|Holland House in it's heyday (courtesy of Wikipedia)|
As I mentioned in a
previous blog post, I find ruins very atmospheric and romantic, but some are
just plain sad. One such, to my mind, is
Holland House, in Kensington, west London.
I often walk my dogs
in what is now Holland Park, the former grounds of this once magnificent
mansion, and every time I look at what is left of the house, I can’t help but
feel that it’s a shame it is no longer complete. It must have been absolutely lovely in its heyday!
Built of brick, with
stone and stucco decorations, at the beginning of the 17th century
for Sir Walter Cope, it was originally called Cope Castle, but the name was
changed by Cope’s son-in-law, Henry Rich, who inherited it. Rich, a courtier and soldier, was the younger
son of Robert, 1st Earl of Warwick, and was made Baron Kensington
and Earl of Holland by James I.
He made improvements
to the house and completed the internal decorations. Apparently there was a very fine entrance
hall and a large drawing room (called the gilt-room) above that with lovely views
of the back garden. There was also a big library, although this may first have been a greenhouse or conservatory as it was said to
be up to 90 foot long but only 17 feet wide with lots of windows.
Rich was beheaded in 1649 for trying to help King Charles I during the English
Civil War and the house was then used as headquarters by the Parliamentarians
under General Fairfax. One source states
that the gilt-room was later haunted by Rich who “issued forth at midnight
from behind a secret door and walked slowly through the scenes of former
triumphs, with his head in his hand” – spooky!
|The front of the house now (just a facade with nothing behind)|
The mansion was
restored to the ownership of Lord Holland’s widow and children, then rented out
to various people. (Lord Holland’s son
succeeded his cousin as Earl of Warwick and thereby united the two earldoms,
but later the line became extinct). In
1768 it was bought by Henry Fox, who was made 1st Baron Holland. He had been renting the place since 1749.
Fox, a politician, eloped with a Duke’s daughter – Lady Caroline Lennox
– and the couple were married in Fleet prison in 1744. (You can read about Lady Caroline and her
three sisters in Aristocrats by
Stella Tilyard – a fascinating book).
Their second son, Charles James Fox, was also a celebrated politician,
notable for being pro the American War of Independence and a supporter of the
French Revolution, but against slavery.
Under the 3rd
Baron Holland and his wife, the house became one of the country’s most
celebrated political salons and attracted some of the greatest names of the age
– people like Byron, Talleyrand and Mme de Stael. Lord Macauley apparently said the house “can boast of a greater number of inmates
distinguished in political and literary history than any other private dwelling
in England”. It was also virtually
the headquarters of the Whig party (almost always in Opposition) during the
first 30 years of the 19th century. It sounds like just the kind of place a Regency hero might like to visit and as it wasn't too far out of London, it would have been easily reached.
The title Lord
Holland became extinct on the death of the 4th Baron in 1859 and
passed to a distant cousin, whose family continued to own it into the 20th
century. However, during World War II,
in 1940, the building was unfortunately badly hit during a particularly long
bombing raid and almost totally destroyed.
It later came to be owned by the local authority and the grounds were
made into the park it is today.
Although sad, the
remains of the house are not totally wasted – parts of it are used as a youth
hostel and the rest as the backdrop for the open air Holland Park Theatre,
where they stage operas every summer.
The former Orangery is also used as an exhibition space, as is the Ice
House, and the so called Belvedere is now a restaurant.
|Waterfall in the Japanese Garden|
When you walk in the
park, you can clearly see how grand the grounds of Holland House must have
been. Parts of the park have been kept
quite wild, which makes it feel as though you are not in the middle of London
at all, but almost in the country, as it would once have been (Kensington being
a small village on the way to Hammersmith).
The daffodils and bluebells are stunning in spring time! My favourite part now, however, is a recent
addition – the Japanese garden – which is truly beautiful and very
peaceful. I think the former owners
would have approved of that.
Labels: Holland House, Lord Holland, political salon, Romantic ruins, ruins