A mere eight miles from Piccadilly Circus, and with a tube station close by, lies one of the Capital’s most astonishing historical survivals – a magnificent country house estate and one of the largest green spaces in West London. Walk through the gates of Osterley Park and House and you leave London instantly behind; ahead lie tranquil gardens, parkland and woods, and at their centre, an intriguing house just waiting to be explored.
Now in the care of The National Trust, this splendid 18th-century mansion was created by architect, Robert Adam, on behalf of a wealthy banking family called the Childs who wanted a house in which to entertain and dazzle their friends and clients. A great number of servants lived and worked at Osterley, and today’s families can learn more about life above and below stairs with the aid of an audio visual handset, whose animated on-screen character guides visitors through the house, with lots of interactive fun along the way.
The handsets are part of an exciting programme of revitalisation to bring the history of Osterley’s families and servants to life. The Servants’ Hall uses projected imagery that reveals a footman polishing boots and a maid sewing clothes, whilst the kitchen area and exhibition rooms are scenes of activity, with hands-on props such as a dressing up box of 18th-century-style clothing – a perfect photo opportunity!
Osterley’s new wooden ‘compasses’, carved with images of creatures such as griffins and dragons, takes children on a tour of discovery as they seek out the exotic animals hidden within the house. A marigold counter, designed with younger children in mind (two years and up), provides a fun way to count some of Osterley’s unusual collections, whether animals, sailing ships, or the hundreds of marigolds that are displayed around the house (the marigold was the banking emblem of the Child family).
The children’s guidebook (£1) is a great introduction to some of the exciting characters from Osterley’s past. Search for the secret door in the Library, and discover exactly what the pedestals in the dining room were used for (one contains a chamber pot so that men didn’t have to leave the room and miss any conversation!). Kids love checking out the enormous bed in the State Bedroom, which requires a set of steps to mount it, and has ornate bed hangings decorated with eagles and poppies. The Tapestry Room also gets a good reaction; children can identifying the animals, such as rabbits and badgers, which are woven into the stunning red tapestries.
The garden itself is full of unusual things to discover, including the semicircular Garden House, full of fragrant orange and lemon trees; children are often surprised to see citrus fruits growing on trees. A garden trail map helps them to locate this and other quirky features, such as a rare cork tree and a boathouse, though once outside, they often make a beeline for Osterley’s meadow. Rich in wild flowers and insects, the long grasses, butterflies and beetles are just too tantalising to resist. It makes a great spot for a picnic too. The cool woods nearby are perfect for exploring, and in spring, they are littered with a hazy blue carpet of scented bluebells.
When energy levels need topping up, a stop at the Cafe, with its children’s menu and play area, is just the ticket. Close by is the Farm Shop, a bit of a local secret and heaving with seasonal fruit and veg from the estate’s tenant farmers, whilst the gift shop is packed with goodies to suit all pockets.
“People describe Osterley Park and House as a countryside oasis in the heart of London,” says Visitor Services Manager, Hannah Purcell. “Families with young children can happily spend an entire day here, which is probably quite unusual for a stately home! We’ve worked really hard to introduce some excellent value-for-money activities, and we’re well stocked with practical equipment such as front carrying slings and hip-carrying infant seats, to make a family visit just that bit easier,.”
Osterley Park and House opens on 3 March, together with the cafe and National Trust shop, Wednesday – Sunday, 11am – 5pm. The garden is open 11am – 5pm and the house 12.30 – 4.30pm. The Farm Shop is open all year round Wednesday – Sunday, 8am – 5pm in winter and until 6pm in the summer. The Park is open all year round from 8am – 6pm, extending to 8am – 7.30pm from 28 March.
House and garden: £8.80 adult / £4.40 child / family £22 (up to two adults and three children). Under 5s are free. National Trust members free. Garden only: £3.85 adult / £1.95 child. Car park: £3.50 Park: free.
For further information, call Osterley Park and House on 020 8232 5050 or visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/osterley.
Osterley Park, Jersey Road, Isleworth, Middlesex TW7 4RB.