Occasionally dipping into the great new book about Ham House, I was just reading Michael Hall’s article about the work done to the house by William Tollemache, 9th Earl of Dysart (1859-1935).
As I mentioned in a previous post about the 4th Earl of Dysart, Ham somehow acquired the reputation of being a ‘sleeping beauty’, whereas in fact several generations of owners made substantial changes. It is just that their modernisations tended to be fairly subtle and soon blended into the historical whole.
The 9th Earl appears to have been a somewhat tragic but simultaneously rather determined figure. He was born partially sighted and later in life became increasingly deaf, yet he seems to have had a highly developed visual sense and was a keen opera buff, playing Wagner loudly on his radiogram. His nervous disposition did not prevent him from being an able stock market investor, amassing £4.8 million at the time of his death.
When the 9th Earl inherited Ham in 1878 at the age of 19 it had been neglected for almost half a century. He employed the Gothic revival architects G.F. Bodley (1827-1907) and Thomas Garner (1839-1906) to help restore and refurnish the house.
Bodley and Garner added many elements to the interior which at first sight would seem to date from the seventeenth century, such as the coffering underneath the gallery in the Great Hall and the splendid baroque-style radiator cover nearby.
Bodley and Garner founded a company, Watts & Co, to produce furniture, wallpapers and textiles. Watts & Co supplied a number of wallpapers to Ham, some based on seventeenth-century originals found in the house. In this way the interiors at Ham are not just a record of baroque style, but also of the exquisite antiquarianism of the late nineteenth century.