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Osterley House
Osterley Park House, London-25June2009-rc.jpg
Type Mansion
Location Isleworth
Area London Borough of Hounslow
Built 1761
Architect Robert Adam
Owner National Trust
Listed Building – Grade I
Official name: Osterley House
Designated 21 May 1973
Reference no. 1080308
Osterley Park - design for the Etruscan room
A design for one of the walls of the Estruscan dressing room at Osterley Park by Robert Adam.

Osterley Park and House is a Georgian country estate in west London, that lays across the London boroughs of Ealing and Houslow. Originally dating from the 1570s, the estate contains a number of Grade I and II listed buildings, with the park listed as Grade II*. The main house was remodelled by Robert Adam between 1761 and 1765, with the National Trust, taking charge of Osterley in 1991. The house and park are open to visitors.

History

Elizabethan

The original building on this site was a manor house built in the 1570s for banker Sir Thomas Gresham, who purchased the manor of Osterley in 1562. The "faire and stately brick house" was completed in 1576. It is known that Queen Elizabeth visited. The stable block from this period remains at Osterley Park. Gresham was so wealthy he also bought the neighbouring Manor of Boston in 1572.

Child and Adam

Two hundred years later the manor house was falling into disrepair, when, as the result of a mortgage default, it came into the ownership of Sir Francis Child, the founder of Child's Bank. In 1761 Sir Francis's grandsons, Francis and Robert, employed Scottish architect Robert Adam, who was just emerging as one of the most fashionable architects in Britain, to remodel the house. When Francis died in 1763, the project was taken up by his brother and heir Robert Child, for whom the interiors were created.

The house is of red brick with white stone details and is approximately square, with turrets in the four corners. Adam's design, which incorporates some of the earlier structure, is highly unusual, and differs greatly in style from the original construction. One side is left almost open and is spanned by an Ionic pedimented screen which is approached by a broad flight of steps and leads to a central courtyard, which is at piano nobile level.

Adam's neoclassical interiors are among his most notable sequences of rooms. Horace Walpole described the drawing room as "worthy of Eve before the fall." The rooms are characterised by elaborate but restrained plasterwork, rich, highly varied colour schemes, and a degree of coordination between decor and furnishings unusual in English neoclassical interiors. Notable rooms include the entrance hall, which has large semi-circular alcoves at each end, and the Etruscan dressing room, which Adam said was inspired by the Etruscan vases in Sir William Hamilton's collection, illustrations of which had recently been published. Adam also designed some of the furniture, including the opulent domed state bed, still in the house.

Osterley Park aerial view
Osterley Park from the air
2008-09-14 Osterley GardenHouse
Garden House

After Child

Robert Child's only daughter, Sarah Anne Child, married John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland in 1782. When Child died two months later, his will placed his vast holdings, including Osterley, in trust for any second-to-be born grandchild. This proved to be Lady Sarah Sophia Fane, who was born in 1785.

Lady Fane married George Villiers in 1804, and having children, the estate passed into the Villiers family. In 1819, George changed the family surname to Child-Villiers.

Child's passing of his holdings to Lady Fane bypassed any dealing with John Fane, his son-in-law. Such a right to dealings would have arisen if he had given his daughter more than a life interest, under the then still live doctrine of coverture. This was because Fane eloped with his daughter, Sarah, to Gretna Green on the basis of lack of bride's father's consent which was expected for such an aristocrat, as Child desired a non-noble pairing with someone willing to take and ensure continuation of his own surname.

Home Guard Training Establishment

The grounds of Osterley Park were used for the training of the first members of the Local Defence Volunteers (forerunners of the Home Guard) when the 9th Earl, a friend of publisher Lord Hulton, allowed writer and military journalist Captain Tom Wintringham to establish the first Home Guard training school (which Hulton sponsored) at the park in May/June 1940, teaching the theory and practice of modern mechanical warfare, guerilla warfare techniques and using the estate workers' homes, then scheduled for demolition, to teach street fighting techniques. Painter Roland Penrose taught camouflaging here, an extension of work he had developed with the paintbrush in avant-garde paintings to protect the modesty of his lover, Elizabeth 'Lee' Miller (married to Aziz E. Bey). Maj. Wilfred Vernon taught the art of mixing home-made explosives, and his explosives store can still be seen at the rear of the house, while Canadian Bert "Yank" Levy, who had served under Wintringham in the Spanish Civil War taught knife fighting and hand-to-hand combat. Despite winning world fame in newsreels and newspaper articles around the world (particularly in the US), the school was disapproved of by the War Office and Winston Churchill, and was taken over in September 1940. Closed in 1941, its staff and courses were reallocated to other newly opened War Office-approved Home Guard schools.

Postwar history

George Child Villiers, 9th Earl of Jersey, opened Osterley to the public in 1939 after having received many requests to see its historic interior. The Earl justified his decision by saying that it was "sufficient answer that he did not live in it and that many others wished to see it" – 12,000 people visited the house in its first month of opening. A series of exhibitions of artworks by living artists were staged by the Earl in the top-floor rooms to contrast with the 18th-century interiors on the ground floor. Though it never came to fruition, the Earl planned to create an arboretum in the grounds.

After the Second World War, the Earl approached Middlesex County Council who had shown interest in buying the estate, but eventually decided to give the house and its park to the National Trust. The furniture was sold to the Victoria & Albert Museum. The 9th Earl moved to the island of Jersey in 1947, taking many pictures from Osterley's collection with him. Some were destroyed in a warehouse fire on the island soon after. The Earl assisted the Ministry of Works and V&A in their restoration of the house to its present late 18th-century state.

The National Trust took charge of Osterley in 1991. The house enjoys loans and gifts from Lord Jersey including items of silver, porcelain, furniture and miniatures. The trust commissioned portraits of Lord Jersey and his wife by Howard J. Morgan – which hang upstairs. In 2014 a ten-year loan to Osterley of portraits of the Child family was arranged by William Villiers, 10th Earl of Jersey, the present Earl. Portraits included in 2014 loan include Allan Ramsay's portrait of Francis Child (1758), and George Romney's portrait of Francis's brother, Robert.

The house and small formal gardens are open to the public. They account for 30,000 paying visitors per year. Many hundreds of thousands of visitors walk the footpaths and enjoy the woodland of the surrounding park at no cost per year. The park is the site of a weekly 5k Parkrun.

The house saw its latest restoration from 2018 to 2021. This repaired structural deterioration and discolouring of the external brickwork.

Gallery

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