History in Gunnersbury Park

I’d never heard of Gunnersbury Park, it was only after a chance photo and mention on Instagram that I made a trip to visit and boy! was it worth it.

After a £50m makeover in 2018, the 200 acres have history, beautiful gardens, quirky details and extensive sports grounds.

Gunnersbury Park History | Look Up London

Let’s start at the beginning…

In the Middle Ages the land was owned by the Bishops of London, but post-reformation and seizure of church land, it was bought by Sir John Maynard in 1656.

Gunnersbury Park History | Look Up London

John Rocque Map of 1746 from www.layersoflondon.org © Maptiler and OpenStreetMap contributors

Maynard hired the architect John Webb to build a new manor house estate. An image of the original house can bee seen in this drawing c.1750.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons

In 1730 the estate was bought by Henry Furness, the Art Collector and Member of Parliament. Furness in turn hired William Kent who went to town on the gardens, creating canals, pleasure grounds and expanding the estate.

It was then bought by royalty – a Princess no less! The favourite daughter of King George II; Amelia.

Image credit: Public Domain – Princess Amelia by Jean-Baptise van Loo – Sotheby’s

She used it to entertain guests and as her summer residence until she died in 1786. During her time here she had a summerhouse and grotto built, remnants of a bathhouse can also still be seen today which is thought to have been a dairy that Amelia had built so she could pretend to be a servant and make milk and cheese – what fun!

Gunnersbury Park History | Look Up London

Over the next few years it changed hands a few times until in 1800 John Morley, a Chelsea manufacturer, bought it. It’s easy to imagine the shock on the Princess’ face that it was now in the hands of ‘new money’ and even more so when Morley demolished the Webb house and sold off the estate in sections.

His idea didn’t quite got to plan because he only found two buyers. In the end the estate took the form of one ‘Large Mansion’ within grounds known as Gunnersbury Park and the ‘Small Mansion’ and its grounds known as Gunnersbury House.

Gunnersbury Park History | Look Up London

The Large Mansion was bought by Nathan Mayer Rothschild in 1835 who planned to make extensive changes, but died before ever moving in. Big walls were built between the two estates because the owner – Thomas Farmer – didn’t want to see the stables. Looking like preserved ruins today, but these were intestinally built as Gothic ruins, the dilapidated appearance intentional.

Later, in 1889, the Rothschild family bought the Small Mansion too, uniting the estate once again!

Today the Large Mansion is home to the Gunnersbury Park Museum, celebrating the local history of Ealing and Hounslow.

Gunnersbury Park History | Look Up London

The Small Mansion is still awaiting restoration. But aside from the pretty ugly fencing and hoardings looks rather dramatic in its crumbling form.

Gunnersbury Park History | Look Up London

In 1925 The borough of Acton and Ealing bought lot and it opened to the public the following year with Neville Chamberlain – who later became Prime Minister – cutting the ribbon.

Other highlights within the park include the Potomac Tower, built in the late 1800s for the Rothschild family.

Gunnersbury Park History | Look Up London

The Temple is an 18th century survivor, built around the time Princess Amelia owned the park. It was built by William Chambers and today hosts a ‘Victorian Classroom’ experience.

Gunnersbury Park History | Look Up London

Backing onto the Temple are the Italian Gardens, inspired by 14th Century Italian gardens, laid out in the 19th century.

So if you haven’t heard of it before, why not make a trip West and pay the lovely Gunnersbury Park a visit?

Gunnersbury Park History | Look Up London

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2 Comments

  • Wendy Johnson

    Reply

    Having just read The Last Garden in England, I can imagine William Kent and his gardeners planning and planting in this lovely area creating beauty.

    June 5, 2021 at 2:14 pm
  • Keith Alan Francis Woodward

    Reply

    While researching my family, in particularly my Great great grandfather William Weatherly who was a gardener, I came across this trial reference concerning gardeners working at Gunnersbury in 1820. There was a William Weatherley who appeared as a witness at the Old Bailey trial in 1820 against some men who stole the tools belonging to men working as garden contractors at Gunnersbury. The garden workers had buried their tools, including in William’s case his shovel valued at one shilling. His evidence was that he had buried his shovel. It is not stated what tools were used to bury the tools. The thieves had sold some of the tools, mainly mattocks, but also bought drinks in a pub to the value of four shillings leaving some tools behind as security promising to be back to pay the next day. They were convicted. If this was my grandfather, William Weatherley, referenced in the documents for Putney, he would have been 14 at the time. There seems to have been more than one William Weatherly who was a gardener. I hope this is of interest and maybe there is more information on their actual work.
    Keith Woodward

    May 4, 2022 at 2:34 pm

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