Fenton House

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Architecture, art, ’arpsichords and apples

Fenton House, Hampstead Grove, Hampstead


Painted statue of a young man in 18th-century costume, on the lawn facing the rear of the house
A paint­ed lead stat­ue of a shep­herd in the gar­den of Fen­ton House

Philip Ibbet­son* Fen­ton was born in 1731 at his uncle’s Lan­cashire manor house, Hoghton Tow­er, and he grew up in York­shire. His par­ents were well-off and he got rich­er in Riga (now the cap­i­tal of Latvia), export­ing Russ­ian pro­duce to Lon­don. Fen­ton acquired the prop­er­ty that now bears his name in 1793, a cen­tu­ry after it had been built (as Ostend House) by an uniden­ti­fied archi­tect for an unknown client. The retired mer­chant spent the last 13 years of his life at Fen­ton House and was buried in the church­yard of St John-at-Hamp­stead in August 1806.

Described by Pevs­ner as reflect­ing “the straight­for­ward domes­tic clas­si­cism of the William and Mary peri­od”, Fen­ton House is a com­pact, square struc­ture, orig­i­nal­ly with a south­ern entrance and four rooms on each of its main two floors. When James Fen­ton inher­it­ed the prop­er­ty in 1807 he added a new entrance on the east side (shown bot­tom right) and unit­ed the south rooms on the ground floor, cre­at­ing a full-width din­ing room.

The last pri­vate own­er of Fen­ton House was Lady Kather­ine Bin­ning (née Salt­ing), who was the niece of George Salt­ing, a Vic­to­ri­an art con­nois­seur who left most of his vast col­lec­tion to the Nation­al Gallery, the British Muse­um and the V&A on his death in 1909. The residue of his estate went to Lady Bin­ning, who was almost as avid a col­lec­tor as her uncle had been. She bought Fen­ton House in 1936 and filled it with fine fur­ni­ture, Euro­pean and ori­en­tal chi­na and works of art, includ­ing a sur­pris­ing vari­ety of paint­ings, as well as tapes­tries and oth­er needle­work.

On her death in 1952, Lady Bin­ning bequeathed to the Nation­al Trust the house and its con­tents. These were sup­ple­ment­ed Major George Ben­ton Fletcher’s col­lec­tion of ear­ly key­board instru­ments, so that almost every room is now graced by a vir­ginal, clavi­chord, harp­si­chord or spinet.

Up in one of the attic rooms there’s a door to a bal­cony with a mar­vel­lous view across Lon­don – and down into the grounds, which are almost as delight­ful as the house itself. There’s an expan­sive walled gar­den with for­mal walks and a seclud­ed sunken area, a 300-year-old apple orchard and a kitchen gar­den. The gar­den’s stat­ue of a shep­herd (shown above) was cast in lead by John Cheere in 1735.

Fenton House sixover

Fenton House and Garden, Hampstead Grove, London NW3 6SP
Phone: 020 7435 3471
Email: fentonhouse@nationaltrust.org.uk
Website: Fenton House
Open: March to October: Wednesday–Sunday and bank holidays 11am–5pm
November to February: selected weekends only (see the website)
Admission: £6.50 (adults), £3.00 (children), £16.00 (families)
Nearest station: Hampstead (Northern line)
NearbyKeats House

 

* George du Mau­ri­er, who lived at 28 Hamp­stead Grove, wrote Peter Ibbet­son in 1891. Did du Mau­ri­er bor­row his hero’s sur­name from his for­mer neigh­bour?