Pitzhanger Manor
Pitzhanger Manor

Pitzhanger Manor is a Georgian villa built by Sir John Soane to his own design. The house is now owned by the London Borough of Ealing and serves as an art gallery and exhibition centre.

History

There has been a house on this site in Ealing since at least the late 17th century. Records show that in 1664 Richards Slaney paid a hearth tax (a tax on the number of hearths, or fireplaces in a property) for 16 hearths. That suggests that the house was very large.

The house later passed through marriage to the Gurnell family. When Jonathan Gurnell died in 1791 the house was held in trust for his daughter, but then the estate trustees decided to sell the property in 1799.

Architect Sir John Soane purchased the entire Pitzhanger estate in 1800 for the sum of GBP 2800. He proceeded to demolish much of the existing house, saving only the south wing. That wing had been designed by George Dance, Soane's first employer, and it seems that Soane refused to knock it down out of respect. Instead, he incorporated the wing into a new manor house that was completed by 1803.

He used the house to hold many of his paintings and antiquities, which can now be seen at the Soane Museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields. The house interiors are typical of Soane, with beautifully detailed cupboards and inset mirrors to create a sense of spaciousness. He used false doors to create symmetry, and curved ceilings to break up straight lines.

A neo-classical urn in the grounds
A neo-classical urn in the grounds

For all his work, Soane only kept the property for a decade, selling Pitzhanger in 1810. It was briefly the home of Prime Minister Spencer Perceval and passed through several private hands until the Ealing Urban District Council bought the house to serve as a public library.

The house was enlarged, with a new reading room, blending in with the original George Dance Breakfast Room. To make more space for the library, John Soane's' east wing and ornamental buildings were torn down. The library moved to new quarters in 1984 and the house was restored to create PM Gallery and House, a venue for public art exhibitions.

Self-guided tours offer visitors a chance to learn about the history, architecture, and design of Pitzhanger House. There is an exhibition on John Soane, his architecture, and more information about local history of the Ealing area.

Part of that local history involves Ealing Studios, located just a few steps from the manor. The studio, and other film-makers, have used Pitzhanger in several films due to its authentic Regency interiors. The Manor has appeared in films such as The Importance of Being Earnest (2002). It was also used in a 1993 Dr Who special, 'More Than 30 Years in the TARDIS'.

18th-century Cedar of Lebanon in the grounds
18th-century Cedar of Lebanon in the grounds

Restoration

The house and gallery closed temporarily in 2015 for major restoration work. It is expected to reopen in summer 2018. It is a good idea to check the official website to ensure opening times before making a trip. On our last visit most of the house was closed but there were regular public events.

Even if the house is closed visitors can still enjoy the wonderful historic gardens, which now form part of a very popular public park behind the house.

Original garden features include a Gothic bridge, a terrace garden, fountains, and a pair of cedar of Lebanon trees planted around 1750, a full half-century before Soane purchased the estate. Entrance to the gallery, house, and park are free.

Getting There

The closest public transport is by tube (District or Central lines) or rail to Ealing Broadway station. From the station turn left and cross The Broadway. Turn right, then left on High Street. You will see Pitzhanger Manor directly opposite the end of the street. From the station to the Manor is no more than 5 minutes easy walk.