Osterley Park and House, London

Osterley Park and House is a country house estate on the edge of London belonging to the National Trust, which Mama finally persuaded Papa to join last year.

The problem with the National Trust, from Papa’s point of view, is the Russian Revolution, who sounds very nasty indeed. This is because the Russian Revolution stole Papa’s family estate and sent our relatives off to Archangel. Or shot them. I thought Archangel sounded like a nice place to live but Mama says no. Too chilly. And being shot certainly sounds like it might sting a bit. Either way, landed gentry being forced to give up their houses is a sore point, and Papa regarded the National Trust with a certain amount of distaste.

Mama, on the other hand, thinks that National Trust membership is the minimum requirement for a certain standard of living, and being dragged off to Richmond ‘The Poo’ Park once too often meant that Papa was also open to the idea of finding other places to go. With National Trust membership, for the princely sum of £100 odd quid a year per family you can get access to what turns out to be quite a large number of properties in the London area (and beyond). So as soon as the tickets were emailed, off we went to look at our first house.

Osterley Park

Osterley Park was Mama’s choice. Mama has a secret vice – the Regency romances of Georgette Heyer – and one of the actual historical characters who makes regular cameo appearances in such things is Lady Jersey, influential leader of fashion. Osterley Park was one of her houses.

Except that much to Mama’s disappointment, really it wasn’t. Oh, it belonged to her, but she didn’t seem to spend much time there. No, Osterley Park is really the house of her Grandparents, the banker Sir Francis Child and his wife, and it was never properly lived in again after they died. The perils of cutting your daughter off because you disapprove of her choice of husband, but at the same time leaving your vast wealth to your female grandchild, who can then choose to marry a man with extensive estates of his own that she prefers, never having spent much time at Osterley because of the aforementioned estrangement.

It’s a cautionary tale, Mama.

The House itself is a lovely building, a sort of classical take on the tower of London, but while the downstairs formal rooms are well kitted out with all the opulence you could wish for, the upstairs is more sparsely furnished. The National Trust has only recently taken back the task of slowly tarting the place up to something more like its former glory again. This is quite interesting, Mama thinks, as it gives an insight into what her £100 is doing apart from funding a national Victoria sponge mountain or tempting unsuspecting aristocrats into giving up their birthrights, and worth making Osterley Park somewhere to visit on a regular basis to see the changes. It seems to be slow going. You’ve got plenty of time. If you can’t, you can follow the progress of the Breakfast Room renovations, for example, via a blog.

Luxurious interior at Osterley Park

Of course, the bit we children liked best was the basement. My Outstanding Big Brother and I have never really taken to dressing up and so the box on the first floor left us a bit cold, and the other activity suggested to us – counting the ridiculously huge number of roses worked into the mouldings in each room – didn’t appeal to my numeracy-adverse fauna-obsessed flora-disinclined Outstanding Big Brother much either. The basement, on the other hand, has a narrow corridor to scamper wildly along without fear of knocking into something expensive and, as we arrived back at the beginning again fairly quickly, around it turned out. We also played hide and seek in the coal cellar.

The basement at Osterley Park

Mama liked the kitchens. Obviously someone at some point had a fascination with kitchen equipment and so the basement also houses some very snazzy but curiously unused looking cast iron oven ranges, which must have been the last word in domestic appliances 100 years ago or so. Mmmmmmmmm. Says Mama.

Outside there is everything to gladden two active children’s hearts. There is a lake with ducks my Outstanding Big Brother and I were not allowed to chase. There are farm animals and horses, which are all quite happy to come up and say hello or, in the case of the cows, follow my Outstanding Big Brother along the length of the fence, much to his delight. The parkland is heaving with dogwalkers, some of whom let us throw balls for their dogs. And in the more maintained gardens there is a natural play area with logs to climb on and jump off. Plus some nice plants and flowers. Mama says.

A cow at Osterley Park

There is also a café. Mama adds ‘of course’ because this is the National Trust, which I have decided must mean ‘house-napping with cake’. It is housed in an old stable block – you eat your lemon drizzle cake in a former horse stall. Mama is torn between feeling this is vaguely unsanitary and being thrilled to her bourgeois soul, which would also like to live in a barn conversion. Mainly she is thankful that one stall has toys and chalk boards in it so that she can sip her coffee in peace. But the best thing about the café was that outside I found another toddler whose scooter I could steal and who I could mug of his cheese puffs.

All in all Osterley Park is a stately home without too much state to distract the parents from letting kids run round the grounds but with a good back story. Apparently they also have quite a bit on at the weekend and in school holidays. Mama has bookmarked this piece of information. Watch this space.

More information

Osterley Park’s page on the National Trust website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide has to say about the regency romances of Georgette Heyer.

Address: Jersey Road, Isleworth, Middlesex, TW7 4RB (sat nav TW7 4RD).

