Gunnersbury Park, with a Rothschilds Mansion, not the largest, but one of the family favorites. Read the story and look at the photographs of Gunnersbury Park and the Rothschilds Mansion today.
Where is Gunnersbury Park and its Rothschild Mansion?
The park is in West London in the London borough of Hounslow and jointly managed by Ealing Council.
Not far from Acton Central station on the Piccadilly line, South Ealing station, Gunnersbury station, Kew Bridge M4/A4 North Circular.
Looking down on the park from above, on a map it can be located between, the areas of Acton, Chiswick House, Syon Park, Walpole Park, Ealing Common, Popes Lane (B4491) , Gunnersbury Ave ( A406 North Circular) , Gunnersbury Cemetery, South Ealing Cemetery and Kew Bridge on the Thames.
Gunnersbury Park is a grade II* English Heritage, registered historic public park. There are around 20 odd Grade II* listed buildings inside the park too. * Listed at risk. The Size of the park seems to vary from source to source, from metric to imperial and dependent upon which period of time. For today common sources seem to say approx. just over 75 Hectares.
A new beginning, Gunnersbury Park Reopened in 2018
Visitors were welcomed this summer, to Gunnersbury Park Museum, relaunch as it recently re-opened this summer. After a spell of renovations, due to a hefty sum of grant money that was given. The Heritage Lottery Fund and the Parks for People Fund being major contributors. More restorations and upgrades are being planned.
The amazing sights and sounds, Gunnersbury brief summary
A private estate that was developed by the Daughter of King George II called, Princess Amelia in the C18th. In the C19th the estate was bought by the Rothschild Family and developed further. Then it became a Public park in May 1926, opened by Neville Chamberlain, who later became Prime Minister.
The amazing gardens of Gunnersbury Park, full of Cedar trees, Elm trees, Evergreens
Gunnersbury park features Cedar trees, Elm trees, evergreens Forest trees. Water features, these vary in title from a Boating lake which on a map seems to be called around the pond, it is by the temple. It has Potomac lake which is also called the Fishpond, and a fountain in a crescent shape pond by the Orangery.
Gothic garden follies are the other known treasures. A Folly being an ornamental feature built in a certain, ornate, extravagant style. Follies could range from mimicking, features of Roman, Chinese /Japanese type temples, Egyptian shapes, Gothic arches, pretend ruins. Seen in English and French landscape gardens. “Folie” in French meaning something like “It’s absolute madness” but also associations to a delightful little place to be. These structures may not have had a practical use or full purpose but complimented the theme and attraction to visitors to the estate over time.
These retro style structures can make it hard to ascertain what time period they truly came from. They add to the mystique of the true age of when they were built too, or what they were replacing or enhancing.
Outside, the bathhouse is one such example. It was once used by Princess Amelia, an example of a Garden folly “Gothik” style. The Mystique around the bath house’s differing structures is due to archaeological developments on Gunnersbury estate over time. The layers around the bathhouse show both C18th and C19th evidence to structures of a bathhouse that was being enjoyed by more than one generation, who lived on the estate.
When the park reopened in the summer of 2018, The lady dressed in wonderful period costume, see photo, was in the bathhouse area, a functional room sits alongside. It was a cool style, shade from the heat of the sun, flint almost medieval looking arches, candles, shells which apparently was another fashion of the times. Shells being highly prized to decorate bathhouses and grottos with.
How did Gunnersbury get its name, the origin of the name
So to find out how Gunnersbury got its name and to time trip through the different people living on the estate over time, let us start with a King.
Canute King of Denmark, Norway and England c1040-1042 had a niece called Gunhilda/ Gunilda/ Gunldya/ Gunlyda depending on which text you read. The Name Gunnersbury is thought to come from her name.
Who lived on the Gunnersbury Estate over time?
The Bishop of London is thought to have owned Gunnersbury and leased it to wealthy families.
Alice Perrers, Mistress to Edward III c 1370s
Frowick Family 1422 wealthy family of trade/mercers
Sir John Spelman a Judge, about a century later who obtained the house/ estate by marriage.
Sir John Maynard was the legal advisor to Charles the II. He then occupied Gunnersbury around 1656. The Architect John Webb built a Palladian style house for Sir John Maynard 1653-58.
