Ham House – Fashionable but Fierce
Leased to the childhood friend and whipping boy of Charles I, William Murray, Ham House in Richmond, Surrey, is said to be one of the very last examples of 17th century decadence and influence. Built for the luxurious to show off how loaded they were, it still stands today as proud as it was built to be in 1610.
Surrounded by wildly overgrown woods and romantic gardens, it peaks out between the bushes along the River Thames and intrigues passers-by on the water. Imposing and quite brutal close up, amongst the most popular of the National Trust’s collection, Ham House is a place I go back to again and again.
Fit for a whipping boy
Murray had been (yes, you did read that right,) the favourite whipping boy of the young Charles and was given the slave’s role of being at the mercy of corporal punishment on behalf of the little prince when caught being naughty. Not a hugely fabulous job for a child. These days, more than shocking.
Yet the punishment was still meant for the littler master rather than the slave, as it was thought that as the boys had usually formed a strong and emotional bond. The mere fact that their slave friend was being flogged for something they had done instead of him, was seen to be punishment enough and thus a deterrent to misbehaviours in future.
It wasn’t ever seen as a position of detriment but rather a role that the poorer classes would aspire to. It was a chance to get close to royal position and in some cases (only some mind) whipping boys were graciously provided for in later life, especially if the friendship had been strong between the boys and the little master became king. Hence Ham House was given to Murray for his ‘former employment.’
Interior of Ham House
One place where I do like to hang out the most inside the house is the great staircase where guests would be greeted from the main door.
You can imagine the family sweeping down the great darkly clad stairs to a fanfare of well… what ever you fancied. The heavily dusty black chandeliers swing in a ghost like manner from the centre of the stair well.
It is simply breathtaking and for a Goth, the ideal area to hang out for several hours at a time.
Second best place to hang out is the green room off from the long hall on the first floor of the building. The room is like a privy closet in Hampton Court full of deep green cladded walls decorated with miniatures of people you will recognise and those you won’t.
The room is tiny but ornate in gold leaf and detail. Another great place to hang out is the library which is usually the first place to close when there is a lack of volunteers so Spring or Summer is often better to see this room which is the master’s study.
Wander around the endless volumes of Victorian literature and guess how many copies you can find of Pickwick Papers while you’re at it…
Film and Television
The house both interior and exteriors have been used to depict other notable buildings on recent years. More recently, the exterior was used as one of the scene of Kensington Palace for Young Victoria (2009) and the interior used as the boarding school in the 2011 film, Never Let Me Go.
Visiting Ham House
Ham House is one of the rare National Trust properties open all year round, although the opening times of the house do vary but to only a few daylight hours during the winter. The cafe is worth a visit, especially on a darkly Victorian day as it has an open fire in one of the upper floors where you can while away the afternoon surrounded by antique books on poetry and the occult.
Goth points: I am giving Ham House 7 out of 10 simply because I find the best time to visit is in the dead of winter when there are only a few brave dog walkers along the river path around.
Best to visit in the colder, darker days as because it is baron walking up to the gates of the house in the biting cold, I imagine it puts the less hardened visitors off. The National Trust volunteers stand outside looking blue in the biting wind that seems to howl relentlessly around the grounds. It is ideal for a wintry walk amongst the hundreds of aging trees and walled gardens.
More information and visiting hours and access can be found HERE