There is no doubt that one of the reasons we love living in Europe is because so much history can be found around every corner. I am still learning about the area we live in. Just a stroll away, on route to a bustling shopping area, are the remains of Richmond Palace. Built in the 16th century, under Henry VII and occupied by royalty until 1649, the palace is known as the place where Queen Elizabeth (I) spent her last days.
Further along the River Thames, in the town of Ham, lies Ham House. Now a member of the National Trust, Ham House is beautifully restored and has a fascinating history as well. Accessible to us by foot (and charming little “ferry”), it made for a wonderful family day-out.
Ham House was given to prince Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales (son of James I and Ann of Denmark) in the early 17th century. When the prince died in 1618 of typhoid fever at the age of 19, it was passed down to his brother Charles. The house was eventually given to William Murray, Prince Charles’ childhood friend and whipping boy (a whipping boy is someone who would take punishment for young prices, who were not allowed to be disciplined by anyone but the King). Many of the features that were redecorated by William and his wife, Catherine, remain today. Eventually passed down to their daughter Elizabeth, who married John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale, they made Ham House one of the most beautiful and luxuriously furnished houses in England. Ham House was passed down through many generations and was eventually donated to the National Trust in 1948, after the occupants could no longer afford the staff needed for upkeep, as it has suffered minor damage in World War II.
We took a tour of the gardens, where old chestnut and walnut trees grow, as well as a vegetable garden that supports the teahouse. We also visited the hands-on “below stairs” room where the kids (and adults) can experience 17th-century living. Personally, I loved the Duchesses bathroom, which told how baths were taken before they became an everyday occurrence.
Oh, and another fun tale: Ham House is supposedly one of the most haunted houses in England. It’s said to be haunted by the Duchess of Lauderdale and her spotted cocker spaniel. Many guests claim to have seen them wandering the halls and gardens. The house was the subject of a year-long investigation by the “Ghost Club” which recorded numerous ‘unexplained’ events. I didn’t know this prior to our visit, which is probably good, because I found the “under stairs” area rather spooky as it was.
After finishing off with a cream tea in the garden tea house, the trip back home just requires a little wave, or a shout, to the ferry driver on the other side of the river.