London Day Trips: Marble Hill House, Richmond

Just when I thought I’d seen all the historic houses around London, I realised I had never visited Marble Hill House. So I donned my bonnet, hopped on the train to Richmond and explored Henrietta Howard’s cozy manor.

Marble Hill House is free to visit and, although it’s compact, especially compared to the nearby Ham House and Strawberry Hill House, there is still plenty to enjoy.

This 18th-century historic home on the banks of the Thames at Twickenham was built as a sanctuary for Henrietta Howard, George II’s royal mistress and Countess of Suffolk. She bought the land and built the house in the 1720s thanks to a generous gift from the king, and soon after moved in and lived there until her death.

The design of Marble Hill House made it a popular model for plantation houses in America, and the exterior of the house was even used as a stand-in for a plantation house in the 1994 film Interview with the Vampire (could have fooled me!).

After a short video intro you’ll start your visit with a walk upstairs to the Great Hall, which is filled with paintings that she personally commissioned, as well as a luxurious table and Chinese lacquer screen that belonged to her. Next to the Great Hall is Henrietta’s bedroom, which was a personal highlight. I learned that back in the day, women’s rooms tended to be green, and so were her walls. This was not just her bedroom, but also a ‘spill-over’ room for parties, so the two grand pillars could be casually shown off to guests. There is also a little room that belonged to her niece, who was staying with her. The embroidered four-poster bed was everything I ever wanted.

The next room is dedicated to her correspondence. She wrote a lot of letters, including to Alexander Pope, John Gay, and Jonathan Swift. She even had a correspondence going with a friend where they were writing from the point of view of their pets. Apparently, this was one of the ways you could subtly gossip without it being awkward if the letters were accidentally unsealed by someone else.

Her husband’s room is the red-themed one. Not as extra as Henrietta’s green room, but still impressive. This was her second husband, and according to the staff, it was a happy marriage to a man that she chose (unlike her first…).

Upstairs, you can check out the Gallery Room, which is filled with paintings and a lot of pottery, most of which was from around the era of Henrietta, but not owned by her. One of the few things that were hers are a set of four books of French and Spanish fables, which I couldn’t help but wonder if they inspired her storytelling for the pet-themed letters she wrote.

Downstairs is the parlor with some furniture and a game where you learn more about Henrietta’s friends, including her gossipy neighbors at Ham House and Strawberry Hill House.

The wallpaper in the dining room was just gorgeous, and I can only imagine the splendour and elegance of the many dinner parties that were hosted at Marble Hill House.

Outside in the garden, there are little nooks that are worth strolling through. From the ice chamber to the orchard to the woodland path and grotto to the boules area, there’s a lot of places to get lost in and have a quiet moment.

On top of the standard visit, there are also several events held at the venue throughout the year, such as walks, yoga, and themed house tours.

Its location also makes it great to combine a visit to Orleans House Gallery, which is a 10-minute walk away down the river, and Strawberry Hill House, 30 minutes away on foot. If you can catch the little ferry, Ham House is only 20 minutes away across the river; if you do it by foot via Richmond Bridge, it’s around 40 minutes.

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