Do you ever buy something and completely forget about it until right before it expires? I do. I was going through my wallet recently and realized I have an annual National Trust pass that’s about to go off. I picked it up in the Lake District on my road trip in England and Wales last year and it slipped my mind when I got back. But finding the pass motivated me to look for National Trust London properties I could visit before it was too late, and I discovered that there are a lot more than I thought.
National Trust London
As such, I’ve spent my weekends running from east to west, south to north in an effort to see as many as I can before my membership year comes to an end. I’ve made it to 11, and in the process I’ve discovered some amazing places I didn’t know existed and explored London neighborhoods I’ve never been to. My pass has more than paid for itself, too.
If you’re not familiar with the National Trust, it’s a charity that takes care of hundreds of British heritage properties and open spaces, from historic country mansions and stately homes to ancient parks and gardens. Membership gives free entry to all properties in Britain for a year, and while I always think of the countryside when I think of the National Trust, it amazes me how many places there are to visit in London.
1. Ham House and Garden
Down in Richmond, Ham House and Gardens is my favorite of the National Trust London properties I’ve visited.
This 17th-century home is full of sumptuous interiors and original art by the likes of Van Dyck.
The gardens are beautiful, too. From edible flowers in the kitchen garden to hidden summer houses in the Wilderness garden and meticulous hedges in the Cherry Garden, they’re a joy to explore.
2. Osterley Park and House
Out west towards Heathrow, Osterley Park and House brought me to a part of London I’ve never explored before. It was worth the trip, too. When I arrived I discovered a huge park with cows, ponies, streams, and other countryside gems that made me feel like I was a million miles from the city.
The house itself is an 18th-century beauty by Robert Adam with interiors featuring intricate plasterwork ceilings and Georgian furniture. The surrounding buildings and summer house add layers of history, too. And speaking of history, I was happy to see that American President Thomas Jefferson visited Osterley in 1786.
But my favorite thing about Osterley House was the gardens. The Tudor Garden in particular was bursting with sweet peas, sunflowers, calendulas, zinnias, lavender, roses, alliums, and even California poppies. Butterflies and bees drifted from blossom to blossom, and there was a sense of peace about it.
3. Red House
Another house that took me to a far-flung corner of Greater London is Red House. Designed by Philip Webb for acclaimed 19th-century designer (among other things) William Morris, it sits on a residential street in Bexleyheath. Morris moved into Red House in 1860 and lived there for five years, adding much of his own art and design to Webb’s architecture during that time.
Red House is an important landmark for both the Arts and Crafts Movement, which Morris inspired, and the Pre-Raphaelites, with whom he was friends (many of them added their artistic touches to the house, too). Above all, it’s a beautiful building both inside and out.
4. 2 Willow Road
Speaking of architect-designed houses, 2 Willow Road in Hampstead is one of London’s great secret museums. Designed by celebrated Modernist architect Erno Goldfinger in 1939 for himself and his family, the house is filled with period art and furniture.
For architecture lovers like me, 2 Willow Road is a great place to get a feel for how Goldfinger used space and take in the design elements he incorporated into his home. It’s also across the street from Hampstead Heath, so it’s an easy place to visit after a walk in the park.
5. Fenton House
Just up the road from 2 Willow Road is Fenton House, another of Hampstead’s National Trust London properties. This 17th-century merchant’s house is full of quirky collections of porcelain figurines and musical instruments, but its best feature is the walled garden.
Fenton House’s garden is huge by Hampstead standards. It has everything from open lawns to sunken spaces and tall hedges. There’s even an orchard. Cosmos, lavender, and roses attract fat bumble bees, and wrought iron staircases lead to urns full of flowers.
Back in the house, the roof has great views over central London and City skyscrapers like The Gherkin. Closer in, I spied some fantastic local houses and gardens from the heights.
6. Carlyle’s House
And speaking of local gardens, Carlyle’s House in Chelsea has a beautiful one. This incognito museum on Cheyne Row looks like a regular house from the outside, but is full of acclaimed Victorian writer Thomas Carlyle’s furniture and possessions on the inside.
In fact, the house is rare in that it has so much original furniture in it. I could even trace much of it to a painting on the wall that was done in his lifetime.
Outside, the garden is a perfect little retreat from city life. With a lawn bordered by colorful flowers and plants, it attracts local birds and butterflies that come to enjoy its surroundings.
7. 575 Wandsworth Road
Another house with original furniture is 575 Wandsworth Road. Overgrown trees and an unassuming facade hide this spectacular gem. But as soon as I stepped inside I discovered a dream world full of its former owner’s handmade fretwork.
Kenyan-born Khadambi Asalache turned his modest 19th-century home into a total work of art from 1986 until his death in 2006. He covered the walls in wooden fretwork inspired by everything from the flamingos in Kenya’s Lake Naivasha to the ballerinas in Swan Lake.
He painted scenes from Zanzibar and Egypt in bedrooms and adorned handmade tables with Ethiopian Coptic crosses and Orthodox icons. The result is stunning, and of all the National Trust London properties I visited this was the biggest and best surprise.
8. Eastbury Manor House
As Eastbury Manor House’s name suggests, it’s over in east London. So much so that it took me to a part of the city I had never discovered before. The house is in a green square in the middle of Barking, where it sits in full Tudor splendor as if it fell asleep centuries ago and the city grew up around it. Which it probably did.
A lavender-lined walkway leads to the orange brick house, which has a pretty kitchen garden on one side. The interior still has original Elizabethan doors and a wooden staircase with more solid oak than I’ve seen in entire houses. There’s not much furniture inside, but helpful guides and displays bring the place to life.
9. Rainham Hall
East of Eastbury Manor House, Rainham Hall is practically in Essex. Set next to a village church built in 1248, it oozes history. The house itself dates back to the early 18th century, and while there’s no original furniture inside it’s nice to see the mahogany banister on the staircase and other period details.
Outside, the garden is the real treat. An apple orchard (complete with scarecrow), winding garden paths, lawns for playing and lounging, and medlar and mulberry trees all figure into the pastoral scene.
10. Sutton House and Breaker’s Yard
Back to Tudor times, Sutton House in Hackney was the home of Ralph Sadleir (aka Rafe Sadler if you’ve read the Wolf Hall novels), Thomas Cromwell’s protege and a prominent courtier in the time of Henry VIII. Built in 1535, Sutton House is Hackney’s oldest surviving domestic building and a rare example of 16th-century brick architecture in Britain.
The interior is full of period details, portraits of the owners, and original fireplaces and wood paneling.
Adjacent to the house is a quirky garden called Breaker’s Yard, where 1970s caravans-turned-historic stately homes are reminiscent of a period in the 1980s when Sutton House was taken over by squatters and turned into a music venue.
11. George Inn
The George Inn is one of the most central of all National Trust London properties. It’s free for anyone to enter, mostly because it’s a pub. With an impressive half-timbered facade, it’s tucked away down a little street near Borough Market and London Bridge. I’ve been for drinks a number of times, and I’m always awed by its history.
And it doesn’t end there. From Morden Hall Park to the many National Trust properties in Kent and other neighboring counties, I could spend many more weekends exploring. And when my pass expires, I might have to get a new one and do just that. If you want to do the same, you can get one here. In any case, I hope you enjoy discovering more of London as much as I have.
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