FOR some time now I have wanted to visit Isleworth's Gumley House, the late 18th century former home of John Gumley, an early glass and mirror maker.

Through the good offices of Christine Diwell, one of our local Heritage Guides, I was invited to join a party on a visit to the house and grounds.

For some reason, I expected to find a cold and austere building, but it is quite the opposite and still much as John Gumley would have left it.

Gumley chose to buy the land on the outskirts of the waterside village of Isleworth as a family home, not too far from the capital and a desirable place to live.

Gumley was born in 1670, the son of a cabinet maker, with a house and shop in The Strand.

When his father died, he took over the running of the shop, and the business prospered. At the beginning of the 18th century, Gumley turned his attention to making large mirrors, which were of excellent quality.

The Duke of Devonshire bought two 12-foot high mirrors, which were installed at Chatsworth House, and are still to be seen. Others went to Hampton Court and other royal palaces.

John married Susan White, daughter of a wealthy merchant, and they raised a family of seven children - three sons and four daughters.

His eldest daughter, Anna Maria, married William Pulteney, a prominent politician and secretary of war.

In December 1728, John Gumley died and was buried in Isleworth Parish Church, but his wife continued to live in the house.

Eventually, Anna Maria and William Pulteney also came to live there and it soon became a centre for visits from Alexander Pope from

Twickenham, Dr Johnson, Addison, St John Bolingbroke and William Pitt, who was to become prime minister.

The next occupant of the house was General Lord Lake, John Gumley's grandson.

He had a distinguished military career, fighting in the American War of Independence, and became equerry to the Prince of Wales, who was later George IV.

Following his death in 1808, the house was taken over by a prominent Quaker, Benjamin Angell, who was

followed by a relative, Charles Allen.

In 1841, Gumley House was bought by Madam de Bonnault d'Hout, widow of a viscount and founder of the religious order Faithful Companions of Jesus.

The house was converted into a boarding school for girls, and so started a distinguished line of education that continues to this day. Extra floors were added to the wings of the building.

Two of the early students were Princesses Blanche and Marguerite,

daughters of the Duc de Nemours, the eldest son of the exiled King of France, Louis Philippe.

School buildings were erected along the Twickenham Road, and later the present Gumley House Convent School, a modern and pleasant building with good facilities, was built in the grounds.

The house itself is the home of several sisters from the religious order and we were shown around by Sister Tait, who was proud to do so.