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London 2013: Town Houses

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The interior of Apsley House, known as 'Number One London'; Syon Park in southwest London - the home of the Duke of Northumberland

London's stately homes are living history and celebrate the city's great past, writes Felix Lowe

Central London is surrounded by a ring of elegant country estates which offer a slice of living history and a steady flow of contemporary events.

While many of these houses are still ancestral - Syon Park, for example, remains the home of the Duke of Northumberland - the vast majority have been taken over by English Heritage or the National Trust to ensure their continuation.

Like all these houses, Syon Park is steeped in history. Boasting arugably the finest Robert Adam interior in the country (right; bottom), it was here where Henry VIII's portly body was stored (and exploded, providing an impromptu meal for the dogs) en-route to Windsor for his burial. Syon Park can be visited all year round and is renowned for its Enchanted Woodland festive light show.

Syon Park has many grand neighbouring properties in southwest London: Ham House, a unique 17th-century treasure trove (whose interior doubled up as a St Petersburg apartment in the recent 'Anna Karenina' film starring Keira Knightley) with popular walks, tours and seasonal markets; Chiswick House, a neo-Palladian villa set in historic gardens with an annual Camellia Festival and open-air opera, theatre and cinema in the summer; Strawberry Hill House, Horace Walpole's elegant and eccentric Gothic castle, which runs regular Gothic film screenings, bookclubs and Twilight Tours; and Marble Hill House, a Palladian villa built for the remarkable Henrietta Howard, mistress of King George II.

Most magnificent is perhaps the National Trust's Osterley House (right; middle), a neo-classical, redbrick Tudor masterpiece that was built in 1576, remodelled by Robert Adam and once dubbed the 'palace of palaces'. Confirmed events for 2013 include the annual Osterley Weekend 21st century village fete in mid-July and a three-month Trappings of Trade event telling the story of the East India Company that runs until early November.

North London boasts the elegant Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath (currently under renovation until November), also remodelled by Adam in the 18th century, and home to a superb collection of paintings - including masterpieces by Rembrandt and Turner. Nearby is Fenton House (right; top), a charming 17th century merchant's house with panoramic views over London, open from March (and over Christmas).

To the east there are two National Trust offerings: Sutton House, a hidden Tudor gem in Hackney with delightful linenfold wood panelling, and Eastbury Manor House, an important brick Tudor gentry house in Barking.

South of the river four houses stand out: Southside House in Wimbledon, an enchantingly eccentric backdrop to generations of the Pennington Mellor Munthe families; the William Morris-designed Red House and museum in Bexleyheath, once described as 'the beautifullest place on earth'; Queen's House, home of the National Maritime Museum and the wondrous backdrop to the Olympic equestrian events in Greenwich; and finally, Eltham Palace, one of London's secret wonders, a captivating blend of 1930s art deco decadence and classic medievalism.


Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath; the neo-Palladian interior of Chiswick House; the eccentric Southside House in Wimbledon

Southside House holds regular concerts and talks from spring through to late autumn, and will be one of the venues for the 2013 Wimbledon BookFest in October, hosting an illustrated talk on the new updated edition of John Betjeman's 'Guide to Parish Churches'. On Sunday 17th February, Eltham Palace holds its annual Great Hall Sleepover, where families can stay a whole night in Henry VIII's childhood home - enjoying supper, an evening tour, storytelling and a full English breakfast.

Most central of London's stately homes is Apsley House, perched between Hyde Park and St James's Park where Mayfair meets Belgravia, and owner of the grandest of addresses: 'Number One London'. Home to the Duke of Wellington after his victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, the Iron Duke's abode houses one of the finest art collections in London, with paintings by Velazquez and Rubens as well as an unrivalled silver and porcelain collection.

London's stately homes are living history and celebrate the city's great past. A visit to these estates cannot be encouraged enough.


The lavish interior of Ham House in southwest London; Eltham Palace blends art deco decadence and classic medievalism