. I visited Kenwood basically to see three main things: the Iveagh Collection, the library and the re-landscaped gardens by Repton. But it is inevitable with any old stately home that changes were made in every generation and I couldn't tell what was original, mid 18th century, mid 19th century coping earlier styles, or more modern.

    The most elegant and clever additions were the Orangery on the left and Library on the right. You have great photos..many thanks.

  2. Thank you for this marvelous tour of a house I've yet to visit. It is going on my list as I'll be there later in the year, thank you.

    Such an elegantly appointed house too, by the looks of your photographs. Can you imagine it with its original furnishings?

    Looking forward to Part II so don't keep us in suspense for too long.

  3. One of the most elegant houses ever built! thanks for sharing with us :-)


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