Gunnersbury Park & Museum
Alexander : Sedgley
- Original design
- Alexander : Sedgley, 1802
- Sydney Smirke, 1835
- Sydney Smirke, 1835
- Rodney Melville + Partners, 2015
The 2017 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2018 programme in July.
The first Gunnersbury House was designed by John Webb (a pupil and son-in-law of the famous architect, Inigo Jones) and built in 1633 for Sir John Maynard in the newly fashionable Palladian style.
After Maynard’s death the estate was bought in 1739 by Henry Furness, MP and art collector. He extended the house and commissioned William Kent to landscape the gardens.
Princess Amelia also developed the estate between 1761 and 1786, but the original house was demolished in 1800 by a later owner.
The present house was built by Alexander Copland in 1802 and sited to the west of the original house. (Copland was a prominent builder and partner of Henry Holland whose firm made a fortune building barracks for the Government during the Napoleonic Wars.) At about the same time, 1806-9, the small mansion, next door, was built for Stephen Cosser, who had bought the north-east corner of the park as a separate lot.
In 1835, after Copland’s death, the large mansion was bought as a country residence by Nathan Mayer Rothschild, the founder of the English branch of the Rothschild family of bankers. Nathan employed Sydney Smirke to enlarge and embellish the house.
Sydney Smirke (1798-1877) is best known as the architect of the circular Reading Room at the old British Library. He had trained and worked with his brother, the more famous architect Sir Robert and between them they also designed a number of London clubs. Many of his drawings for the refurbishment of the large mansion still exist at the Royal Institute of British Architects and at New Court, home of the Rothschild Archive.
The large mansion is in the neo-classical style and is now a listed building (grade II*). The ground plan is a long rectangle, with the ground sloping away to the south from a terrace which originally commanded magnificent views across the park to the river.
The building is stuccoed brick with a lead and slate roof hidden by parapets. The north front has three storeys with sash windows, which are arched on the first floor. It is broken into three vertical sections by cornerstones and divided horizontally by string-courses. A central porte cochere is supported by four Doric columns and four pilasters and has an open-work scale pattern design on its parapet, which is echoed in the cast-iron balconies of the first-floor rooms on the wings. The south front has a three-storey centre section between two-storey wings. It is slightly recessed to create a Doric-columned loggia. The eastern end is a conservatory, for which Smirke produced several designs. The western end, built in plainer style, housed the large kitchens and domestic offices.
The interior still retains many of the original mouldings, pillars, fireplaces, doors and door furniture designed by Smirke. Unfortunately, when the Rothschilds sold the house and park to the local councils in 1925, they took with them all the pictures, furniture and furnishings which would have complemented these grand architectural designs.
A double height staircase hall. The central pattern on the marble floor reflects what would have been a grand chandelier above. The pink walls reputedly recreate pigments discovered during paint analysis in 1980, but seem out of keeping with the rest of the house. A second flight of marble stairs rises from the balcony and leads to two first-floor bedrooms. The square pillars and plastered screen at first-floor level are later additions.
To the left (east) of the entrance hall. The rosettes on the marble fireplace echo those found in many of the other rooms. The central section of the fireplace and the reeded glass in the bay windows were installed in the 1950s.
This double height room housed the main staircase before the 1835 alterations. The stained-glass skylight allowed natural light from a glass lantern, but prevented the family from being seen from the servants, whose quarters were on the third floor.
Famous as the room where, in 1875, Disraeli reputedly agreed to borrow money from Lionel de Rothschild for the Government to buy shares in the Suez Canal. This room has been refurbished at various times. The fireplace may be original but the mirror is a modern reproduction.