Pitzhanger Manor

In Gardens and Parks, Historic Houses on July 2, 2012 at 9:37 pm

I have recently moved from Greenford (without once visiting its only Museum, but I do intend to rectify that ASAP) and now find myself in Northfields. Beautiful location under the Heathrow flightpath in a former asylum/ orphanage. It is also, however, within reasonable walking distance from many of Ealing’s leafy green parks, several of whom have museums tucked up in them. Today I wandered through Walpole Park, and into Pitzhanger Manor.

Pitzhanger Manor is, above all else, a lot of fun to say, because it kind-of rhymes. Apart from being phonemically pleasing, it’s also a very pretty little house. It is a little house – not by everyday standards, but by “historic house in the country” standards, it’s a bungalow. It’s also no longer in the countryside either – it’s in zone 2, for goodness’ sake. However, when Sir John Soane bought this house, it was his country residence. The original Pitzhanger Manor stood on the site since the 17th century, but when Soane bought it in 1810, despite much of it being the work of his architectural mentor George Dance, he tore the majority down and rebuilt it as his own “show home”; a showcase of his unique architectural style, at which he could schmooze his clients and patrons. Smart salesman.

The house remains, to an extent, all about the architecture. It’s petite stature is made up for by its idyllic setting, and some small Italianate gardens and small passageways surrounding it, before Walpole Park sprawls out behind it. The park was formerly attached to the house, but has been a public park since the house was purchased by Ealing Council in 1900. It’s an insanely large open space for West London, and part of the reason I love Ealing.

Inside, there is a small desk where you can purchase an audioguide (I declined), then step into a very small room with some introductory info and floorplans. The floorplan was beautifully done, with colour-coding for the different eras of the house. The infographics were also good, if a little dated, and unashamedly pro-Ealing council, referring to their modifications as “sympathetic”, among other things. It had quite a self-congratulatory tone overall, which wasn’t entirely justified – I would recommend letting people make that decision themselves. Especially British people. Nothing irks us like someone tooting their own horn.

After this, however, the quality of info drops off somewhat. We’re down to one A4 panel per empty room. I did like very much that each panel included information on the future plans for the Manor (indeed, they have very big plans for Pitzhanger) but this took up about a third of each page with a short list of bullet points, making the lack of info even more pronounced. This is a real shame. Sir John Soane’s Museum in central London is consistently one of the highest-rated tourist attractions in the whole of London, regularly sitting in ‘Top Ten’ lists alongside World Heritage Beasts like The Tower of London and The British Museum. Soane is an obscure figure of architectural note, sure, but if a house he didn’t even BUILD in London is doing so well, surely Pitzhanger can cobble together a better show than this?

Upstairs, there are a few more rooms, small and empty on the whole, but in one room there is currently an exhibition of a single artwork by Jane Fox and Irene Mensah called “Mutter Matter”. Based in the drawing room, this work is based on “murmurings” from around the table, and takes up most of the room its in. It’s quite interesting to look at, but quite out of step with the rest of the house. The house is attached to the largest art gallery in West London, the PM Gallery in the north wing, so its links to contemporary art are strong on the whole, but I feel that there is no communication between the pair at the moment, and this work of art feels like it simply got lost on the way to next door.

That said, Pitzhanger Manor is a beauty, and even though the rooms are very empty (a pet peeve of mine), it’s an architectural work of art in miniature, and worth a visit purely to see some of the beautiful decor. It’s free, as well – a free historic house is pretty difficult to come by in this part of the world, and you can combine it with shopping and a meal in Ealing Broadway or a wander in Walpole Park very easily. It does feel somewhat unfinished, but the long lists of “future works” (and Ealing Council’s ambitious plans) do give me hope that the best is yet to come!

Pitzhanger Manor is open 7 days a week in Summer, and is free. This includes the PM Art Gallery, attached to the main building. The audioguide costs £1.

(I would like to clear the air by saying I have been lax in my museum visiting this month. This blog is dedicated to Miss Parysa Mostajir, who rightly called me on being a slack ass and demanded fresh content. There’s even another post already scheduled for tomorrow morning. That’s how much she guilted me.)

  1. So, is this the Pitzhanger Manor that was the home of Charles Gould (later Morgan) who moved to Tredegar House?

    • These Morgans! Is there NO escape from them?! They have totalled the Gould household, mind you, so John Soane obviously thought very little of their taste in houses. I’ll assume that didn’t extend to beautiful Tredegar.

  2. Um, it’s ‘Ms’, actually, Laura.

  3. Yes it is Steff. King Gould took over Pitzhanger in the 1750s, and it was his son, the future Sir Charles Gould Morgan, who sold it to Thomas Gurnell. The long arm of Tredegar casts its shadow once again….

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