Ham House, an appealing Stuart mansion on the banks of the River Thames, was built for the former naval captain Sir Thomas Vavasour (1560–1620) in 1608–1610, on land belonging to the Crown. After his death, the lease passed to one of James I’s Scottish favourites, James Ramsay (c.1580–1625/1626), 1st Earl of Holderness. When Ramsay died, Charles I granted it to his page and whipping-boy, William Murray (c.1600–1655), 1st Earl of Dysart.
It was inherited by Elizabeth Murray (1626–1698), Countess of Dysart, who lived a colourful life there with her second husband, John Maitland (1616–1682), Duke of Lauderdale. It went by descent to Lionel (1734–1799), 5th Earl of Dysart, who made a clandestine marriage with Horace Walpole’s illegitimate niece when young. After a series of different marriages through the generations, the Dysart title eventually went to Sir Cecil Tollemache (1886–1969), 5th Bt, who gave Ham House to the National Trust jointly with his father, Sir Lyonel (1854–1952), 4th Bt, in 1948, whilst the Victoria and Albert Museum administered it until 1990. A substantial portion of the furnishings – including the many ‘fixed’ pictures and the sumptuous Lely portraits – date, like the house itself, from the seventeenth century.
Ham Street, Ham, Richmond-upon-Thames, Greater London TW10 7RS England
020 8940 1950
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