HAM House, the only survivor of the great houses built on the banks of the Thames during the 17th century, is celebrating its 400th year. The mansion was built in 1610 for Sir Thomas Vavasour, Knight Marshall to King James I.
After his death in 1620, the house passed for a short time to the Earl of Holderness, and later to William Murray, 1st Earl of Dysart, who was a childhood friend of Prince Charles, later King Charles I.
It was he who created many of the fine features of the house, the great staircase and the rooms on the first floor, including the great dining room and the long gallery.
He filled the house with many works of art and fine furniture. On his death, the house passed into the hands of his extravagant daughter, Elizabeth.
In 1647 she married Lionel Tollemarche, 3rd Baronet of Helmingham Hall, with whom she had 11 children. Five survived into adulthood.
Elizabeth enjoyed being the centre of attention. It was said she had many affairs and was the talk of the court. She worked in the background for the restoration of the monarchy, and it was rumoured she had an affair with John Maitland, the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Following the death of her husband, she married Maitland, then the Duke of Lauderdale, and enjoyed her new status of Duchess. The couple extended the house in keeping with the duke's position at court, and he was one of the powerful men behind King Charles II's return.
Following his death, red-haired Elizabeth found she could not continue her extravagant ways, and died at Ham in 1698. Following her death, the house passed to the eldest son of her first marriage, Lionel Tollemarche, the 3rd Earl of Dysart.
The 5th Earl rearranged the layout of the gardens, much as we see today.
Ham House passed down the family, and so kept the art and furniture we are now fortunate to appreciate as a complete example of a Jacobean House.
In 1948, Sir Lionel Tollemarche gave the property to the National Trust.
The house and gardens are said to be haunted by a number of ghosts.
It is thought the spirit of Elizabeth visits the rooms, and a small dog has been seen running on the first floor. Dogs are not allowed in the house.
I remember hearing a story of a visitor who objected to a hooded figure that had been placed in the chapel.
She had to be told no figure had been placed there. An apparition has been seen passing through the wall where a door used to be.
On my last visit, while walking round the gardens, I must admit at times I did not feel alone, and expected to walk round a corner and come across figures in old costume.
There are two ways to reach the mansion from north of the river.
The Hammertons Ferry will take you to some landing steps on the banks of the river, but an easier way is by bus from Richmond.
Look out for some special National Trust events to celebrate the 400th anniversary.