A historic and magnificent house in Hampstead
, in north London
. It was built for the Lord Chief Justice
, Lord Mansfield
, in the late 1700s, and expanded by Robert Adam
. Later it belonged to the Guinness
heir, the Earl of Iveagh
, who presented it to the nation in the 1920s. It is now run by English Heritage
, who have a quite decent café in one end of it, a popular destination for walkers. Its combined virtues make it one of London's favourite beauty spots.
It has an excellent collection of paintings, including Rembrandt (a superb self-portrait), Vermeer (The Guitar Player), Gainsborough, Reynolds, Turner, Joseph Wright of Derby, Angelica Kauffmann, François Boucher, and Frans Hals. It's probably the best private collection ever donated to the nation.
The house has a wide white frontage of classical splendour looking out and down across lawns where once sheep grazed (there is the possibility of reintroducing them for period authenticity) onto a lake, at the far end of which is a sham bridge. On the far side of the lake, nestled amid the woods and facing out to the great lawns, is (sometimes) a large acoustic shell where an orchestra sits for summer night concerts, often of popular classics with fireworks. The extensive and varied grounds and woods of Kenwood Estate are, though legally separate, for rambling Londoners de facto part of the vast open range of Hampstead Heath. Part of the woodland on the east is known by the spelling Caen Wood.
The library is splendid, one of the most impressive rooms, with a ceiling covered in classically inspired scenes.
As well as the paintings it is full of in almost every room, there are quite a few other artefacts of interest: one is a Merlin clock, its workings wholly visible under its glass bell. There is also a painting of its inventor Joseph Merlin. Another is called the Titus Clock, a very gold thing featuring a statuette of the Emperor Titus with his saying Diem Perdidi (I have lost a day). The music room has several ornate old instruments.
During the Gordon Riots, anti-Catholic mobs threatened to descend on the house to take out their anger against the pro-emancipation Lord Mansfield, but they were delayed by the innkeeper of the nearby Spaniards Inn until troops could be brought in to protect it.
In 1925 the Earl of Iveagh bought it for £107 900. He never lived there, and died on 7th October 1927 leaving the house and artworks to a Kenwood Trust and the land to the London City Council. Much of the original Georgian furnishings had already been dispersed by previous tenants. The art collection was predominantly Iveagh's doing, not the original Mansfield collection. Kenwood House was opened to the public on 18th July 1928.
Closed for the War in 1939, it reopened in 1950, full control having passed from the Trust to the LCC the previous year. The LCC's successor the Greater London Council ran it from 1966 to 1986, when English Heritage took it on. The first lakeside concert was held on the 14th July 1951, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.
In 1969 they erected Dr Johnson's summerhouse, a wooden bower that had once been in the Thrales' gardens in Southwark, where the Great Cham of Literature used to relax when he was with them. Sadly, this was destroyed by arson in 1991. A much greater trial struck Kenwood in 1974: Vermeer's The Guitar Player was stolen on 23th February and held hostage for political demands; it was discovered abandoned but safe on 6th May.