‘You can fall in love at first sight with a place as with a person.’- Alec Waugh
It’s a common misconception that the best English Heritage Sites are located in the farthest-flung corners of the British Isles or buried deep in remote and distant countryside. And whilst this can be said for some properties, it’s certainly not true for all. English Heritage sites comprise over 400 of England’s historic buildings, monuments and places, spanning more than 5,000 years of history. It’s difficult to choose our favourites, but in this blog we’ll highlight five of the best spots to visit that are situated right here in our country’s capital.
1. Kenwood House
Hidden away at the northern end of Hampstead Heath lies the former stately home Kenwood House. The building, its interiors and art collection are free for everyone to enjoy, as well as the attractive surrounding grounds. Masterpieces on show include Rembrandt’s self-portrait and pieces by Gainsborough and Vermeer, and there’s also a beautiful library designed by the famous architect Robert Adams. A series of events run throughout the year at this glorious site, and it’s a perfect place to while away a long summer day.
2. Winchester Palace
It may not look quite the same as it did in the 13th century thanks to a fire in 1814, but what remains at Winchester Palace packs some serious architectural punch. Once one of the largest and most important buildings in medieval London, the property used to serve as a townhouse for the Bishops of Winchester. Today, visitors can admire the impressive remaining walls of the Great Hall, as well as the stunning rose window that adorns the west gable. It’s a great site to visit as part of the Thames Path National trail, if you fancy making a day of it.
3. The Jewel Tower
The Jewel Tower is located in the heart of Westminster and was built around 1365 to house Edward III’s exotic treasure. For this reason, it was popularly known as the ‘King’s Privy Wardrobe’. It’s one of only two Medieval buildings that survived the fire of 1834, which unfortunately destroyed most of the original brickwork. The Tower has held many purposes across the last 650 years and seen a lot of history, but now rests as a fascinating heritage site for culture vultures to come and explore, with an average footfall of 30,000 visitors a year. Be sure to check out the ornate ceiling carvings and the original spiral staircase when you visit.
4. Eltham Palace
Termed a “masterpiece of modern design”, Eltham Palace is truly an architecture lover’s mecca. A royal residence in the 14th to 16th centuries, decrepit and “miserable” by the 17th and a born-again Art Deco haven by the 20th – this property has had quite the transformation over the years. In 1933, wealthy socialites Stephen and Virginia Courtauld acquired the lease of the palace site and began work on their Art Deco dream house. The eccentric duo added a host of quirky additions that you can go and visit, including a special room for their pet lemur, Mah-Jongg. Oh, and did we mention that the palace is supposedly haunted?
5. Chiswick House
In the 18th century, the third Earl of Burlington wanted to showcase his extensive art collection and build a residence that would enchant his guests. So he did what all rich people with a love for architecture do, and built the magnificent neo-Palladian villa Chiswick House in 1729. It’s filled to the brim with charming features to admire, such as the velvet wallpaper in the upstairs rooms, ornate ceilings across the property and William Kent design touches both inside and out. The gardens have inspired many landscapes we know and love, including New York’s Central Park, and are well worth making time to stroll through.