The history of Ham House

The north front of Ham House, Richmond-upon-Thames, Surrey. The house was built in 1610 with some alterations in 1672-4.

Ham House has a rich history charting the high and lows of life during the Civil War and the house remains a rare and key example of 17th century living.

Ham – a gift from the king

 
Originally built in 1610, Ham House is the creation of an enterprising courtier, William Murray, and his tenacious daughter Elizabeth. As a boy, William was educated with the young Charles I, taking the role of his whipping boy.
 
Remaining friends as adults, they shared a taste for the latest fashions in architecture, art and interior decoration. William was given the lease of Ham House and its estate as a gift from the King in 1626.
 

A man with stylish taste

 
From 1637-9 William embarked on a series of lavish decorative alterations to the house.
 
These changes cemented his status as a man with style, a close friend to the king and an important member of his court.
 

Civil war

 
From 1637-9 William embarked on a series of lavish decorative alterations to the house. These changes cemented his status as a man with style, a close friend to the king and an important member of his court.
 

Saved by a cunning family

 
By her cunning, William's eldest daughter Elizabeth was able to steer Ham through Cromwell's rule by establishing good relations with the Protector. All the while she sent secret Royalist messages to the prince in exile on the continent.
 
When Charles II was restored to power in 1660, Ham once again became a place for entertaining and extravagance. This time it was under the ownership of Elizabeth.
 

A powerful partnership

 
In 1672, aged 46, Elizabeth married for the second time, this time to the affluent Duke of Lauderdale. He was a key member of King Charles' inner cabinet. Sharing a love of power and decadence, together they made a dynamic Restoration court couple. They transformed Ham House into one of the grandest Stuart houses in England.
 

Exotic taste

 
They were both widely travelled, employing craftsmen from across the continent and amassing exotic furniture from all over the world.
 

A sleeping beauty

 
Changing little after Elizabeth's death, Ham House was home to her descendants from her first marriage within the Tollemache family for nearly 300 years.
 
With only a few decorative alterations made during the 1740s and 1890s, Ham House passed to us in 1948. It's a rare survival of 17th-century luxury and taste.
 

It's always been popular with visitors

 
'After dinner I walked to Ham, which is inferior to few of the best villas in Italy itselfe. The house is furnishd like a great Prince's.' John Evelyn, diarist, 27 August 1678.

Picture frames at Ham House

Find out about the extraordinary changes in picture framing in London in the 1620s and 1630s and discover more about the frames at Ham House.