Entry 1: Countdown/Kenwood House

I’m about to embark on the two year marathon that is the “London Blue Badge Training Course.” No I’m not spending two years solely learning about the blue plaques (although this info is important to know) and neither at the end of the course will I be able to park wherever I like (unfortunately!) Having not yet started the course the only way I can describe it to my friends is that it’s kind of like doing a super intense history degree of Britain but instead of long arduous dissertations, you are tested on your delivery skills and the enormous amounts of facts and figures – for some this would be worse than the      10, 000 word essays but for me, I couldn’t be more excited about it.

Apparently I am the youngest ever trainee on the course, so I have a lot to prove! I graduated last summer from the University of Manchester having studied French and Italian and after a year of doing all kinds of things (volunteering, interning etc), I’m excited to get back into the world of learning.

Over the next two years and possibly onwards, I plan to document the different facts I learn along the way.

Like I said, I thought I’d do a little taster one to see how I fared putting pen to paper (quite literally).

They say you should write about what you know and what I know is KENWOOD HOUSE, an absolute gem tucked away on the edge of Hampstead Heath. The reason I know and love Kenwood is that I’ve been volunteering there for about 10 months almost every friday. In the mornings I help out with an under 5s activity group and in the afternoon I’m a room steward – so bring your kids/friends and come and look around (shameless advertising, sorry not sorry). Add another “sorry” for that….

I divulge. Back to Kenwood.

You may forgive me for my blatant promotion when I tell you that one of the best and unique things about this English Heritage site is that it’s FREE ENTRY. Now the reason it is free  is **Historical fact alert** : the house was bought in 1925 by Lord Iveagh who was a member of the Guiness Family empire, so as you can imagine, he was doing pretty well for himself. So well that he bought this house not to live in but to hang his amazing art collection (as you do). We have art of old masters such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Turner and the list goes on! However, unfortunately, he died two years later but he  bequeathed the house and 60 or so of his paintings to the nation. Amazing right!? Next time you meet someone new you could say that you own one of Rembrandt’s  Self portraits. Now that’s a conversation starter..!

Before getting deeper into the art, I just wanted to talk about a couple of the films that have been filmed here:

  1. For the rom-com buffs among you, you probably recognise the back of the house (although often mistaken as the front) from the 1999 film “Notting Hill” when Hugh Grant’s character Will Thacker goes to meet his love interest Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) while she is filming a Henry James novel. Just when you think the couple will be reunited once again, a misunderstood remark tears the pair away from each other again. Yet more heartbreak.
  2. Another film to have been filmed here is the 2013 film “Belle” which although includes romance,has a little more historical substance (despite not being entirely accurate at times). The film follows Dido Belle who was born to an enslaved black mother and a aristocratic naval officer. What makes this film location even more exciting is that the the film’s protagonist actually lived here in the late 18th century! She was brought to Kenwood to live under the care of her uncle William Murray who later became the 1st Earl of Mansfield and Lord Chief of Justice. I personally loved the film because it balances between the (of course) “hollywood-ified” love story and the more historically accurate account of the the 18th century when the idea of human slavery started to be questioned. (Look up the Zong case and the Somerset vs Stewart case for more info.)

For those of you still reading, CONGRATULATIONS. Sorry I seem to have blubbered on for quite a bit and I haven’t even talked much about the art work. I think for now I’d better stop but hopefully I’ve enticed you enough to go and visit Kenwood anyway! But if not, I’ll talk about the paintings next time…