A 17th Century Treasure Trove

The National Trust’s Ham House and Garden bursts into colour during the summer, with the gardens in full bloom and a setting for theatre, exploration and play.
We’re thrilled to be able to share a truly unique take on the property from the current Collections and House Manager, Sarah McGrady. Based at the Stuart mansion with her young family, no two days are the same for Sarah as she continues to ensure guests are immersed in Ham House and Gardens’ steeped history and feel like it's a place of activity, resourcefulness and tranquillity.

Can you tell us a bit about you and how you came to work with Ham House and Garden? 
I have always enjoyed being in historic houses and learning how people lived in the past. At 16 I was lucky enough to do my work experience sorting through medieval shoes dredged up from the moat at the Tower of London and cataloguing one of the Grace and Favour apartments at Hampton Court Palace, which really sparked my interest in museums and heritage. While working at the British Museum after university, I started volunteering with the Collections Team at Ham to gain a better understanding of conservation practices. Shortly after I got a job as House Steward and have worked here ever since. I am currently the Collections and House Manager and no two days in my job are the same. I can be meeting with conservators and curators about our significant collection of seventeenth century paintings, furniture and textiles one minute, then managing a Hollywood film production the next; not to mention throwing on a backpack hoover and ensuring the house is looking its best for our visitors.

Do you have a favourite area of the 17th century treasure trove?
While I love the whole house from top to bottom, there are a few spaces that feel extra special to me at Ham House. As is the case for so many visitors to Ham, the beautiful gardens have been the setting for many wonderful memories made with friends and family over the years so they will always be a favourite. The Buttery, showcasing some of the earliest panelling in the house, including potential witch marks on the shutters to ward off evil, is one of my favourite rooms. The Duchess’ Bathroom, one of the first purpose built bathrooms in the country, with its original seventeenth century delft tiles and parquet floor, represents how the house developed over the years with changing technologies, now including a power shower from the 1890s, which I just love. The Library simply smells great (you can’t go wrong with the musty smell of old books!) and I could while away hours reading all the titles in our book collection or finding all the sea monsters on the eighteenth century map fire screens.
I have to say my absolute favourite area of Ham House though is definitely the Still House. Built in the 1680s as a space for Elizabeth, the lady of the house, to make herbal remedies and medicines for the whole estate; it really represents female strength, responsibility and leadership for me at a time when women often had little power or agency in their personal lives. This beautiful space, today filled with the floral bouquet of dried flowers and herbs picked from the gardens at Ham, feels like a place of activity, resourcefulness and tranquillity. Practical architecture meets functional design and a space to make one’s own.

You're currently based at the property with your young family, what aspect of family life do you enjoy most living there?
Seeing my children appreciate and look after this special place, and gain an understanding of both the merit of permanence and a delight in change is an unexpected joy. As the summer evenings are warming up we have the privilege of enjoying the gardens after hours and nothing beats a game of hide and seek in the wilderness; especially with a glass of wine in hand. It's also quite handy not having many close neighbours seeing as our son is very set on becoming a drummer and practices A LOT!

Why do you think Falcon shoots so beautifully at a National Trust property?
The simplicity of shape and colour that represents Falcon, along with its timeless elegance, fits right in at Ham. The house was built and decorated by the finest craftspeople and leading designers of the seventeenth century, showcasing the latest Baroque style in the floors above, and architectural practicality in the servants areas below. Ham is opulent but not gauche, imposing but still inviting and warm.

Is there a specific dish that you might personally make using any of our Falcon products?
My husband is definitely the cook in our household, and a very fine one at that, so I would look forward to him making a hearty prawn, chorizo and orzo pasta bake in a large bake pan. I have attempted a pear tart tatin in one of the circular dishes, and it didn’t turn out too shabby so once the pears are ripe in the Kitchen Garden later in the summer, I may ask the gardeners for a handful in return for a sweet addition to their tea break menu.

What does this Summer hold for Ham House and Garden?
Ham House and Garden bursts into colour during the summer, with fragrant lavender and spectacular roses among blooms bringing a pastel palette of lilac, pink, white and yellow to the garden. A series of outdoor theatre and cinema events in July and August are the perfect chance to relax in the scent-filled oasis, which is alive with the sounds of buzzing bees and wildlife. The gardens become the setting for the magical Shakespeare classic A Midsummer Night's Dream on 8 July as Quantum Theatre brings its performance to Ham. On 30 July, a fabulous production of family favourite The Wind in the Willows is next on the schedule. Film lovers can enjoy al fresco cinema as Top Gun: Maverick, Mamma Mia, and The Greatest Showman are screened in the gardens on 18-20 August.
Families can watch biodiversity in action as birds, bees and other pollinators are attracted to the wildflowers that pop up across the Plats, kitchen garden and outer courtyard during the summer. These plants include rainbow-coloured achilleas, the frothy yellow Lady’s Bedstraw, ox-eye daisies and Yellow rattle. Throughout the school holidays from 22 July to 31 August, we are hosting the National Trust's Summer of Play at Ham House and Garden. Our formal gardens will be transformed into a giant play zone as families can enjoy garden games including bowls, croquet, badminton, Jenga, and hoopla this summer.

What iconic dishes would have been served 300 years ago to visiting guests? 
While there was a lot of meat on the menu when the Duchess was entertaining, salads were also popular and a Grand Sallet using vegetables, fruit, herbs AND flowers from the Kitchen Garden would have been a must. Food would have been served in the French style with sweet and savoury dishes laid out all together, sometimes amounting to 80 plates over two courses, so a very different experience to our modern dining.
The Taffety Tart, a pippin (apple) pie scented with rosewater and fennel seeds, was very popular, appearing in many cookery books of the time, and being served at James II’s coronation in 1685. Pies and pasties were big and included fillings of bacon, oysters, beef and even puffin! Keeping with ingredients that have fallen out of popular favour, Robert May, the English master cook, who published a compendium of English cooking in 1660 gives a recipe for spiced udders with dates, pistachios and bone-marrow, baked in a creamy custard with candied-pistachios and sugar on top.
Finally, we know the Duchess loved her champagne and other wines from across Europe including Portugal and Germany. In February 1669, she spent £14 on champagne, then another £15 the following month; a sum equivalent to the yearly wages of her highly accomplished French chef.

The kitchen Garden at Ham House is still producing an abundance of heritage crops. What are the principal crops and flowers that are still grown? 
The kitchen garden at Ham grows a range of fruit and veg for the cafe as well as a range of historic vegetables that are no longer widely cultivated as they have been replaced by modern crops. The 17th century salad plot includes root vegetables such as skirret, scorzonera, salsify and unusual leaves such as salad burnet, sea kale, red orach, sorrel and wild sea beet.
The cut flower plot includes a wild variety of annuals, perennials and bulbs including daffodils, tulips and fritillaries. This summer the edible flower plot will bloom with lavender, calendula, nasturtiums and borage, while the cut flower garden overflows with sweet peas and vibrant red and green amaranthus.


White with Blue Rim Utensil Pot

White with Blue Rim Prep Set

White with Blue Rim 9½" Plates


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