London: Osterley Park

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Many of you will no doubt be relieved to learn that Osterley Park was the “last hurrah” for my National Trust membership (at least until I travel to a different part of England that is rich enough in National Trust properties to justify the price of membership, because I’ve been to nearly every one in the Southeast).  And I think it was a good one, if for no other reason than because it’s so bloody expensive without a National Trust card.  Not only do they shake you down for £11.50 per adult, they demand an extra £6 for parking from non-members, which, for all that Osterley is part of Greater London, is difficult to avoid, since it’s a good mile and a half from Isleworth Station, which is longer than I wanted to walk on a day as cold as the one we visited, plus we would have ended up paying way more for train fare than gas. (And what’s up with Isleworth being pronounced “Eyes-el worth?”  I’ve learned to just not attempt to say any British place names unless I’ve heard a Brit pronounce them first, so I don’t sound like a moron).  And they check your pass not one, but THREE times.  They’re clearly super worried about people looking at their smelly duck pond without a ticket.

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It’s lucky then, that Osterley looks suitably impressive enough from the outside to sort of justify all the hassle.  Oh, speaking of hassle, this place has the wonkiest arrow signs I’ve ever seen.  The one directing you to the toilets would have cut across an open field to nowhere if you followed it, and the one to the house entrance was equally askew and confusing (oh, and speaking of the toilets…my heart sank when I saw the row of portapotties, but never fear, there are proper toilets just a short walk from those. Which were bizarrely off-puttingly missing soap, but at least they were warm and had running water). Disregarding the sign, we headed up the steps to the most logical house entrance, which fortunately turned out to be the correct one as well.

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And the entrance hall was pretty swanky, all Georgian grandeur and grisaille paintings (I made a special point to remember that term, because usually my knowledge of artistic styles is pretty limited).  The house was designed by Robert Adam, who I think is going to become one of my favourites, because it was very iconically Georgian, right down to the frequent use of arsenical green paint (presumably sans arsenic.  Actually, the green in here is closer to Paris Green than Scheele’s Green, which is more yellowy, but Paris Green was a regency invention, so I’m not sure what this shade is meant to be replicating.  I’m not really a colour expert, so I can’t say.  I just know what I like, and what I like is green paint in a Georgian interior).

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Anyway, Robert Adam was unusual for his time in that he planned out every element of a house, including the furniture, meaning the complete “Adam’s look” was incredibly expensive.  And if the furniture in here was selected by him, and is mostly original, he was big on Chinese chests and screens.  Lots o’ lacquer.  The upstairs rooms actually weren’t much to look at, as they were all undergoing “winter cleaning,” but it got better downstairs.

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We were offered the option of a free audio guide upon entry, but decided to take our chances with those much derided (by me) National Trust binders instead. We’d also read a couple reviews online that mentioned that the house volunteers here were overly chatty, but I didn’t get that at all.  Certainly they were less taciturn than at many other National Trust properties, but that was welcome after the usual awkward silences I encounter in them.  If anything, a few of them could have volunteered more information, especially after they watched me reading the room binders, but maybe it’s not fair of me to expect that, especially when my demeanor often doesn’t invite conversation (I can’t say “demeanor” without picturing Uncle Leo in Seinfeld with his painted-on eyebrows all askew).

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But yeah, the interiors were pretty swell, even if I don’t share the Child family’s love for Oriental art (aside from that urn-dog, below.  He rocks).  The pink and the green of several of the rooms was kind of a weird combination, but I think it worked.  There was also a big emphasis on symmetry, to the extent that the house included false doors in places to balance things out.

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And I am super envious of the Long Gallery.  I work out a lot, always at home, both because I can’t afford a gym, and I have a complex about working out in front of people even if I could, and I couldn’t stop thinking about what I could do if I had all that space.  I mean, I could Prancercise in my very own home without strangers laughing at me (yes, it does look stupid, but I’ve tried it a couple times when there was no one in sight, and it is really fun).

