A London oasis to transport you away from civilization
Osterley Park and House (Isleworth, Middlesex)
Member Name: Mildew82
Osterley Park and House (Isleworth, Middlesex)
Advantages: Reasonably priced, plenty to see with lots of information, family friendly, lovely gardens
Disadvantages: Pay for parking, long walk to the house, weather dependent for outside
My visit to Osterley Park House was during early, grey, but thankfully not raining April. I opted to drive and to be honest would never have found the place without my SatNav as the direction I came from on the M25 had a distinct lack of life saving brown signs to lead me, the proverbial blind, to my destination, but I believe coming from the M4 direction you may have better luck with brown signs. Parking, even on a rather dull looking day was quite tricky on account of a fairly small car park and I had to wait 5 minutes for some people to leave so I would recommend arriving early to bag a spot, especially on a nice day, plus sadly you will have to pay £3.50 (pay and display) unless you are a National Trust Member, a blue badge holder or on a pre-booked coach. Also you will have a good 400 yard walk to get to the house, but there are buggy drivers at certain times nearby to shepherd those less abled. If you come in by train your options are the station of Isleworth which is 1½ miles away or the Underground station of Osterley on the Piccadilly line which is 1 mile away. If you come by bus you can be dropped off 1 mile away on either the H28 Hayes to Hounslow to Osterley or the H91 Hounslow to Hammersmith.
The original house was built in the 1570s by the Tudor financier Sir Thomas Gresham on the site of an old farmhouse and even had an esteemed visit by Elizabeth I in 1576 to less than complete satisfaction and by 1698 it had fallen into a shabby state of disrepair to be left vacant when the current owner Dr Nicholas Barbon died having been unable to stump up the cash to repay the mortgage which his estate failed to cover. Ex-London Mayor Sir Francis Child the Elder took over the place in 1713 and used the place for socialising in the country since his main home was in Lincoln's Inn Fields whilst allowing his brother Robert, Robert's wife Sarah and their daughter Sara Anne to live there.
Given the poor condition of the house, both Sir Francis and Robert, outrageously rich from being directors of the East India Company, enlisted the help of famous and influential architect Robert Adam in 1761, whose work stretched as far as Europe and North America, and he rejuvenated the place over a two decade period using a Neo-classical blend of mostly Greek and Roman origin. After a small scandal of Sarah Anne eloping at the age of 17 to the 10th Earl of Westmorland, John Fane, the house remained in the family passing down to Sarah Anne's second child Lady Sarah Sophia Fane who went on to marry George Villiers, the 5th Earl of Jersey and the house was occupied all the way up until World War II by which time we were up to the 9th Earl of Jersey, who allowed the house to be put to good use during the war for training and farming. Then in 1949 the house was passed over to the National Trust who continue efforts to maintain its former glory and preserve its heritage.
==Visiting Osterley Park and House==
From the car park the first bit of beauty you encounter is a fairly large lake which houses newts, carp, mandarin ducks and Egyptian geese. Take care here, especially with small children, as the lake has no barriers and is at ground level and one may find if wandering about looking at photos on one's phone and not paying even an iota of attention, one may only be saved from watery humiliation by a well-timed shout from a fellow travelling companion. Curving round the lake the rather stunning and vibrant house comes into view and turning round to take the view in all you see is untamed grassland, trees and the lake and it is a real breath of fresh air from manic London. With some dubious looking skies, the best option seemed to be a stroll round the surrounding parkland first and in order to gain entrance you must flash either your NT card or a ticket to a diligent sentinel who will provide you with an appropriate map to make sure you aren't lost on the treacherous terrain without food or water. Tickets can be purchased from the stables adjacent to the house.
For those who just fancy a quick stroll you can limit your walk to just a circular trip round the gardens which if you rushed around without stopping to take in the delights would take no more than 5 minutes but if you take it all in would probably take a good 20 minutes, or for those more adventurous types with time on your hands you can risk an orbit of the great meadow which, if you are taking a leisurely approach could take from 20-30 minutes maximum, although I did it in less than 15, and will take you into some untamed wilderness still with no civilization in sight. There are plenty of points of interest to see along the way, round the long walk there is an ice house which is really just a hillock with some trees on top, a boat island set inside the end of the lake which sadly has a distinct lack of boats as well as a fabulous view of the great meadow...which has a lot of grass (though it has had the privilege of never being ploughed ever so houses rare moths, butterflies and wildflowers).
There is a quaint little tour to be done round some winding paths near the house which involves seeing the Temple of Pan that is sufficiently old and temple like to be of merit, the Garden House which is of the now familiar neo-classical style introduced by Adams showcasing tropical plants, and two gardens, the rather more vibrant "Flower Garden" and the "American Garden" that was undergoing renovations during my visit. I also suspect that I arrived a month too early, as there were plenty of shoots and buds, but no flowers were in bloom so there was sadly a distinct lack of colour in the "Flower Garden" but many pictures, unless they have been intentionally deceptive, show how pretty it can look at its height. Timing is everything and the best time to visit if you're looking for stunning gardens is probably late spring / early summer when plants are in bloom and the temperature would be nice and warm.
