Living in a city like London you often hear,”I just had to get out of London for a bit”. It’s not how busy a tube is, or that someone just coughed vicariously down your neck. No, it is often the lack of breathing space (nevermind smog and pollution) and a place for clear head space. Coming from Scotland, I have always been surrounded by a larger amount of green space and last weekend when London was just getting a little too much, I longed to return home. Yet if you’re a young 20-something already racking up hefty bills then you probably don’t have the luxury to rush out, take the next plane and flee the troubles of city living. If you find yourself in a similar situation, then I can advise you to take the day out and travel to Hampstead Heath.
A trip to Kenwood House (free but a donation is encouraged) can sure to fix any city blues you have. I spent last Sunday learning the history of the former stately home, admiring the impressive collection of masterpieces and Neoclassical architecture whilst hearing about the remarkable stories of Judge Lord Mansfield and Dido Belle. Kenwood House is a hidden surprise tucked away in the corner of Hampstead surrounded by the busy streets and urban development.
The main attraction here is the library. Repainted back to the original colour, pastel shades of pale sky blue and baby pink pop against the ancient Roman bath style columns. My neck was stiff from staring upwards in amazement at the ceiling. The richness and level of detailing are enough to captivate your interest. If the ceiling doesn’t win you over then reading the titles of the vast collection of books that Lord Mansfield used to impress his guests, will certainly impress you also.
Kenwood House feels less like a museum and more like a home. You’re welcomed here as a guest of Lord Mansfield, not a visitor. Edward Cecil Guinness, an extremely rich, Irish brewing magnate, was the last owner of Kenwood House. Purchasing the estate back in the twenties, he was the first person outside the Mansfield family to own the property. Upon his death in 1927, he left Kenwood House to the nation. His only ask was for the house to stay open, to be free to enter and seen as a “home of an 18th-century gentleman”.
The English Heritage curators have been doing exactly that since then. Kenwood House has gone through an extensive refurbishment period to get back it to the original design at a time Dido Belle and Judge Lord Mansfield would have walked these halls. Yet the curators have tracked down through sale records, bills and inventories of the furniture that were auctioned off by the Mansfield family in 1922. A lot of work and devotion has gone into this house to restore it to its former glory.
Afterwards, I spent the rest of my afternoon walking the grounds of Kenwood House and further into Hampstead Heath. It is incredible such a place is surrounded by the city of London. The overgrown forest with old bridges, viaducts and a dried out river leaves you forgetting where you are. Just remember to wear sensible walking shoes that are fine to get muddy.
At least now I know I have a second home to escape to when London is just too much.
All photos are my own.