The Palladian style is based on the designs by 16th C Italian Architect Andrea Palladio. (1508-1580). Inspirations from Roman buildings, columns, statuesque in their presence. Palladianism was a period of time 1715-1760 when buildings were modeled on this style. In England, it bought a touch of Romanesque Italian influence on buildings designed in this fashion. It is thought some of the designs seen in Gunnersbury, were inspired by a building Palladio himself designed. The Villa Badoer In Fratta Polesine, c 1556, that is in the Veneto region of Italy. A warm climate that opens onto the Adriatic sea. Clicking on this link below, instantly makes you see the comparison to the structures at Gunnersbury Park.
1690 Maynard passed away, his widow remarried Earl of Suffolk and Henrietta Howard from this family used the house.
Gunnersbury in the 1700s
Daniel Defoe’s “A tour thro’ the whole Island of Great Britain” 1724-1727, made reference to Gunnersbury park from a visit in 1724. Stating that “the sun never shines on it after 2 pm “ which was ideal in hot summer weather. Which could explain why so many used the house as a summer retreat.
1739 House was sold to a Rich merchant, MP and Art collector Henry Furnese. Furnese knew the Composer Handel, who visited Gunnersbury. To set this in context Handel Composed the Messiah in 1741. It is thought that William Kent designed some of the gardens in 1741 too.
From around 1761 George the II’s daughter, Princess Amelia lived in the estate at Gunnersbury, made improvements to the house and grounds. This is where the Princess Amelia Bathhouse is thought to have first originated from. Other texts state she was given the residence by her father because her marriage plans didn’t work out. It is thought she put forward the push and finance to landscape the gardens and other developments. William Chambers and John Oldfield. She died in 1786. Sources seem to indicate that the Temple was there before 1760
The People who lived on the Gunnersbury Estate over time
Gunnersbury in the 1800s
The early 1800s, the estate was purchased by John Morley. Who demolished the house, and divided the land off into around 13 plots which were sold off.
1801 Palladian house demolished and the estate divided into Two. A big house and smaller house was then built.
Two men from Westminster then changed what happened to the estate. A timber merchant Stephen Cosser associated with the smaller mansion house, called Gunnersbury House. This passed onto Major Alexander Morrison C 1807
An Architect Alexander Copland bought a lot of the remaining plots on the estate C 1802-08 and developed them into the larger mansion house, with the designs and work of the Architect Smirke, this became Gunnersbury Park House. Copeland and his wife gave elaborate functions at the house. This trend lived on as soon will unfold with future masters of the estate. Copeland started the Pinery, where they grew Pineapples. Copeland died Summer 1834. Smirke was one of the executors of Copeland’s will. 1835 j.c Loudon a landscape gardener is thought to have developed the gardens a little more.
Gunnersbury for Sale 1835
The House For Sale
When the “For Sale” advert for Gunnersbury Estate went up, 19th May 1835, it used enticing language. The add was noticed by a wealthy German Jewish businessman, financier, and banker. “Most enviable property”, “it’s superior arrangement and proximity to the Metropolis” “residence for a nobleman, minister of state, or family of the first description”.
Gunnersbury’s new Masters, when the Rothschild’s moved in
Renovations of Gunnersbury
1835 Nathan Mayer Rothschild purchased Gunnersbury Park, and around 86 acres, for the sum of £13,000. He was Founder of the London Merchant Bank, stock exchange member born 1777. His father the famous Amschel Rothschild who started the merchant bank empire in Frankfurt. From around 1804-08 Nathan’s presence in London took force, and he moved there from Manchester. He was given £16,000 by his father and some surplus for marriage. He Married Hannah Cohen in 1806. To get an impression of the Rothschild status by 1809 they were loaning money to the Uk Government to help finance the war against Napoleon. Then into the 1820’s loaning money to other European states. There were other secret Uk Government loans that involved the Rothschilds, that saved many major dilemmas.
One thing that can be associated with the Rothschild Dynasty throughout time, was their input to charity work and connections with local tradespeople, causes and the community. The connection with the Gunnersbury area also benefited from their tradition for reaching out.
Improvements to Gunnersbury were going to start before the family could move in. A large glass conservatory designed by Smirke were detailed. The kitchens were to be improved. Today one can visit the Chefs office in the house which is not a room you find that often in open houses.
Works to the stables were added in 1836. The North Lodge plans were completed early 1836. The Orangery plans spring of 1839.
Interior designs to the main Grand Staircase in the main house were also designed by Smirke. Others have mentioned its stucco exterior and Inspirations from French neoclassical style.
Here is the Long Gallery in the main house has a painting on the ceiling E.T Parris’s “The Four Seasons” dating around 1836. A billiard room was added. The plans show the largest rooms; Drawing room, Dining Room, with a Long drawing room that joins the two. The Entrance Hall, Parlour, a conservatory in a crescent shape by the Drawing room.
