I don’t know if anyone watched ‘Victoria’ recently, on Channel 4, but some of the scenes were set in the library at Kenwood House. Specifically, the scenes when Sir Robert Peel, leader of the opposition and played by Nigel Lindsey, met with his supporters and fellow politicians. It was very exciting, and I told my mum to watch the show without telling her why. Unfortunately she didn’t recognise the room, I guess because on reflection she’s never been there.
It’s not the only time Kenwood has featured on the silver screen. Do you remember that bit towards the end of ‘Notting Hill’, where Hugh Grant goes to visit Julia Roberts on set? Yep, that’s filmed in Kenwood – in fact, just outside Kenwood House. Parts of a movie called ‘Scenes of a Sexual Nature’ were also filmed in the grounds. In one bit, Andrew Lincoln (who is now from ‘The Walking Dead’ but back then was from… nothing much really) hits on a girl in the flower garden right next to the house!
But before Nigel and Andrew and Hugh, there was William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson). He was a supporter of the abolition of slavery, which seems to get you many many brownie points. I am also a supporter of the abolition of slavery, but nobody cares any more. He was a lawyer and later a judge, and also a member of parliament, and he is remembered popularly now for his words against slavery, and also for having a mixed-race niece (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). The movie ‘Belle’ is all about it, if you’re interested.
I probably knew all these things, thanks to growing up just around the corner from Kenwood, but I had forgotten them. The reason I care about Lord Mansfield is his work in the commercial courts. He said, and I may be paraphrasing, that there should be,
a commercial law for commercial men.
By this he meant that the current law was outdated and not fit for purpose in the modern world. (By ‘the modern world’ I mean the late-18th century, which was quite modern when compared with the late-17th century). This was a time of international trade for than ever before, and if a letter written in India wasn’t interpreted in the same way by a merchant in the Americas, then what was the point? There had to be clarity and consistency, not only across English merchants but in dealings with the Scottish and (god forbid) French as well.
Either way, he was very important, and had a dimple on his chin.
The next Earl of Mansfield built a dairy. This was very in vogue at the time, thanks to Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst). The dairy was shut for a long time, but recently they started opening it on random weekends and I had the privilege of popping in a few weeks ago. No one is sure how functional it ever was, but it certainly looks like a nice place for a cup of tea and a cake.
After the Mansfield’s came Edward Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh, who was Irish. He collected paintings, and what they still have is truly spectacular – several pieces by Turner (Timothy Spall), a self portrait by Rembrandt, and a shit ton of stuff by Joshua Reynolds. It’s really great, and the rooms themselves are just stunning.
Better than all of this, however, obviously, is the landscape. The house is within Hampstead Heath, but the separation between the grounds of the house is quite clear. I even have a book about where all of the land for the Heath came from, who owned it and what it was used for. It’s very interesting, if you are interested in that kind of thing, but frankly it is the only park in ‘central’ London with proper woods, fields, and big enough that in the middle you can barely hear the traffic any more.
I know I live in London, and it’s ridiculous to get excited about history and grandeur. I mean, I’m within an hour of the actual Queen on most week days. But Kenwood is my history, and I’m very proud of it, and if you’re ever in this corner of the world I really urge you to take a look around. I’ve mentioned before but the pubs around here are lovely, if you need any more persuasion. I don’t – come Boxing Day, I know exactly where I’m going to be.