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What Is Ham House?

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  • Written By: B. Turner
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 06 March 2017
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Ham House is a historic structure and popular tourist attraction located along the Thames River in Surrey, London. The property was built more than four centuries ago, and is celebrated as a well-preserved example of Stuart design and architecture. Visitors to Ham House may tour the house itself, or simply choose to view the extensive gardens and outbuildings.

In 1610, Sir Thomas Vavsour oversaw the construction and design of Ham House as his personal family home. Vavsour was a member of the court of King James I of England. After Vavsour's death, the home remained in his family until it eventually fell under the ownership of the Duchess of Lauderdale in 1655.

The Duchess of Lauderdale is celebrated as one of the most unusual and well-remembered owners of Ham House. She ordered a major addition to the House to accommodate her 11 children, and also as a display of her wealth and power. The Duchess is also associated with numerous scandals involving politics, royalty and her love life. Some have claimed that she haunts Ham House to this day, and many visitors take part in ghost tours hoping to sneak a peak at the house's former mistress.

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By 1884, Ham House had largely fallen into disrepair as its owners chose to live elsewhere. In 1884, the Ninth Earl of Dysart became owner, and took over the job of restoring the home to its former glory. Not only did the Earl finance the restoration of the antique furniture within the home, he also oversaw the restoration of the roof, and added electricity and central heating. After several more distinguished owners, the National Trust took over ownership of the house in 1948.

Today, visitors to Ham House can enjoy the Stuart-style architecture and 17th century furnishings. The garden also serves as a popular attraction, and is celebrated for its large cherry garden, statues, and maze. More than 250 species of trees can be found in the garden, and a variety of birds and other wildlife roost in the garden's many bushes, plants, and shrubs.

Many of the original outbuildings at Ham House remain standing, including an old icehouse, a dairy, and a still. A 17th-century building known as the Orangery has been transformed into a restaurant and cafe. The Orangery was once used to store citrus fruits during the winter months, and today chefs rely on local produce right from the gardens of Ham House as they prepare meals for guests.

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