When the 1st Gunnersbury Rothschild, Master of the Estate died
Nathan Rothschild, sadly soon died, 18/7/1836. Leaving his wife and son to carry on renovations. Hothouses were planned, where they could grow exotic fruit and flowers. They bought more land and the lake emerged. Smirke and Widow Hannah Rothschild carried on the upgrades and developments. Mrs H Rothschild was very keen to raise the profile of the family and receive social acclaim with the important influential nobility and society of the times. Lavish designs at Gunnersbury perhaps were in line with this desire for this social uprising. Nathan seems to be documented for being less indulgent, less showboat, after all an important finance icon and was advised not to be seen as someone being frivolous with spending. The times were changing, Victorians bought fashions, fads and inventions as well as cosmopolitan wonderment for other countries and botanical interests. The raved about social functions which then occurred at Gunnersbury, left an impression not only at the time for the Rothschilds and Gunnersbury but also enough to leave a trail for modern day people to read about.
Spectacular fêtes were elaborate festivals given at Gunnersbury, whilst Hannah Rothschild managed the estate. These social gatherings were talked about and documented by her social-climbing guest list. Embellishments, decorations, music, balls, food & refreshments, garden strolls, entertainment. One such occasion in July 1838 a Breakfast Fête at Gunnersbury for some 500 guests costing £2,000. Italian music from well-known Grisi & Persiani attended, waltzing on the lawns, coffee at the temple. Embassadors, Dukes, Princes. In 1843 even Benjamin Disraeli attended such a Fête.
When the First Gunnersbury Rothschild Widow of the Estate Dies
Sadly Hannah Rothschild died in 1850. The estate was left to her 4 sons. Lionel, Anthony, Nathaniel, and Mayer. The Other brothers gave up their shares to Lionel who then owned the Estate 1851-1879.
The 2nd Gunnersbury Master of the Estate Lionel Rothschild 1851
Being a first in those times. Lionel Rothschild fought and managed to become the first practicing Jewish MP without having to swear the Christian oath, which was normal practice in those times. A dream that he made a reality by the end of July 1858.
1855 the Gardeners Chronical raved about the Cedar trees, rare conifers at Gunnersbury.
Lionel’s eldest daughter Leonora was a striking beauty, well-known beauty icon of that era. Queen Victoria, even had commented upon her good looks. 4/3/1857 Leonora was to marry her French cousin Alphonse de Rothschild. Many of the British Based Rothschild Males also had the permission to use the nobility status, von, baron, de even if a few of them didn’t seem to insist on only being known by that title.
An extension to the dining room happened and the house interior was decorated for the wedding with plants. Wedding gifts were displayed around the skylight. The skylight can be viewed today. See photo.
This Wedding was a Jewish style Ceremony. The Bride wore Belgian lace, had orange blossoms, lilies of the valley, white roses, blue satin and velvet ribbons. 16 Bridesmaids. Details of this event were in the Illustrated Times and the Illustrated London News. A Banquet and Ball with many Important guests the Cream of society.
Lionel was friends with King Edward VII and took his photo in Autochrome in 1909 whilst the King was in his Highland costume whilst in Scotland. This photo is on display in Gunnersbury Museum, at Gunnersbury Park. Autochrome was the first colour photo method that was available at that time. This Photo had only been discovered around 2009 by a Rothschild descendant.
Paintings, furniture, and antiques were other treasures Lionel collected.
Towards the end of the 1850s in 1858 Disraeli commented upon the Rothschild’s Banquets “Splendour that couldn’t be surpassed”.
Amazing images of the Gardens, Rothschild’s 1860’s
Lionel Rothschild acquired 620 acres and extended the Gunnersbury estate. He bought up land 1861-1863. He even bought a clay pit, Coles Hole. This formed into Potomac Lake later on.
A Tile Kiln was formed into a boathouse, in the shape of a Gothic Folly tower by the south shore of the fish pond area Potomac Lake.
1861, The Gunnersbury Triangle was bought, that was near Chiswick Park station. In 1984 this area became a nature reserve.
Greenhouse- hot house delights
1862 the greenhouse grew exotic flowers and fruit. A hothouse built at this time by Henry Ormton. Lionel’s wife Charlotte had a passion for Orchids, and this was another Gunnersbury speciality, that Charlotte catalogued. The Rothschild’s connection with orchids stems back to Ferdinand de Rothschild’s time born 1839. Ferdinand knew an orchidologist Frederick Sander born 1847. The German-born Orchid king who came to settle in England. Victorians had a fashion for various flowers like this. Other Rothschild males including Lionel, joined RHS orchid committee. Learning about species and got involved with creating hybrids which were sometimes named after the family as indeed were other types of flora.
