Osterley House (now in the London Borough of Hounslow) was originally built in 1576 for Sir Thomas Gresham. Acquired by Sir Francis Child in the mid 1700s, he employed architect and designer Robert Adam to extensively remodel the house inside and out in the neo-classical style that was all the rage at the time. This remodelling was so extensive that, after Adam’s transformation, visitors to the house would actually enter on the first floor after passing through the grand portico; the ground floor having been relegated to servants quarters, the kitchen, strong room and my favourite, the beer cellar. Later that century the house passed into the ownership of the Villiers family, who used it only for occasional weekend parties, with the house being closed up for most of the year. Because it was never a family home, Osterley House didn’t experience the wear and tear that other similar houses suffered and thus remains remarkably intact to this day, with the majority of the principle rooms in the same condition as they were in the 1700s. One noticeable reminder of this fact is that there is very little electric lighting – most rooms still only have the benefit of candle-light.
The principle rooms of the house are the most fashionable that Robert Adam could devise – there is a stupendous entry hall with etruscan-style mouldings, a beautiful long gallery and a state bedroom and reception rooms that were designed to be fit for a king (although the house never had the benefit of a royal visitor). My favourite of the rooms is the pink sitting room, which is decorated with the most opulent tapestries from Paris, matched with upholstered chairs made in a style favoured by Marie Antoinette. Apparently she guarded the design of these chairs so jealously that the Childs had to wait until her death before they could commission similar items from France. In one of the connecting corridors you’ll also find a massive Chinese screen inlaid with mother of pearl – in fact, there are several examples of fine Chinese craftsmanship throughout the house. The Childs were heavily involved in the East India Company who traded in the region, so had easy access to materials from the Far East.
What I think is most remarkable about Osterley House is the amount of input that Robert Adam had into its design – altogether he was involved in the reconstruction of the house for 20 years. He went so far as to personally design doorknobs specifically for the house and carpets for each room which echoed the style of the intricate mouldings in the ceilings above, for example.
In addition to the grand house, visitors to this National Trust property can also visit the extensive gardens. Directly behind the house is a wild meadow (which the guide assured me, with a wink, has not seen a mower for 200 years), a charming folly in the form of a Temple to Pan, a Garden House which shelters delicate flowers and succulents, and a walled Tudor garden. Of course there’s also a visitor shop and a cafe in the stable block just to the side of the house.
You should probably pencil in half a day for a visit to Osterley House if you want to see everything, and I can assure you that you’ll soon get accustomed to the one issue that visitors have to deal with when visiting Osterley. The house and park happen to be about 2 miles from the end of the runways at Heathrow airport, so jets thunder overhead every few minutes, landing gear down, as they make their final approach (note the Airbus A380 at the bottom of the meadow in the following photograph!). A little unfortunate, but you can hardly lay this problem at the door of Robert Adam…
Osterley Park and House are open from the early spring to the late autumn each year – tickets for non-National Trust members who want to visit the house and gardens are £9.65 per adult. You can find other photographs of my visit here.