There were many highlights of my trip to London, but one in particular was my visit to Kenwood House. Located on the edge of Hampstead Heath, it is a striking neoclassical villa that was designed in large part by one of my favorite architects, Robert Adam. Born in Scotland in 1728, Adam was the son of prominent Scottish architect William Adam (1689-1748). After his father’s death, Robert took over the business with his brother John. In 1754 Robert left on a Grand Tour and spent the next five years studying architecture and visiting classical sites in Italy and France.
When he returned, he established his own practice in London with his brother. Inspired by his time abroad, Adam developed his own style which was influenced by classical design, but did not adhere as strictly to Roman rules for architecture as the earlier Palladian style had. Adam was an early proponent of creating a unified style that went beyond exterior and even interior design to include furniture and objects in the rooms themselves.
There was a residence on the property where Kenwood House now stands when William Murray, who became 1st Earl of Mansfield in 1776, purchased it in 1754. When he was elevated to the peerage with his appointment as Lord Chief Justice in 1756, Murray found that he needed a grander residence to match his new status. He hired Robert Adam to expand and improve the house and Robert and his brother John worked on the property from 1764-1779. The library is noted as one of Adam’s finest interiors and even from my snapshots, it is easy to see why. The Chancognie House is noted for its neoclassical detailing – certainly much simpler than Kenwood House, but it was fun to stand in the ornate library and search for any sort of similar design elements.
Something else that caught my eye at Kenwood House was the bath house. Located a short distance from the main house, it is a rather simple building that unfortunately was not open to the public. The construction date of the bath house is not known, but repairs to the structure were first noted in 1762. As you may recall from my earlier blog post, Chancognie had a “bathing house” on his property, so I am always quite intrigued by early bathing structures.
It is likely that the bath house at Kenwood and Chancognie’s bathing house would have been rather different structures (Chancognie’s bathing house no longer exists, although I am searching for archaeological evidence of it). In the 18th century, English bathing houses were more akin to plunge pools and were usually fed by cold springs as was the case at Kenwood. The cold water itself was considered crucial to promoting good health and curing certain ailments. In France, bathing was viewed as a way to promote good health through cleanliness, so hot or warm water was often used in baths and soaking was encouraged which would not have been likely in the frigid bath houses in England.
My time at Kenwood was much too brief – I could have easily spent all day there, but there were too many other items on my list of things to do. If you do go, it is well worth a long visit – the grounds are lovely and there is a nice café on site. I might even see you there as I must schedule a return visit just to spend some time sitting in that gorgeous library!