This week: Marble Hill

Architect Colen Campbell’s illustrations of Marble Hill, published in Vitruvius Britannicus in 1725. Campbell does not claim the design of the house as his own. IMAGE: Herbert & Roger Morris, 1724-29 Royal Institute of British Architects Library Drawings Collection / Wikimedia Commons.

The glorious, far-reaching south-western outlook from Richmond Hill has long been one of England’s most celebrated views. For centuries, painters (including Reynolds, Gainsborough, Constable and Turner) have climbed to the top to be inspired by the landscape, and to marvel at the beauty of the Thames as it meanders serenely past the grand riverside mansions stretched out below.

It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that, in 1902, this celebrated vista was the first in the country to be protected by an Act of Parliament – in the form of the Richmond, Ham and Petersham Open Spaces (Preservation of View) Act.

As we discover this week on The Past, the Act was a canny piece of legislation. For in protecting the view, it also protected one of the grandest of those grand riverside houses – nearby Marble Hill, the exquisite Neo-Palladian villa built in the 1720s for the estimable Henrietta Howard, who among other things was mistress to George II – from plans by developers to turn the site into a housing estate. By linking the house and its riverside grounds to the safeguarded prospect from Richmond Hill, Marble Hill’s supporters managed successfully at the turn of the 20th century to save it for the nation.

For the new issue of Current Archaeology magazine, Carly Hilts paid a visit to Marble Hill ahead of its recent re-opening to the public following an £8m restoration, and heard how archaeologists and conservationists have been working side by side to return it to its original Georgian splendour.

Carly also joined the latest episode of The PastCast to discuss the life of Henrietta Howard and her beautiful home.

Also this week on The Past, we have been delving into the archives to discover more about England’s great houses: we travelled to Knole to uncover the forgotten history of one of Kent’s finest mansions; we journeyed to Hill Hall in Essex to hear what happened when fire ripped through an exceptional Elizabethan edifice; and we stopped off at Chiswick House to see what excavations have turned up at Lord Burlington’s beloved London oasis.

And finally, if all that simply whets your appetite, don’t forget to have a go at our latest themed Quiz, which this week is also focused on Georgian Britain. Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!

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