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But the very best thing of all (does anyone else automatically fill in “there’s a counter on this ball” after that, or am I dating myself as a Skip-it owning child of the early ’90s?  I had the purple one, which was a total bitch to find, because I was am a spoiled brat) was this game in the Long Gallery, I think called Jesters and a Devil(?) (or something to that effect).  It was a table with wooden pegs lined up on it, and you launched a top (not as easy as it looked) and tried to knock down as many as possible, each peg being worth a different amount of points.  Fortunately, there were no children in sight, so I got to try it out, but only once, as all the other adults visiting were also queued up to use it.  It was that good.  I need to figure out what it was actually called, and if people still make them for a reasonable price, because I want one (even though I don’t have the space for it, not having a long gallery and all).

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My other favourite thing, at least in the upstairs part of the house, was the Etruscan Room, because I can’t get enough of that hand-stencilled wallpaper.  So gorgeous.  The Tapestry Room, as seen below, was also impressive, in a very busy kind of way, but I prefer the cleaner lines and sphinx-like figures of the Etruscan stuff.  They were both part of the wishfully made royal suite that none of the royals ever visited, both because George III was too busy wrestling with his sanity (and those pesky American colonies), and the royals didn’t really travel around the country leeching off the hospitality of their nobles as much as they used to by that point.

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We eventually made our way to the basement, and I was grateful it was much warmer than the rest of the house, as I was freezing my ass off in there (I put gloves on AFTER entering the house).  The basement also somehow seemed bigger than the rest of the house; it just kept going, and was very maze-like (and again suffered from those crappy directional arrows).

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There were quite a few kitcheny rooms, and some slightly swanky offices for the housekeeper, but after having seen the sign for the “Wig and Bum Shop,” I was just biding my time until we made it there.

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Now, the wigs are self-explanatory, but the “bums” are pads that were worn over the backside, so that your derriere puffed out attractively in dresses.  You can see me helpfully demonstrating one in the first picture, above.  There was also a delightful array of wigs to try on (if you don’t mind risking lice, though fingers crossed, my head seems fine so far), and I was waiting impatiently for a teenage girl to leave the room so I could try one on without her judgmental gaze (I do not need young people glaring at me.  I don’t care if I look like a dork, but her blank stare was unnerving).  Eventually I just picked one up, and my obvious uncoolness scared her off, so I was free to pose with wig and bum.  Does it suit me?

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We reluctantly left the relative warmth of the basement for a very quick stroll through the gardens (after having our cards scanned yet again, can’t have anyone sneaking in to see those half-dead winter plants, obviously).

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If the map was to be believed, there were any number of individual gardens out here, from a Tudor walled garden, to an “American garden” featuring American plants which weren’t in bloom in mid-winter, and the “winter garden” which was in bloom, though filled with cameras to catch potential plant thieves (why would you steal a plant, and what exactly would you do with it once you did?  Just walk out of there with a bunch of dirty old roots hanging out of your pocket?!).

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However, it was way too cold and muddy to take the long walk around, so I settled for peering inside this neat little building that turned out to be a kind of “temple” dedicated to Pan.  If anything, the garden could have benefited from more follies.  I mean, surely that’s what any Georgian garden needs to make it REALLY impressive.

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There were also some stables and things with shops in them, and that aforementioned duck pond with a variety of smelly ducks (not knocking water fowl in general, because swans are the only birds I actively dislike, but they really did stink), but the house was most definitely the highlight of the experience.  And it actually did offer up more information than many National Trust properties (plus I didn’t take the audio guide, so there might have been even more available), but I was genuinely too impressed with most of the glorious Georgian interiors to even care that much.  Give me that Jesters and Devil game, and a few wigs to try on, and I’m a happy camper (I have never literally been a happy camper though.  Camping is the worst).  3.5/5, but I have to say it, like I do for every National Trust property: it is way too expensive if you’re not a member, especially with the parking charge thrown in, so please bear that in mind.

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  1. This one really takes the cake – it’s far too beautiful. I’d give anything for a few cans of that green and the lovely hanging lamps over the stairwell. And really, everything else. What was with that crazy tripping hazard (rolled rug on the step) in the gold room? I’d have found no end of ways to fall over that thing.

    1. I always say that my dream is to live in a Georgian house with green walls. Failing that, a big old rambling Victorian mansion with lots of turrets. Either way, as long as I have my own personal library, I’ll be happy.
      I didn’t really notice that rolled up carpet when I was there, but I thought the same thing about it being a tripping hazard when I looked through the photos. I think it was to demarcate where they didn’t want you walking in that room, which is maybe why it wasn’t an issue.

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