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If you're looking for things to do in Hampstead, you'll love Kenwood House, a beautiful historic stately home with a rich and fascinating past, set on Hampstead Heath. Whether your kids are art enthusiasts, love learning about the past, or simply want to play on the manor’s expansive, green grounds, families of all ages and sizes will enjoy this lovely day out in North London.
Kenwood House was first built in 1616 by a man named John Bill. He was the royal printer for King James I. Originally, the house was a modest brick building, and was sold in 1690, having been in the Bill family for three generations. During the eighteenth century, the manor was home to a fascinating range of residents. These include John Stuart, the 3rd Earl of Bute who added the fragrant orangery to the property, and Lord William Mansfield, a mid-century judge who presided over some important legal cases regarding the slave trade in Britain. Murray lived at Kenwood with his family, including his great-niece ‘Dido’ Elizabeth Belle, who was a mixed-race member of the family. Unconventionally for a black person living in Britain at this time, Elizabeth was brought up as a member of the aristocracy at Kenwood House. Kids and parents alike will love learning about all these fascinating previous residents of Kenwood House, with its interesting local and national history.
Lord Mansfield employed Scottish architect Robert Adam to remodel the house from 1764, and many of his neoclassical transformations, which took place during the classical architecture revival of the late 18th century, can still be seen today. This includes the magnificent Greco-Roman style facade at Kenwood’s south elevation, in addition to opulent interiors such as the Great Room, with its indoor columns, pale blue walls and painted ceilings. This lavish and impressive building will be sure to dazzle any child, while parents will also appreciate its incredible architecture. Adam also made adjustments to the Kenwood grounds, and children will certainly be amused by the so-called sham bridge that overlooks the southern side of the house.
Kenwood remained in the Murray family for generations. Further renovations took place during this time, including to the grounds surrounding the house, which were redesigned by famous landscape gardener Humphry Repton in the late 18th century. Repton added a range of new trees to the grounds, which were grown to hide the developing buildings of the nearby Kentish Town, in addition to winding paths around the property.
The Murray family eventually sold Kenwood House in the early 20th century. The last resident of Kenwood House was Edward Cecil Guinness, the 1st Earl of Iveagh, the great-grandson of famous brewery founder Arthur Guinness. Guinness declared the house should be open to the public free of charge, so they could admire the 18th-century house, complete with his impressive collection of 63 Old Master and British paintings. Kenwood House underwent recent refurbishment and reopened to the public in 2013.
There are plenty of fun family activities you can take part in at Kenwood House. This includes an indoor and an outdoor trail, which is led by a fluffy fictional dog called Mac. These trails are perfect for Key Stage 1 and 2 kids and will guide families around the house and grounds, while asking children questions, getting them to imagine themselves as residents of the house and suggesting outdoor games to play. Kids can collect a stamp after they complete each activity, and will be entitled to their very own free sticker at the shop, making the trails an exciting as well as an educational experience. Younger children (aged around five and under) can pick up a backpack with discovery tools, including colour filters that will make the artwork of the house appear in crazy colours!
Part of the orangery, located at the west side of the house, has also been transformed into a special children’s corner, where there are lots of great activities to be found. Whether your child wants to dress up as a house resident such as Lord Murray, play with building blocks or explore the interactive dolls’ house, any little visitor will adore these fun and informative activities. Kenwood House also runs regular family events, including arts and crafts for under-5s, and Kenwood Stories on the last Sunday of each month, which allows your child to discover all about the people depicted in the houses’ portraits through engaging storytelling. If your kids want a run-around, you’re in luck, as Kenwood House is surrounded by 112 acres of landscaped greenery, and is one of the best free gardens in London.
Art enthusiasts can marvel at paintings by famous artists such as Rembrandt, Gainsborough and Vermeer. Meanwhile, 20th-century sculptures by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore decorate the grounds and will provide some great inspiration for any school art project.
Older tweens and teens will also enjoy their visit. Whether they’re studying English history at school, or want some artistic inspiration from the house’s permanent collection that decorates the interior, Kenwood House is sure to be an enjoyable day out.
Plus, film buffs will love the house, where the iconic ending scene of the famous 1980s movie Notting Hill was filmed. A 2013 film about ‘Dido’ Elizabeth Belle, one of Kenwood’s residents, was also filmed at the house.
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English Heritage brings history to life in an engaging way to over 10 million people every year, caring for over 400 historic palaces, houses, monuments and other locations.
The remarkable collection of English Heritage buildings and monuments began to assemble as early as 1882. These were basically a collection of the greatest sites, which told the story of Britain. From prehistoric sites to historical bridges, gardens, forts and castles, English Heritage sites include Stonehenge, Rochester and Tintagel Castle, Rievaulx Abbey, Eltham Palace and Audley End House and Gardens.
As a registered charity, the English Heritage is governed by a board of trustees. The charitable trust depends on the income generated from admission and English Heritage membership fees to its properties and income from holiday cottages and gift shops. It is also funded from grant-in-aid income from the government Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
The difference between National Trust and English Heritage is that the National Trust is purely a charitable foundation that is funded mostly by members’ subscription and donations to look after their historic houses and gardens throughout England. English Heritage was originally run on a budget, funded by taxes by the British Government as a national heritage collection. In 2015, the English Heritage split into two parts: English Heritage Trust and Historic England. The government provided £80 million to English Heritage to become a charitable trust.