HAM STREET, HAM, RICHMOND
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Ham House stands on the south bank of the Thames, west of the A307 at Petersham, 11/2 miles from Richmond Station. It was built in 1610 for Sir Thomas Vavasour, passing in 1626 to William Murray (later created Earl of Dysart), a childhood friend and lifelong supporter of Charles 1st, in whose family it remained until it was given to the National Trust in 1948. The Ghost Club are most grateful to the National Trust, and to their Property Manager at Ham, for permission to investigate the ghostly phenomena which have been reported from the house and its grounds, and for their help in doing so.
Ham House is unique in Europe as the most complete survival of 17th-century fashion and power. One of a series of palaces and grand houses along the banks of the Thames, it was built in 1610 and enlarged in the 1670s, when it was at the heart of Restoration court life and intrigue. It was then occupied by the same family until 1948. The formal garden is significant for its survival within the area known as the cradle of the English Landscape Movement. The outbuildings include an orangery, ice house, still house and dairy with cast iron 'cows legs' supporting marble slabs.
Ham House was Built in 1610 and extended in the 1670s, Ham House is one of the most outstanding Stuart houses from that period. It was home to the extravagant Duchess of Lauderdale, who was renowned as a political schemer and during the 17th-century the house was at the heart of Civil War politics and Restoration court intrigue.
The beautiful gardens of Ham House include the much photographed Cherry Garden featuring lavender parterres flanked by two berceaux (vaulted trellises) of pleached hornbeam and a statue of Bacchus at its centre. There are also eight grass plats; a south terrace border with clipped yew cones, hibiscus and pomegranate trees; a maze-like wilderness; a 17th-century Orangery; a tea terrace with reputedly the oldest Christ's Thorn bush in the country; an outer courtyard with Walnut and Chestnut trees that act as roost and nesting sites for a large flock of green parakeets; and formal listed avenues of over 250 trees.
1626 also saw the birth of Murray's eldest daughter, Elizabeth, with whom Ham House is most closely associated. In the absence of any sons, she inherited Ham House in 1655, and succeeded to her father's titles in 1670. Attractive, educated, highly intelligent, certainly interested in herbalism and potions and very probably psychic herself, Elizabeth was devoted to Ham, where she spent most of her long life. Described by one contemporary as a woman "restless in her ambition, profuse in her expense and of a most ravenous covetousness", she poured her fortune and those of her husbands, Sir Lionel Tollemache (1624-69) and John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale (1616-1682) into turning Ham into a residence suitable for grandees second only to royalty itself in influence.
After the Duke's fall from power in 1681, and Elizabeth's own death on Sunday 5 June 1698, Ham House remained largely unaltered (not least because Elizabeth's extravagances had drained the estate), and came to be regarded as something of a time capsule. As early as 1770 Horace Walpole, whose novel "The Castle of Otranto" founded the Gothic genre, wrote of Ham when visiting from the mansion he had built in the new Gothic style at nearby Strawberry Hill, ".at every step one's spirits sink. Every minute I expect to see ghosts sweeping by: ghosts I would not give sixpence to see: Lauderdales, Tollemaches and Maitlands."
However, no accounts of ghosts are actually recorded from this early period. Ham House is not amongst the ghost stories collected by Mrs Catherine Crowe in one of the earliest books about ghosts in English, "The Night Side of Nature" (1848), and although Timbs and Gunn give a fairly full description of the house and its contents in volume 1 of "Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales" (c1870), a book which gleefully recounts the ghostly traditions of other traditional sites, they have none from Ham. The earliest written account of a haunting at Ham which I have been able to find is from Augustus Hare (1834-1903) who visited Ham in 1879, and in The Story of my Life (1900) noted:"There is a ghost at Ham. The old butler there had a little girl, she was then six years old. In the small hours of the morning, when dawn was making things clear, the child, waking up, saw a little old woman scratching with her finger against the wall close to the fireplace. She was not at all frightened at first but sat up to look at her. The noise she made in doing this caused the old woman to look round, and she came to the foot of the bed and, grasping the rail, stared at the child long and fixedly. So horrible was her stare, that the child was terrified and screamed and hid her face. People ran in and the child told what she had seen. The wall was examined where she had seen the figure scratching, and concealed in it were papers which proved that in that room, Elizabeth had murdered her first husband to marry the Duke of Lauderdale." It is said that the Duchess still haunts Ham House today, along with a number of other ghostly inhabitants.
The home of the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale in the late 17th Century who decorated and furnished it in a lavish style. Decendants of the Duchess made very few changes, making Ham House a rare and important example of its period. Grounds restored to their 17th century form.
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