Lauderdale House in Waterlow Park, north London, is a place with a great deal of history. Over the last few months it has been undergoing refurbishment, and reopened this week with a ‘Lauderdale Transformed’ festival including music, play readings and family activities. I went to one of the play readings and went back to the House at the weekend to take part in one of the tours.
The house was originally built in 1582 as a private home for three-times Lord Mayor of London, Sir Richard Martin. Eventually it became the home of John Maitland, Earl of Lauderdale, who gave the house its name. Lord Lauderdale, as a key advisor to King Charles II, opened his house to him, and it became a meeting place for the King and his mistress, Nell Gwynn, and their infant son the Duke of St Albans. Samuel Pepys also visited the house on one occasion, and wrote about the visit in his diary.
Over the next few decades the house changed hands numerous times, being owned at one point by a member of the Quaker movement (John Wesley preached here in 1782) and later being used as a private boarding school. The last private owner was Sir Sidney Waterlow, another Lord Mayor of London, who gave his name to Waterlow Park. In 1889 he gave the house and grounds to the London County Council “for the enjoyment of Londoners”. The park became a public park and the House became a tearoom and park-keepers’ flats until a fire in 1963 that destroyed much of the House.
The House lay derelict for 15 years, until members of the local community established the Lauderdale House Society, the charity which now runs the House. Lauderdale House was opened in 1978 as an arts and education centre, and remains as such to this day. I took part in a tour to explore the recent renovation.
I really enjoyed my tour, which was engaging and informative. The House has been lovingly restored, with ‘Nell Gwynn’s Bath’ taking pride of place in the foyer, which is light and airy. The original stairwell pattern has been exposed, and the original wooden beams from the first house on the site – which show how the original building was smaller – are present and visible. Downstairs, there is a light-filled room that can be used for activities, while upstairs, there is a large airy room that can be used for recitals and meetings. Overlooking the park, it is rumoured to be here that Nell Gwynn dangled her young baby out of the window in order to “persuade” his father, King Charles II, to give him a dukedom. The story is apocryphal, but it’s still pretty entertaining.
Outside, it’s possible to see the original entrance to the house, and wander around the grounds and beyond, into Waterlow Park. Lauderdale House is a beautiful place in North London in which to attend a concert, enjoy an exhibition, spend time with the family or just relax with a cup of tea from the cafe.
Address: Waterlow Park, Highgate Hill, London, N6 5HG
Opening Hours: Dependent on events
Prices: Free to visit; cost for events varies