Onto the house then, and as National Trust places go this is a good'un with three floors to explore, albeit with the usual bric-a-brac of antique beds and chairs and plenty of vases and ornaments to marvel at as well as ornate carpets, ceilings and wall decorations and whilst for me there is nothing particularly I haven't seen before, many of the rooms feel surprisingly sparse with fewer furnishings and antiquities than expected. As a result all the items of merit are all nicely space out so they are less likely to get lost in the crowd. From a design point of view, seeing Robert Adam's vision throughout the whole house does give it an intriguing air of consistency often lacking in houses that seem to build rooms around the current fashion, and whilst to a certain extent the same can be said with Oriental influences as a departure from the normal Neo-classical inspirations, Adam's touch is ever present.
There are many ways to explore the house, you can get a guide book for £4.50 which has many detailed insights into each room and glean extra information from the ever enthusiastic room guides, you can opt to use their free Audio guide or, as I chose to do you can download a free iPhone App (though it only works for iPhone 4 or higher) which allows you to select information (narrated by a pleasant, but serious man and woman) about each room as and when you want with the benefit of scrolling pictures, classical music intros, 18th Century re-enactments and interviews to really bring the place alive as well as the chance to view lots of extra, although perhaps slightly tangential historical facts, such as speculation as to the food they ate, or the divide between the rich and poor during the time Robert Child lived at the house which is all good background information. Since only my phone could run the App we rather rebelliously tried to do the tour without headphones so all my companions could benefit, but as is typical for me when attending these type of places I got scolded like a naughty schoolgirl by one of the room guides for disrupting the peace, so to avoid embarrassing public situations I would advise bringing your own headphones.
So, for all those Downton Abbey fans, the house has an upstairs and downstairs to ferret about in showing the differences between how the annoyingly wealthy family would have lived compared to the poor old downtrodden staff below stairs. There are an impressive number of rooms to look through, 21 according to the App, and when I visited only one wasn't open due to maintenance which wasn't too bad at all and one of the first things you will see is a ceiling with a copy of the "Glorification of the Duke of Buckingham" painted by Rubens at the top of the Great Stairway which is very striking indeed. You will move through such rooms as the Tapestry Room covered wall to ceiling with beautiful Parisian red tapestries depicting nature scenes, the Etruscan Room which is one of the most memorable due to the hand painted walls inspired by the Etruscan civilization from the 9th to 2nd Century BC in Italy, the Long Gallery which has paintings and ornaments galore, the State Bedroom with a truly magnificent 8 poster bed, a good old fashioned Library and on the top level the main bedrooms. Then on the flip side, downstairs, you can visit the Kitchen, Pastry Room, Scullery and the essential Beer Cellar, and also take in the war exhibits on display on this lower level.
So, all in all, you are looking to spend a minimum of 3 hours here with an hour in the gardens and two in the house plus extra time allocated for lazing about in the great meadow and letting kids run amok, so it is likely that you will require sustenance and a bathroom break which leads me neatly onto...
* Toilets - the most important part of any day trip. The ones I spotted were on the ground floor inside the house and outside near the stableyard, which also has a disabled toilet and baby changing facilities.
* Eating - you can bring your own picnics or boring lunches, but no barbeques, and enjoy them on the Great Meadow or any number of scattered benches, or you can try the Stables Café which sells all those wicked home baked cakes and scones for dessert, and an array of cold and hot lunches such as sandwiches, soups of the day etc. made from local ingredients where possible so there's a good chance you'll find something you like here, and the prices are pretty reasonable too.
* For families with kids at that awkward age pushchairs are allowed assuming the number of visitors is not excessive and baby slings are available for hire, there are activity packs and children's guides available to entertain the little ones and there are family events to look out for.
* For those with disabilities there are braille and large print guides available, three outdoor wheelchairs available and one inside the house, a sensory experience and virtual tour, but you are warned that there are some cobbles and some muddy and uneven paths in the garden which are something to be aware of.
* Shopping - there is a typical National Trust shop in the stables which looks pretty much the same as any other I've been in with the usual books, jams, gardening accessories and board games, and there is also a Farm Shop on the way out which is worth a quick look at for the cheap home grown produce such as cauliflowers, swedes, parsnips, apples, herbs, although it is a little on the small side.
Jersey Road, Isleworth, TW7 4RB
Telephone: 020 8232 5050
The car park and Park (which is free) are open all year round from 8am-6pm.
As of the 11th Feb - 5th Nov 2012 the House is open 12pm-4:30pm Wednesday-Sunday
As of the 11th Feb - 5th Nov 2012 the Cafe is open 11am-5pm Wednesday-Sunday
As of the 11th Feb - 5th Nov 2012 the Garden is open 11am-5pm Wednesday-Sunday
As of the 11th Feb - 5th Nov 2012 the Second hand bookshop is open 12pm-4pm Wednesday-Sunday
As of the 11th Feb - 5th Nov 2012 the Shop is open 11am-5pm Wednesday-Sunday
Check for opening times on bank holidays.
===Prices (Free for NT members):===
Whole Property (Standard/Gift Aid)
Adult - £8.70 / £9.65
Child - £4.35 / £4.85
Family - £21.75 / £24.15
Group - £8.20 / n/a
Gardens Only (Standard/Gift Aid)
Adult - £3.80 / £4.20
Child - £1.90 / £2.10
Summary: A place steeped in history with a sense of being virtually detached from civilization