Perched on a ridge of high ground stands a beautiful white villa, overlooking a lake and acres of lush parkland. This scenic, and very rustic atmosphere, totally belies the fact that the city of London is just a few miles away, and that on a fine day glorious views can be had of the bustling metropolis. Hampstead was once thought of in terms of a rural retreat, but that is not the reason that brought William Murray, the 1st Earl of Mansfield, to Kenwood in the 18th century. Having abandoned his ancestral home in Scotland, Scone Palace, he needed to support himself in a profession worthy of his background and education. He was gaining respect as an up and coming lawyer, and Kenwood afforded him easy access to his main place of work as well as a convenient suburban residence for entertaining.
When Robert Adam was called in to extend and refurbish the brick house in the 1760s, to provide the suitably grand and comfortable accommodation expected by Lord Mansfield's influential guests, he gave Kenwood House the luxurious neoclassical look. Given a free reign by the now busy judge, Adam used Kenwood House as his portfolio. Situated so close to the capital, potential clients would have no problem in finding Kenwood House and it proved to be the ideal place to advertise his innovative work.
In 1793 William Murray's nephew inherited both Kenwood House and the family title, and it was during his three year occupation that the white brick wings were added, and the gardens laid out by Humphrey Repton. The 3rd Earl completed his father's extensions with lavishly decorated interiors, and oversaw the necessary restoration work at Kenwood House, but preferred to spend most of his time back at the historical home in Scotland. Two momentous occasions have been recorded during the 3rd Earl's time, a visit in 1818 from a Russian Grand Duke and 17 years later a Royal visit by William IV and Queen Adelaide.
Firmly established back in Scotland, the 4th Earl spent only a couple of months each year at Kenwood House, but the 5th Earl once again used his easily accessible London home for an endless round of entertaining. When the 6th Earl inherited in 1906, he installed electric lighting and then let his London property to a series of tenants. For seven years Kenwood House enjoyed a stream of aristocratic visitors, under the tenancy of the Grand Duke Michael of Russia. It then passed to a widowed millionairess from America until 1920, when the Kenwood Preservation Committee was formed.
Unable to save Kenwood House at that time, the contents of the house were auctioned off in 1922. During the next three years the estate was divided and sold to various bodies, and in 1925 Lord Iveagh purchased the house and 74 remaining acres of parkland. Now nothing more than an empty shell, Kenwood House presented a perfect place for the Guinness brewery magnate to house his outstanding collection of paintings, at the same time ensuring the future of this wonderful building.
Remaining very much as it was remodelled in the 18th century, Kenwood's associations have presented a remarkable irony throughout history. Looking every inch the impressive home of a wealthy London gentleman, Kenwood House has never belonged to an Englishman. Owned by Scotsmen for over two centuries, and finally bought by an Irishman in the 20th century, with most of the rebuilding work completed by one of the most renowned Scottish architects of all time.