Cool facts about Ham House


People who have dined there include the likes of Charles II and Oliver Cromwell.

There was once a brewery on site as beer was drunk instead of water, because the water was so dirty.

The still house was once really active in making medicines and using herbs and flowers grown in the gardens.


Anna Karenina and Never Let Me Go were both filmed there.

The table in the kitchen was built in situ, 403 years ago using wood from an elm tree on the estate. It has been in use that entire time and the drawers still slide perfectly and table top is still workable as a proper worksurface. In fact, that’s where I work when I go there.


The raised wooden section you can see underneath the table was put in so that the young page boys or scullery maids, who’s job it was to stay in the kitchen all night and keep the fire alive, had somewhere to sleep that was off the flagstone floor so a bit warmer. They would take it in turns to stoke the fire or have a little sleep.

It was still inhabited by the family of Dysart up until 1948 when the National Trust took over. At this time, they also still had servants.

They drank more champagne than wine in Ham House in 1660. There are still copies of inventories and orders that were made which show that they ordered about two thirds the amount of wine as they did champagne. Was champagne cheaper in those days?

Washing wasn’t a regular activity in those days. That’s why the bathroom that the Duchess of Lauderdale had put in in the late 1660s was such a revelation. In fact, it was the first bathroom in the country! Once a month she would go and sit on a stool in a tub and have water poured over her.


Then she lay on a bed nearby and had perfumes (vinegars infused with herbs, eg rosemary) applied to her skin. She would wrap a blanket around her and wait for an hour for the perfume to soak in. Then another quick rinse and all done!


They have a teapot that is three hundred and fifty years old.


There are a whole series of hidden corridors and passageways that were used by the servants to get around without getting in anyone’s way. I use some of these passages to get about the house when doing my volunteering.


(Can you see the hidden doorway, to the left of the chair?)

I’m going on a tour of the house and gardens next Thursday so will report back with more cool facts then.

14 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Maggie Thom on June 4, 2013 at 13:54

    I love historical places like this. Very cool. I love all the hidden passageways they build into these houses. A great place to play hide and seek as a kid, I’d think.


    • Totally! Whenever we visited old houses or historic places when I was younger, I was obsessed with these little passageways and thought it was all so exciting. It’s still exciting now when I’m walking in them, all hidden away.


      • Posted by Maggie Thom on June 5, 2013 at 13:57

        There is something fascinating about them isn’t there? That need to have secrecy, to hide certain things like the help dong their jobs? šŸ™‚

      • Yeh. And also the potential for a Famous Five-esque adventure!

  2. Love this! I am deep into the reading of Bring up the bodies and have been living in Tudor times for the last few weeks


  3. Posted by Alex Jones on June 12, 2013 at 19:42

    I imagine people must have been really smelly in olden times.


    • O goodness, SO smelly, Alex! I was also reading about how women used to purposefully blacken their teeth so it looked like their teeth had rotted from eating too much sugar, which meant you were wealthy because you could afford sugar!


  4. Loved this post… what a shocker the Duchess of Lauderdale was !
    James Lees-Milne in several of his diaries gives an unvarnished portrait of the last Tollemaches.
    But since the National Trust disapproved of him and his diaries which spilled so many of their secrets, his books are usually not stocked at National Trust properties, in spite of all he did for the Trust. !!!


  5. […] month, I did a mini factfile-type thing about Ham House, where I volunteer as a ‘historic baker’. About two weeks ago, I […]


  6. […] month, I did a mini factfile-type thing about Ham House, where I volunteer as a ‘historic baker’. About two weeks ago, I […]


  7. […] I started working at Ham House, my life revolves around the river more than it ever has, despite living next to it for years. The […]


  8. […] stuff that’s most interesting for me in Ham House is the stuff that they don’t know for definite yet or the stuff that has numerous different […]


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