FENTON HOUSE Location: Hampstead Grove, NW3 6SP [map] Open: 11am-5pm (closed Mon, Tue) Admission: £7.70 (National Trust members free) 3-hashtag summary: #elegant #eclectic #walledgarden Website:www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fenton-house-and-garden Time to set aside: 1-2 hours
Atop the moneyed heights of Hampstead, a short walk from the Heath, sits a fine old house from the reign of William and Mary. High of gable and square of appearance, Fenton House has never been owned by anyone of great importance, but has survived through to the present day as a repository of the arts. Its last owner in 1952 was Lady Binning - a real name, not a derogatory term on social media - and she bequeathed it to the National Trust who now look after the place. Within its rooms are figurines, tapestries and 19 antique keyboards of various types, and the walled garden is a separate treat all of its own.
Lady Binning liked her porcelain, so there's plenty of that in glass cases scattered around the three floors. Her penchant appears to have been 18th century figures, the kind of thing being churned out by Meissen or Chelsea, or in a couple of cases from Bow, all shiny and smiling in a variety of graceful poses. She also wasn't averse to a bit of animal action, hence at one point you'll find a shelf of sheep, and another of deer, and I fear I shall be haunted by the two dozen poodles in my dreams.
The house is a bit of a melange of styles, so you can never quite be sure what you'll see as you step off the landing or out of the hall into the next room. A cosy parlour hung with paintings on glass. A stunning collection of framed Stuart embroideries, still bright with colour after four centuries. A glass case in the inglenook stacked with questionable ceramic miniatures. A large drawing room with a volunteer hovering hoping to tell you more. Maybe even a Bakelite telephone on Lady Binning's bedside table - give her a call on Hampstead 2088.
The majority of Fenton House's vintage keyboards are in the attic, which must have been fun for whoever had to lug them up. Expect spinets, harpsichords and virginals, some large and daintily strung, others better resembling painted wooden boxes. Those with piano-talent will be pleased to hear that many of the instruments can be played, subject to a successful induction with the curator. One lady visitor sat perched over a harpsichord peering at some sheet music she'd brought, her more than competent rendition of 'Suite In E' echoing around the upper rooms.
The walled garden is impressively maintained, and of a much larger size than you'd expect to find among the cramped streets of upper Hampstead. The rear lawn is immaculately mown and ever-ready for croquet, while the surrounding borders still flow forth with colour even at the end of the summer. A fine view is to be had from the rear terrace, across the sunken garden and above various topiary pinnacles back towards the house. And be sure to find the sign arrowed 'Orchard' in amongst the bricks and blooms, else you'll completely miss the other half.
On the lower lawn is an apple orchard, its boughs currently heavy with fruit. Closer to the house narrow gravel paths thread through a vegetable plot, similarly bountiful, as well as four themed floral beds. With so many horticultural genres on show, it's clear that the gardener at Fenton House is on top of their game.
The big autumn event at Fenton House is Apple Weekend, this year on 23rd/24th September, when the gardens are taken over by juicers, cider barrels, cake stalls and lawn games. For a more demure visit come at any other time, Mondays and Tuesdays excepted, and before November when the house closes for the winter. I need to go back because apparently "the panoramic view from the balcony offers one of the highest points in London from which to view the city on fine days", and I never even spotted the door to the balcony, let alone the view.