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The Wilderness House

A Grade II* Listed Building in Esher, London

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.4064 / 51°24'23"N

Longitude: -0.3384 / 0°20'18"W

OS Eastings: 515670

OS Northings: 168796

OS Grid: TQ156687

Mapcode National: GBR 6G.3CV

Mapcode Global: VHGR8.2XZ7

Entry Name: The Wilderness House

Listing Date: 2 September 1952

Last Amended: 26 August 2016

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1080808

English Heritage Legacy ID: 205383

Location: Richmond upon Thames, London, KT8

County: London

District: Richmond upon Thames

Electoral Ward/Division: Hampton

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Esher

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: St Mark, Teddington and St John the Baptist, Hampton Wick

Church of England Diocese: London

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Summary

Estate house, thought to have been built circa 1700, with an extension of circa 1770 and another of the 1960s; the 1960s extension is not of special interest.

Description

MATERIALS: red brick laid in Flemish bond with rubbed brick window arches to the ground and first floor. The M-shaped roof is tiled, and there are four tall end stacks of stock brick with brick bands. The two extensions are of stock brick. The window openings hold six-over-six hornless sash frames; those to the first floor on the south elevation, with wide, ovolo-moulded glazing bars, appear to be original. The windows to the circa 1770 extension have external secondary casements.

PLAN: rectangular, double pile plan, on a west/east axis, with central entrances to the north and the south. Attached to the east end is the circa 1770 single-storey extension. Attached to the west end is the 1960s extension*, which is not of special interest and is excluded from the listing.

EXTERIOR: of two storeys, with attic and basement, the house is of five bays. The principal entrance is to the north, though the south entrance is now the one most in use. The north doorway, accessed by three steps, has a moulded surround and is sheltered by a modest hood on shaped brackets, thought to date from the C20. The glazed door is probably C19. The flush-framed windows have flat arches, and unusual moulded brick cills. The basement windows have segmental arches. The house has a wooden eaves cornice, above which are three dormer windows to the north and south elevations. There is a brick plat band. Plain railings edge the steps and the areas, probably dating from 1936-7, or altered at that date, when the eastern areas were enlarged. On the south elevation the doorway has a surround and hood as on the north elevation, with a C20 glazed door. The door opening on this elevation is at a slightly lower level, and has no steps preceding it, with the result that the ground-floor windows are set rather high in relation to the door; above the door is a window lighting the stair at half-storey level, breaking through the plat band. The windows have plain angled cills of moulded brick. Below the eaves, at the east end of the house, is a blue plaque commemorating the residence of Lancelot Brown, installed in 2011. In the west and east elevations, the M-shape of the roof is hidden by the squared gables. The west elevation is partially obscured by the 1960s kitchen extension. Above it, the southern stack projects from the wall, in which are two small C20 windows lighting bathrooms at first-floor and attic level. On the east elevation, the stacks project; between them is an inserted window at attic level, with a fire escape. The circa 1770 dining room extension has a hipped roof behind a parapet, defined by a plat band; there is a brick plinth. The elevations have tall regularly spaced window openings, with two to north and south and three to the east, but some of the openings are blind: one of the openings to the north and both of those to the south are blind, as is the central opening to the east. Basement windows on the south elevation are protected by railings.

