London is full of history, and Kenwood House on the edge of Hampstead Heath is no exception. The house was once owned by William Murray, the first Earl of Mansfield in 1754, and was recently closed for 10 months for English Heritage to complete its “Caring for Kenwood” restoration. We love Kenwood, and often visit for the food, views and large open spaces. Once the restoration was complete, however, we decided that we needed to go inside the house again.
You may recognise Kenwood from the film Belle, which was released in June. It tells the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle who was raised by her great-uncle Lord Mansfield and his wife in Kenwood. After they met an idealistic young vicar’s son bent on changing society, he and Belle helped shape Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England. This film was absolutely brilliant, and I definitely recommend it, but what made it even more special was seeing the actual house on a big cinema screen, and the actors walking where I have stood.
Kenwood House is full of unbelievably famous artworks, such as Rembrandt’s self-portrait and The Guitar Player by Vermeer. Every room is full of beautiful sculptures, paintings, jewellery and more, and we enjoyed marvelling at them all. The rooms had booklets in so that we could learn more about these fascinating pieces of art, and there were lots of really kind staff who gave us extra information.
A particular highlight of our visit was the Library or Great Room; an absolutely beautiful room, built to display the Earl of Mansfield’s books. The room’s elaborately decorated walls and ceilings are covered by 19 paintings on paper by Antonio Zucchi, and I loved looking at all the different books owned by the Earl of Mansfield.
I am fascinated by the history of Kenwood House, and learnt a lot from our visit. I found out that Lord Iveagh bought the house from the Mansfield family in 1925, but never got to live in it as he died just two years later (although his large collection of paintings is on display today.) He insisted that Kenwood should be donated to the nation and said that it should be opened to the public free of charge, with the mansion being “preserved as a fine example of the artistic home of a gentleman of the 18th century”.
However, there is so much more to Kenwood than just the house – the views are exquisite, there is loads of space to play outside and it’s a beautiful setting for a walk. There is a lovely cafe and ice cream shop, as well as a games room for younger kids.
Overall, Kenwood is a brilliant place to visit. It is packed full of history and there is loads to do. And even better, it’s free!
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