On Easter Monday we decided to visit Ham House, Richmond, partly because it’s rumoured to be the most haunted house in England, and partly because they put on special activities of interest to the whole family at this time of year.
Walking up the path of this exceptionally well preserved seventeenth century Stuart residence, busts of white heads peered out from the red brick walls staring at us as we approached the front entrance – a slightly unnerving feeling that fitted well with the rumours of Ham House. The prospect of seeing the ghost of the Duchess of Lauderdale and her dog wandering through the corridors was exciting for the children and they were ready to take her on if she did appear!
Stepping into the entrance hall we were greeted by friendly staff who provided the adults with a route guide to explore the house, whilst children were given special maps with stickers to follow a trail to discover objects and furniture in the house linking them to their origins around the globe – the offer of a prize on successful completion was enticement enough to get them hunting for clues and engaging with the many rooms in the house. We peeked into the chapel which was a small dark room with wood panelling and no natural light; it somehow lacked the spirit of worship. Moving quickly on, we approached a grand wooden carved staircase, quite amazing to think it has survived four hundred years and still looked in perfect condition, and not a creaking floorboard or creeping ghoul in sight.
At one end of the house we found the Long Gallery designed for gentle light exercise, mostly walking, as was the fashion in those days when the weather was poor. My children suggested this space would be great for indoor archery, tennis, or football! We entered a room designed for quiet contemplation known as the Green Closet a very small room with centuries old miniature paintings; this is apparently the only surviving intact closet room from Stuart times in the country.
On the ground floor we came across the State rooms which the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale had specially designed and lavishly furnished with a queen bed ‘just in case’ Queen Catherine Braganza, the Portuguese wife of King Charles II came to stay. But apparently she never did stay overnight and bizarrely the room was kept untouched throughout the centuries. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the reported sightings of the ghost of Duchess Lauderdale have something to do with her still pacing up and down in anticipation of the arrival of her royal guests!
Events: Over Easter, Ham House offers guided tours of the richly decorated rooms of the well connected Dysart family, contrasting with the secret stairwells used by the servants, wine tasting in the cellar, hands-on sessions with medicinal herbs, arts and crafts activities for children, plus a special Easter egg hunt in the gardens.
Sonia’s top tip: Buy a National Trust family card and you can visit this and all the other National trust properties for the price of £90 for a year rather than paying a one off family entrance of £25.
Address: Ham Street, Richmond-upon-Thames, TW10 7RS