Opening: Fully open 12 noon – 4pm from 1st March, although the house proper and the basement are open on different days. Until then, the park is open 8am – 6pm all week.

Price: Free to National Trust members. Monday and Tuesday are half price for non-members.

By train: Nearest station is Isleworth (1 ½ miles).

By underground: Osterley on the Piccadilly line is 1 mile.

By bus: The H28 and H91 stop within 1 mile.

By car: Parking is free for National Trust members, £4 otherwise.

Richmond Park, London

Richmond Park is a large expanse of land on the outskirts of London whose main purpose is to shelter large numbers of deer, and after he had spent an afternoon wading through the resulting spores and also quite a large number of rabbit droppings, Papa named the place the Poo Park. This label has stuck in our family, probably because later visits have just served to confirm the widespread and plentiful nature of crap pellets in the park. Mama now only remembers it isn’t actually called that when other people look at us strangely when my Fantastic Big Brother starts talking about it at the top of his voice.

Deer poo

Unfortunately for Mama, there’s quite a lot to talk about because it’s huge. Mama parks in a different (FREE! Mama would like me to say that again because having a free car park at an attraction in London is almost unheard of. Having a car park is too really, but anyway, FREE!) car park each time and we strike out across unkempt grass, through spinneys and up and down hills, skirting the bracken, playing hide and seek in the rhododendrons and always avoiding the huge lake in the middle. My Fantastic Big Brother would want to chase the ducks and I would try to fling myself into the very accessible water, and Mama cannot be doing with either of these things. And apart from one unfortunate day when we came across it accidentally, Mama has successfully managed to convince my Fantastic Big Brother that the lake was a figment of his imagination. I know differently, of course, but I cannot talk that well yet, so she gets away with it.

We go there because, apart from the FREE car parks, Mama likes walking in the countryside and in Richmond Park, Mama gets to almost pretend she is, if the countryside were full of people, edged by a constant stream of cars and had low flying planes screaming overhead on their way towards Heathrow airport every two minutes.

I, however, am a city child of pavements and shorn grass and find the unmanicured ground here a bit heavy going, so my favourite bit is the Isabella Plantation, which is an enclosed, managed woodland area somewhere in the middle of the park. It’s not so much that the paths are any smoother as that Mama is forced to go very slowly because, oh wonder of marvels, there are streams. Much of my Fantastic Big Brother and my attention is therefore given over to attempting to dip various body parts in the water and so much of Mama’s attention is given over to hovering anxiously. This is a shame, she thinks, as the wood itself is very pretty, with great splashes of colour in spring from flowering bushes in particular.

Isabella Plantation

My Fantastic Big Brother’s favourite thing about the park is the deer and so it is lucky that so far we have never had a visit which didn’t include tripping across a herd of them. They are remarkably tame and thus surrounded at all times by people with serious looking cameras or, in the case of my Fantastic Big Brother, two large sticks he is holding to his forehead in an attempt to simulate antlers.

Richmond Park

The exception to this is the autumn when the park rings to the loud grunting roars of the rutting bucks, and everybody stays the heck away from all of them.

Mama, what does ‘rutting’ actually mean?

There are refreshments to be had from the odd café or hot drinks caravan, but this is picnic central really. We even came here for my first birthday and brought many rugs, home made quiche, buckets of salads and Pimms. The Pimms looked nice. It had lots of fruit in it. Mama said not though. Mama has been known to drag us out here purely for the pleasure of eating in the open air, but I don’t mind. If she and Papa are sitting down, I am not having to hike and also they always take care to park themselves next to some climbable tree trunks or near one of the multitude of wigwam-like dens that have been built repeatedly throughout the park. Mama is a little puzzled by these dens. She wonders if they are for the deer or for the humans, but either way is grateful for the distraction.

A den

Other toddler-friendly areas are the playgrounds. Mama has only stumbled across what she suspects was the Petersham Gate one once, but as she isn’t sure how she did that who knows when we may revisit it. This is a shame as it has the sort of slide that Mama thinks has been condemned elsewhere for being too high and too fast, and also something called a roundabout, which Mama says is now largely extinct in the UK because they are quite easy to fall off of especially when you are playing the leap on and off them at speed game, or get your limbs trapped underneath when you are lying on your tummy playing touch the fast moving ground game, neither of which activities Mama knows anything about at all. On the downside, Mama was a bit dismayed to find that the large sandpit also has a water feature. She managed to keep me out of it because I am extremely distrustful of sand, nasty gritty shifty stuff, but was forced to concede that there was no way that My Fantastic Big Brother was going to get out dry, and so it proved. The Poo Park got to see my Fantastic Big Brother modelling only his pants for the rest of that afternoon. A treat, I can tell you. I don’t know why Mama didn’t just remove his trousers when he first headed towards the wet stuff. Sheer blind panic I expect.