Tours of the gardens would be rewarded with a memento to take home an orchid. Often they were placed at the table at dinner, for guests.
Gunnersbury also grew Rhododendrons, Carnations, Azaleas, Kamia Latfolia, Begonias. Chrysanthemums, Myrtle, Pelargoniums, Erica’s, Rose areas, Fuchsia, Agapanthus. Furthermore, was well known for its Pineapples, the Rothschild continued this legacy in developing different types of fantastic size, taste and shape. Fruits were also harvested, Orange trees, Figs, peaches, grapes, strawberries, pineapple, melons, nectarines, pomegranates.
Creative Landscape Gardeners at Gunnersbury
James Pulham and Son were creative landscape designers and kept their company going for at least 4 generations. Spanning a period from around the late 1700s to the late 1950s. They had a technique of using cement, old stone bricks and remodelling. The resulting man-made rocks, which could then look like natural stone, transformed gardens. This was patented and referred to as Pulhamite. Pulham ’s work has appeared in many well-known places In London and termed the “Pulham Legacy”. Works include; Buckingham Palace, the V&A museum, Kensal Green Cemetery, The Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace, St James Park features and Gunnersbury Park. They specialised in follies, ornamental Japanese, Italian gardens terraces, rock gardens ferneries and grottos.
The Pulham company even manufactured, garden seating, vases, urns, fountains. A lot of the Garden Furniture at Gunnersbury during the Rothschild 1900s era was sourced locally in a lot of cases because details of what was purchased and where from still exist.
Rothschild’s 1870’s Gunnersbury Park
1872 King Leopold of Belgium II attended a Rothschild Dinner & concert. Lionel’s son is named Leopold and thought to be named after the Leopold II father Leopold I who is related to British Queen Victoria.
Gunnersbury Gardens in the 1870s
It is thought the Pulham design styles appear elsewhere at Gunnersbury from around 1874. Speculation that the old tile kiln building into a Gothic-inspired tower boathouse folly had some input by them. It’s not certain but the other ornamental structures that the Pulhams may have had some part in, are; A mimicked Gothic Ruin structure, at the old stable block. A castle-style entry archway to a lodge. It is also thought a basement type fernery around the outside Bathhouse, was also the Pulham style.
Lionel Rothschild of Gunnersbury dies June 1879
Charlotte Rothschild Widow of Gunnersbury dies in 1884
1889 the Rothschild’s purchased the smaller house and land for guests and family.
Gunnersbury in the 1900s and Leopold Rothschild
Leopold took over the estate but did not get total control till 1901. He continued with plants and also had the love of horses and horse racing. He carried on the Horseracing stud that was at Gunnersbury.
Reading around, it is noted, in 1900 Gunnersbury house now had electric lighting.
The Rothschild’s had plans for a Japanese inspired garden, that James Hudson is noted for in around 1900 – 1901 for Leopold Rothschild. Miniature features. Water ponds for waterlilies, In particular, it was admired for its Bluewater lilies, musk, Chinese palm, bamboo, Teahouse, lanterns lit with electricity, stepping stones, Chinese and Japanese style plants, a bamboo style bridge, inspired by perhaps Bellagio Japanese Gardens on the Lake Como
1906 Came the Heath garden behind the Japanese area, sunken walkway, rocks, ivy.
1909 Leopold carried on the tradition and gave a huge function in honour of the Chief Rabbi reaching 70. 5,000 people came many Jewish immigrants.
1912 King George the V and Queen Mary attended Leopold’s next major social function a mass garden party “League of Mercy”. Two thousand guests of nobility and importance dressed in all their finery in aid of King Edwards VII fund.
1911 Leopold Rothschild son of Charlotte who had the passion for Orchids, gave a Fabergé crystal vase of orchids to King George V for his coronation June of that year.
Gunnersbury and the Great War 1914-1918
It has not been easy to find out about what happened at Gunnersbury Estate during the War. But the Rothschild’s were busy with the war effort.
Lionel, Anthony Gustav, Evelyn were the sons of Leopold Rothschild. They played their part in active service that took different forms.
The King persuaded Lionel to serve his country and remain running finances at New Court London. Gold Bullion and the Mint were under the Rothschild’s care. Lionel also set up a recruiting office in 1915, and established a pathway for Jewish men to join up, also providing Chaplains, welfare, lodging. The Rothschild’s sent aid to the troops on the front and provided funds for the Red Cross Hospital.