INTERIOR: the house retains an unusually complete interior of circa 1700, the ground- and first-floor rooms having full-height ovolo-moulded recessed panelling, with dado rails and matching doors, and a variety of cornices, as well as original chimneypieces. Other than the dining room, to the north-west, the ground-floor rooms have shutters. The house appears to have been built with an unusual plan for its date, with the north entrance leading into a large entrance hall, now the drawing room; a plan of 1883 shows this arrangement, and there is no indication of an earlier alteration in the fabric of the building. In 1936-7 a partition was constructed creating a passage leading from the north doorway to the stair to the south, but this has been removed. The dog-leg stair has a closed string, the turned balusters having vase-shaped sections; there is a moulded handrail, and plain square-section newel posts. The staircase is panelled to dado level. In the original plan, the panelled stair hall gave access to a room to east and one to west, as well as to the entrance hall to the north-east; the dining room was accessed from the entrance hall and the south-west room. The opening to the west now leads to a corridor, formed in 1881-3. The entrance hall/drawing room is the largest room, and has a chimneypiece with marble slips within an eared moulded frame. To the north of this is an arched panelled alcove leading to the circa 1770 dining room extension. A doorway to the west leads to the current, and probably original, dining room; the form of the panelling suggests that there may once have been another connecting door in this wall, adjacent to the front door. The dining room, which is also accessed from the later corridor, has a flush marble firesurround set into the panelling, with a moulded shelf above; the shelf immediately above the chimneypiece is more recent. Above the fireplace is a panel with a bolection-moulded frame, a feature seen elsewhere in the house; there is a box cornice. To either side of the chimneybreast are panelled alcoves, containing modern shelves. The room immediately to the south, within which the corridor has been formed, has a stone firesurround with a convex moulding to the outside and a moulded shelf to the panelling above. The panelling has been replaced to the north wall, and a narrow cupboard formed to the north of the fireplace. To the south of the fireplace is a new opening to the 1960s kitchen extension. The south-east room has a similar firesurround, with the moulded shelf set immediately above. There is a panelled alcove to the south, and a cupboard to the north. The circa 1770 dining room extension is accessed by a door of that date with raised and fielded panels. The room has a chimneypiece with husk festoons to the frieze and drops to the projecting jambs, and with roundels to the end blocks; there is a dentil moulding below the frieze, and marble slips. The cornice has both a dentil and an egg and dart moulding, and there is a chair rail. The window openings are panelled with original shutters.

On the first floor, all the rooms have cupboard alcoves to either side of the chimneybreasts, some being adapted to hold washbasins. The north-west room has a stone bolection-moulded chimneypiece. Other rooms have firesurrounds with a convex moulding, of the design seen elsewhere; in the south-east room this is of marble, and a marble shelf has been added. In the north-east room, the glass of the eastern window is engraved with the name ‘Nadia Romanov’, believed to be the granddaughter of the Grand Duchess Xenia. The south-west room has been divided, and converted to a bathroom and separate WC; the room was divided with the WC to the north in 1912, and the bath installed in 1936. New mouldings have been added to the partition and the east wall. There has been some subdivision within the attic storey, in which timber roof trusses are visible. To the north-west is a divided room with surviving plain panelling to the west, incorporating a small chimneypiece with shelving above – in which a later grate has been inserted – the cupboards to either side having matching cupboard doors. Elsewhere there are plain painted C19 chimneypieces.

The stair to the basement has the same balusters as above, with a plainer handrail, full-height newel post, and boarded panelling. The basement area, originally home to the kitchen offices, has undergone some rearrangement, and changes in use; the eastern part has new floors, though the original stone floors survive elsewhere. There is a chimneypiece to the north-east, probably dating from the C19, and formerly holding the range. Beneath the circa 1770 extension is a vaulted cellar section. Some C19 kitchen fittings survive, including a dresser, with cupboards in the later section, and there are some shutters. To the west is a large room, formerly the laundry.

* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act of 1990 ('the Act') it is declared that this aforementioned feature is not of special architectural or historic interest.

History

Wilderness House is thought to have been built circa 1700; a drawing of Hampton Court by Leonard Knyff dated circa 1702 shows the house complete. William Talman was Comptroller of the King’s Works at this time. Henry Wise joined Talman and George London, Deputy Superintendent of the Gardens in 1699 as Master Gardener, and the erection of the house may have been connected with his arrival; the house is referred to as the ‘Master Gardner’s House’ in C18 records. Wise remained in the role of Master Gardener until 1726, with responsibility for Windsor, Newmarket, St James’s Palace and Newmarket as well as Hampton Court; at Hampton Court he played an important role in William III’s remodelling of the gardens, including the completion of the Privy Garden in 1702, and in the subsequent development of the gardens under Queen Anne. Charles Bridgeman, Wise’s former assistant, who made a series of surveys of the gardens, succeeded him in 1726, moving to the ‘Master Gardners Capitall House’ shortly afterwards; Bridgeman reduced the formality of William III’s garden at Hampton Court under the direction of Queen Caroline. Bridgeman died in 1738, and after being held by George Lowe (1738-1758) and John Greening (1758-1764) the post was given to Lancelot Brown, who retained the role of 'Chief Gardener' until his death in 1783.

