Danson House (Kent): rivalling Chiswick House

Danson House is a right looker.  A proper Palladian mansion: later additions were pulled down and English Heritage spent a bomb bringing it back from dereliction. I do prefer a house when the oft-so added wings aren’t there to take the balance all out of joint.

I hadn’t heard of Danson House until I saw a picture of it in the London Open House Weekend guide for Bexleyheath.   Figuring it was right up my street off I went (train from London Bridge to Bexleyheath and bike for 15 minutes to Danson Park).  Be warned, car parking in the park is not cheap on a weekend but the parkland (originally for the house) is lovely on a nice day and the stable block is now a pub, providing refreshment after the visit if you don’t fancy the in-house cafe in the lower rear entrance hall.  We had tea in the cafe to give something back (seeing as entry was free for Open House Weekend).

Reason to visit: to see a Palladian villa outside of the Veneto, in a setting largely as intended and with furnished and sumptuous interiors (which Chiswick House lacks).

Built c. 1766 Robert Taylor was the architect, embracing all the classicism of the villas seen around Vicenza.  Mr Boyd decided to build his house true to classical ideals and I’m glad he left such an easily accessible example of good old clean Palladianism close to the Capital.  I’m not sure about the stairs though.  A bit bulky for my liking.  Not sure if they’re later.

Down on its luck after splendid beginnings, by the 1990s the house was in danger of falling down but English Heritage rescued it and spent over 10 years on the restoration, which won the Georgian Group National Award in 2004.

Entering via the shop a lovely staircase goes up to a set of well-restored rooms on the piano nobile: saloon, library/organ room etc.   If you want to see a good example of an elliptical staircase there is one here.  The organ also functions.  The furniture has been brought in and the interiors are reconstructions but this house is worth visiting for the architecture alone.  The interiors are just icing.  There’s not much to see on the top floor.  Something to repair and restore for the future perhaps?

Garden?  There isn’t one.  The gardens of the house are now a public park.  This very fact though means there’s nothing to take away from the setting in which the house was intended to sit.

Combining a visit to Danson House with one to Hall Place not far away made for a nice day out somewhere I wouldn’t otherwise tend to venture to.  Red House (NT – William Morris’ house) is another worthy stop in this part of town.

When visited: 2010

Stars out of 5 (house): ***

Stars out of 5 (garden): *

Nearest town: Bexleyheath

Website: http://www.dansonhouse.org.uk/

Theme tune: Help (I need somebody) by the Beatles: this is one house that had seen better days!

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