Evelyn Rothschild Was wounded on the western front as he went straight to action, he recovered went back to service, died for his country in south Palestine 1917.
Gustav Anthony although wounded Gallipoli was decorated and survived the war with the title of Major of General staff.
The Last Rothschild at Gunnersbury
Nathan’s Grandson, Son of Charlotte, Leopold de Rothschild died in 1917. The Estate eventually after that, was sold by the family to the Local Authority. It has been written that the Widow Rothschild wanted the house to be in memorial to her husband and that the sale was on the condition it is used for leisure and a certain amount of land kept as park open land for the public.
Land For sale at Gunnersbury, it’s a knockout, sale of the century
In 1925 Queen Mary and King George the V opened the Great West Road. The travel route to the West of the Country to places like Bath had to pass through Brentford, which then became congested. This road was going to bypass the town to ease bottleneck jams. The Great West Road was 8 miles long and went from Chiswick High road near Kew Bridge area, at the back of the park. It went through Isleworth and then Bath road was joined again, past Hounslow Barracks station. The price of the land then went up because it was seen as a development area, so became an opportunity.
Brentford’s Golden Mile saw art deco buildings being created, as trade and interest grew in the area. The councils wanted the Rothschild’s land for different reasons, a public park, in the case of Acton and Ealing. In opposition to Brentford, who wanted the park estate land for housing developments. Areas along Popes lane and Lionel rd. were sold off so that the councils could repay loans they had to take out in order to be in a position to afford the parkland.
Part of the estate was then sold off. In 1926 both houses and 186 acres of land were purchased by London Boroughs of Acton, Brentford, Chiswick and Ealing.
Gunnersbury park museum
In 1929, The house was turned into a museum. It features like it does today, local history, history of the house, archaeology, social history, topography, transport, artefacts about the house and area, stories. Special small collections, costume & childhood. A collection of artifacts from Entertainment, BBC and Ealing film studios. The Ealing studios production “The Lavender Hill Mob”, is on Location around Gunnersbury, the park gates, and the Gilette building on the golden mile, show a glimpse in 1951.
A Shop, Staircase, ground floor galleries, Drawing room, Dining room, Long Gallery, upper floor galleries, Kitchen areas
The Blue Room where King Edward the VII slept.
The Museum is also a learning space for schools, groups, events and activities
When the London Boroughs reformed around 1965 it was moved over to the ownership of Ealing and Hounslow Borough councils.1967 The Gunnersbury park joint committee was set up
1980s Gunnersbury Park & Museum
A timeline is given here of the fundraising, and efforts that the Friends of Gunnersbury Park & Museum have made from the early 1980s to the present day.
The Aims of the Heritage Lottery Fund renovations project
To reconnect the house with the park and make more of it open to the public. To renovate and restore historic rooms of the large mansion house, to house a museum and temp museum that includes history about the area the people and diversity. To open parts of the park estate that were not open before. To conserve wildlife and biodiversity.
Other Associations of Gunnersbury Park
Annual Mela festival Asian culture.
Museum & shop, WC
Lake, pond and water fountain
Film location for “The Lavender Mob”, 1951, with Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway, was filmed in certain scenes, at Gunnersbury Park.
How to get into Gunnersbury Park
There are around 10 public entrances into the park.
The Main entrance, North Gateway on Popes Lane, two lantern structures appear on the posts, with its ornate iron gate also Grade II listed.
There is another entrance, also on Popes Lane, not very far from the main entrance is a drive-in entrance to the carpark. It’s closer to the bus stop 65 that came from the direction of Acton Central. Walk back toward the direction you came with on Popes road as the bus will pass the main entrance first. This is more suitable if on foot. The Car park entrance is closer to the playground area.
There is an entrance also further round on Popes Lane B4491 opposite Elderberry Rd
There is an entrance on the corner of the park further down the B4491 where it meets the corner of Lionel Road
There is an entrance/exit in the stone wall onto the North Circular road
There is an entrance on the Lionel Rd N. BY the Bridge Great West Rd M4 / A4 where Lionel Rd S. Meets Lionel Rd N.
Listed buildings in Gunnersbury
Gunnersbury Park House (Large Mansion )
Gunnersbury House (Small Mansion)
EAST/ West Stables
East Lodge Archway
South East Archway
South West Archway
Bathhouse and Gothic Screen
Pope’s Lane Entrance Gates
Kitchen Garden wall