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716-83) was England’s leading and most influential landscape designer of the mid to late C18. From 1741 to 1751 he was head gardener for Lord Cobham at Stowe (Bucks), after which he established himself as an independent landscape architect, working on successive major commissions. Following his appointment at Hampton Court, he continued to expand his practice, taking on a number of assistants, several of whom became well-known designers in their own right. At the peak of his success, in the 1760s and 1770s, he had an annual turnover of £15,000 (around £1M today), and overall worked on well over 200 estates. Brown developed on a much grander scale the idea of the naturalistic landscape promoted by William Kent (c.1685-1748), ‘Capability’ referring to his ability to realize the capabilities, that is the inherent possibilities, of landscapes. There is still much to learn about his achievements, both in terms of individual sites and of his working methods.

In his role at Hampton Court, it is said that Brown refused to sweep away William III's formal layout 'out of respect to himself and his profession', but he stopped cutting the topiary into the established formal shapes, instead creating tall irregular forms. Though he was reprimanded for neglecting the gardens, it is possible that Brown wished to introduce a more naturalistic effect. A visual record of the Hampton Court gardens, as well as Home Park and Bushy Park, during Brown’s tenure, is provided by the large collection of watercolours made by his surveyor, John Spyers, and bought by Catherine the Great (now in the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg). Brown planted what is now known as the Great Vine at Hampton Court, and was reported to have kept turkeys for his own use in the Wilderness to the east of the house. Nearby he remodelled the gardens at Richmond for George III, and assisted David Garrick with his temple to Shakespeare, building a tunnel under Hampton Court Road to join it to the rest of his estate. In 1767 Brown bought his own estate, Fenstanton Manor in Cambridgeshire, but became very attached to Wilderness House, and spent the majority of his time there until his death; he died whilst visiting his daughter in London.

Besides Wilderness House, the post of Master Gardener brought with it a house on Hampton Court Green, which Brown let out. There may, therefore, have been a further property which Brown used as his office, since Brown, who had five children, appears to have found the accommodation at Wilderness House limited. In 1769 he requested that an additional room be built at Wilderness House; Brown suffered from asthma, and thought the rooms in the house small and uncomfortable, and the existing kitchen in the basement ‘very offensive’. This new room was built as a dining room under the auspices of William Chambers as Comptroller of the King’s Works; the room survives. At the same time a brewhouse to the south was converted to a kitchen.

Wilderness House remained the principal Hampton Court gardener’s house until 1881, following which works were done to improve the building for use as a grace and favour residence; in 1883 the first occupant moved in. The house was given electricity in 1907 and its first bathroom in 1912. From 1937 to 1960 Wilderness House was occupied by the Grand Duchess Xenia of Russia, sister of Tsar Nicholas II, for whom some alterations were made; Capability Brown’s dining room was converted to a Russian Orthodox chapel for her use. In the 1960s an extension containing a kitchen and lobby was built to the west, over the former laundry. The house remains a residence to this day.

There were formerly a number of outbuildings to the south of the house, including the brewhouse; these were pulled down in the 1880s. A replacement coachhouse and stable building, later converted to a house, was constructed in 1884, to the design of John Lessels; this is listed separately.

This List amendment was made in 2016, Lancelot Brown's tercentenary year.

Reasons for Listing

Wilderness House, an estate house of circa 1700, at Hampton Court Palace, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest and degree of survival: as a house of circa 1700, surviving largely unchanged, with the plan largely intact, and an almost complete interior of good quality, including stair, panelling, and chimneypiece, Wilderness House is a rarity;
* Historical interest: the house was built within the gardens of Hampton Court Palace as the Master Gardener’s house, and as such has had illustrious occupants including Lancelot Brown;
* Group value: the house is set within the Grade-I registered gardens of Hampton Court Palace, with which it has such a strong historical association, and forms a group with the buildings of Hampton Court Palace, most of which are listed at Grade I; the area of Hampton Court Palace and gardens is also a scheduled ancient monument.

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