A roundabout

Anyway, Richmond Park comes highly recommended as a outside spot to take the whole family for an outdoor lunch, particularly if they enjoy a stroll over ruggedish terrain with guaranteed sightings of wildlife.

More information

Richmond Park’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide has to say about Richmond Park.

Address: Richmond Park, TW10 5HS

Opening: From 7am (summer) or 7.30am (winter) to dusk.

Price: Admission is free.

Tube/ Train: British Rail or District line to Richmond Park station (and then catch the 371 or 65 buses to the pedestrian gate at Petersham).

Bus: There are a large number of buses that get close to various sides of the park.

Parking: In six (SIX!) ample free (FREE!) car parks.

Sir John Soane’s Museum, London

I am forced to admit that the Soane Museum, based on the collection of architect Sir John Soane (1753 – 1837), is not for the fainthearted toddler mamas out there.

Soane Museum

Housed in a perfectly ordinary London townhouse and the two either side Sir John bought when his collection of architectural knickknacks started getting out of hand, it is both cramped and stuffed very full of really fragile objects. A bit like the British Museum, but on a less national scale. Or Papa’s loft, but with fewer amplifiers, turntables and many many cables and more bits of cornicing, gargoyles, stone urns, sarcophaguses and busts of random strangers. It is, in fact, very much the sort of place where people whose first instinct is to run around with outstretched sticky hands and whose second is to find anything breakable within reach are not particularly welcome. And it is not pushchair friendly, not pushchair friendly at all.

So Mama was quite smug that she had anticipated all of this and turned up without my Amazing Big Brother and with me in a sling, forethought that had the museum authorities direct a distinct look of approval at my immovable status. They still made Mama leave her big bag at the door, only permitting her to take her valuables round in a clear plastic bag held strictly in front of her to prevent, I suppose, accidental brushings up against precariously perched bits of statuary. Mama’s usual habit of feeding me rice cakes to keep me quiet was also vetoed – no food and drink of any kind inside the house. Or stilettos. I don’t know what they are, but they sound like fun. Mama says not though. Be warned. Plan accordingly.

As for the museum, Soane’s special interest being something my Mama knows nothing about, she really should have bought the guide book, particularly as this is a museum somewhat lacking in explanatory labelling or any apparent logical order to the items on display. The attendants are happy to chat about the rooms, however, and what Mama did glean is that while Sir John was pretty successful as an architect, most of the money used to buy the collection came from an unexpected but massive inheritance by his wife. Acquiring the collection dented this so little that Sir John left such a vast amount of money in his will that it was only relatively recently that the museum has really had to work hard to search out more funding.

Did the man not have anything better to do with his (wife’s) money, I hear you cry? Well, he quarrelled badly with his two sons, and seems to have set up the museum as a way of keeping them from getting any (more) money out of him. Mama remains rather worried about the sons, despite the evidence they were extremely unsatisfactory offspring. She is a sucker for put upon children stories these days. I blame hormones.

Of course, Mama is also prone to saying things like, shame the wife didn’t get to choose what to spend her own money on.

Still, Mama thoroughly enjoyed poking around all the rooms, a total lack of intellectual understanding of what she was seeing notwithstanding, because it is such a glorious monument to rampant eccentricity. She says. And they have lots of pictures by Hogarth, which Mama, the former historian with an early modern bent, finds absolutely thrilling, and who seems to have had a sharp sense of humour for the ages.

I’m not sure what this picture is all about, but it looks like fun. Mama says yes.

The Rake's Progress - orgy

Obviously in such a small space they don’t have room for frivolities like a coffee shop (although they do have a souvenir shop) so when the call of the cool tactile objects became to much we repaired to Lincoln’s Inn Fields opposite the museum. Surprisingly, it isn’t a field. It’s a large London public garden with plenty of space to run round and have something to eat. We’d bought a picnic, but there’s a café, which looked nice. Mama thought. She does like her coffee. I got to hang out with two dance students casually trading moves on the bandstand, much to Mama’s delight. She thinks my dancing is amusing. Mama enjoyed watching all the office workers doing bootcampesque exercise on their lunchbreak. Mama says it’s called schadenfreude really, but that word is a bit long for me for everyday use.

Anyway, I recommend the Soane Museum to all those toddlers still small enough to be firmly immobilized, to very well behaved children, and to their parents. Mama even took Papa there when they had some time to themselves when my Amazing Big Brother and I were staying at my Grandparents recently, although what they wanted that break for I do not know. Papa enjoyed it so much he donated actual money.

This is very high praise indeed.

More Information

The museum’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide has to say about the museum.

Address: 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3BP.

Opening: Tuesday to Saturday 10am-5pm.  Last entry 4:30pm. Closed every Sunday, Monday and bank holiday.

Price: Admission is free.

Tube: Holborn (Piccadilly and Central lines).

Bus: Nearest stop at Holborn tube station.

A Green and Rosie Life