There was a time when Greenwich and the area to the south-east of what is now central London was the Royal Hub of London – Eltham Palace (now in a Kent suburb) and The Queen’s House (now the National Maritime Museum) are prime examples.
Then there was Greenwich Park, as all royals liked a hunting ground and somewhere to pop their deer.
A park of course needs a keeper, or a Ranger, and Ranger’s House, on the Blackheath side of the park, was where he or she lived during part of the 19th century.
However, the title ‘Ranger’ is really a token one, bestowed upon Royal friends, who used the house as a residence.
The house is Georgian (circa 1700 built by Capt, later Vice-Admiral Francis Hosier (1673–1727), on wasteland adjacent to Greenwich park) and now owned by English Heritage.
English Heritage pimp it out as an event venue and make it quite inconvenient to visit (booking must be made in advance). Second try I got in.
When EH needed some new contents they found The Wernher Collection, the life collection of diamond magnate Sir Julius Wernher (1850-1912), whose own house, Lutton Hoo, is now a hotel, sold to pay death duties.
Reason to visit: if you fancy a summer’s day visit to Greenwich Park and fancy a couple of hours out of the sun. Otherwise, don’t make a special trip. I made a day of it on the bike by continuing on to Eltham Palace.
Entry is only by guided tour by a robotic guide that speaks like reading from a guide book and delivered everything so fast it’s hard to take anything in.
However, from what I remember the tour is definitely about the collection, not the house and my questions about whether paint colours are based on scrapings and therefore true to the original house or just appropriate in period I repeatedly got the answer ‘they are Georgian colours’. I must have been asking about something which wasn’t in the book the EH guide had read because she didn’t really seem to understand that I was interested in the fabric and decoration of the house or how exactly to answer my questions.
The final room of the tour houses a table and lots of information about the house itself, which visitors are left to pick over at their leisure. However, after being herded around the house for over and hour most people drifted off without reading anything. Shame really.
There’s no cafe and parking is difficult (given the proximity to the park) so I’d suggest getting there by bicycle (as I did) or train.
There is a lot of ‘stuff’ in the house, the nicest being the suite of 18th century French furniture in a recreation of Mrs Wernher’s sitting room. Apparently she insisted on using all the furniture and refused to keep it just as antiques to look at.
If you’re a fan of Gothic, the Renaissance, 700 works of art are on display, including early religious paintings and Dutch Old Masters, tiny carved Gothic ivories, fine Renaissance bronzes and silver treasures revealing the genius of medieval craftsmen and the unparalleled quality of Renaissance decorative arts.
In 1748 the lease of Ranger’s House was inherited by the 4th Earl of Chesterfield. He added the bow windowed gallery for entertaining and displaying his art. Note the other bow is shorted because there wasn’t enough land to make the house symmetrical. This was added by Richard Hulse, the next owner.
The house eventually passed to the Crown and was occupied by Princess Sophia Mathilda of Gloucester during the early 1800s.
The house became the official residence of the Ranger of Greenwich Park in 1816, when it was called Chesterfield House. Previously Rangers lived at the Queen’s House, Greenwich.
The London County Council acquired the house in 1897, restored it and used it as, inter alia a council sports, social club, and museum. Since EH has taken over, at least now it houses a (once) private collection and although I wouldn’t go again to see the collection, this house may have avoided complete takeover by linoleum flooring and safety hand railing that may have been its fate (it already is in the basement) if the LCC had remained in charge.
When visited: 2011
House * out of 5: **