Ham in the early 17th century was bestowed by James I to his son, Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales. The house was built in 1610 by Sir Thomas Vavasour, Knight Marshal to James I. It originally comprised an H-plan layout consisting of nine bays and three storeys. The Thames-side location was ideal for Vavasour, allowing him to move between the courts at Richmond, London and Windsor. With death of the Prince of Wales in 1618, the lands at Ham and Petersham passed to James' second son, Charles, several years prior to his coronation in 1625. After Vavasour's death in 1620, the house was granted to John Ramsay, 1st Earl of Holderness until his death in 1626. In 1626 Ham House was leased to William Murray, whipping boy and close childhood friend of Charles I (A whipping boy was a young boy who was assigned to a young prince and was punished when the prince misbehaved or fell behind in his schooling. Whipping boys were established in the English court during the monarchies of the 16th and 17th centuries. They were created because of the idea of the divine right of kings, which stated that kings were appointed by God, and implied that no one but the king was worthy of punishing the king’s son). Murray's initial lease was for 39 years and, in 1631, a further 14 years added but this did not give long term security of tenure for Murray's family. When George Cole had to sell his property in Petersham as part of the enclosure of Richmond Park in 1637, he made over the remaining leases of the Manors of Ham and Petersham to Murray. William and his wife, Catherine, extensively redecorated and refurbished the interior of the house, many features of which survive to this day including the great staircase. Prior to the outbreak of the English Civil War, Murray shrewdly transferred ownership of the house to his wife for the duration of her life and thereafter to his four daughters, to be held in trust. The principal trustee was Lord Elgin who, as an important Scottish Presbyterian and Parliamentarian supporter, thus afforded the estate and family a degree of political protection.
William Murray was the 1st Earl of Dysart and the property continued in the hands of succeding earls, many of whom made modifications. The 4th Earl, Lionel Tollemache, inherited the title at the age of 30. After a Grand Tour he married Grace Carteret, daughter of John Carteret, 2nd Earl Granville. He undertook extensive repairs of the house, replacing the roof tiles with slates, rebuilding the bays with venetian windows above, replaced mullions with sash windows, and generally repaired decayed timbers, sills and floors where required. On completion of the structural work the house was extensively redecorated and new furniture added, some of which survives notably the harpsichord and library steps. Despite the modernisation, Lionel also went to great pains to restore and repair much of furniture dating from the Lauderdale's time and this has helped preserve many original features to the present day. On 23 September 1899, full control of the Tollemache estates at Ham and Buckminster was transferred from trustees to 9th Earl, William John Manners Tollemache, then aged about 40, in accordance with his grandfather's will. By the early 1900s the Dysarts had installed electricity and central heating at the house along with other modern gadgets including, in the Duchess's basement bathroom, a bath with jets and wave machine! The 9th Earl travelled widely, rode despite blindness, invested successfully in the stock market and whilst eccentric and difficult, nonetheless was hospitable and supportive of the local community. His cantankerous nature proved too much for his wife who left him in the early 1900s but he lived on with other family members at Ham for many years. In the 1920s and 1930s he employed a staff of up to 20 including a chauffeur for his four cars including a Lanchester and Rolls Royce. When he died in 1935 he left investments worth £4,800,000 but had no direct heir. He was the last Earl of Dysart to live at the house. The formal listed avenues leading to the house from the A307 are formed by more than 250 trees stretching east from the house to the arched gate house at Petersham, and south across the open expanse of Ham Common where it is flanked by a pair of more modest gate houses. The house has changed little in 300 years, and the same applies to its formal gardens, which feature the oldest orangery in Britain, an icehouse and a dairy. The tea terrace is reputed to have the oldest Christ's thorn bush in the country. Walnut and chestnut trees in the outer courtyard act as roosts and nesting sites for a large flock of green parakeets.
Guide dogs welcome. Adapted toilet available by the shop. Mobility vehicles and manual wheelchairs available to borrow - please book in advance. Sensory list and handling collection in the house. Induction loop in the house, café and shop. Level access in gardens - please note paths are made up of gravel and cobbles. Ramped access to house. Small lift in house fits most types of manual wheelchair. Below stairs rooms can be accessed by lift in the house.
Location : Ham Street, Ham, Richmond, Surrey, TW10 7RS
Transport: Richmond (District Line). (1½ miles by footpath, 2 miles by road). Bus routes 371 or 65 bus routes stop near by.
Opening Times, House: Daily 12:00 to 16:00.
Cafe / Shop / Gardens: Daily 10:00 to 17:00.
Tickets : Adults £10.40
Children £5.20, Group House Tour £6.80 pp
Tel: 0208 940 1950