Built between 1607 and 1612 for Sir Adam Newton, who was tutor to Henry, Prince of Wales - the eldest son of James I, Charlton House is one of the finest surviving Jacobean manor houses in England. The grounds have undergone a number of changes over the last four centuries but remain evocative of times gone by.
The house incorporated the ideas of the Renaissance, which were beginning to filter into England from Europe at this time. Symmetry and balanced proportions were important to Renaissance architecture and ideas, and Charlton House was built on a double E-Shaped plan. The chimney stacks, towers, parapets and balustrades stand out against the skyline and the house was built with a great deal of ornament both inside and outside in the fashion of the time. The oak fireplace in the Jenkins Room bears the date 1612.
Charlton House is built of the red brick characteristic of the period, relieved with white stone quoins and dressings. Its shape is that of a shallow H, an oblong with slightly projecting cross pieces at each end. Externally, the chief features are the richly decorated porch which stands in a bay projecting from the middle of the west front. Internally the house is remarkable for the plaster-work of the ceilings, the numerous interesting chimney-pieces, and the staircase.
By the 1830's the house was in need of renovation. Sir Thomas Maryon-Wilson, grandson of Sir Thomas and Dame Jane, Started extensive modernisation of the property, installing a bathroom, wardrobe rooms and later the musicians' gallery across the hall. In his youth he had gone on a Grand Tour of Europe where he acquired a taste for antiques. The house was filled with his collections and the grounds with wild animals such as wolves, bears, eagles and reindeer.
Alterations have been made over the years, both inside and out, by all of the owners, however. The original chimneys are no longer there having been replaced by mock Tudor ones. The stables block used to be of three parts now there are only two. The garden house, thought to be designed by Inigo Jones, at one time used as public conveniences, is now empty.
World War One
Charlton House played a vital role during the First World War. As the Divisional Headquarters of the Red Cross for Greenwich and Woolwich, working parties raised funds for the war effort and collected gifts and donations for the soldiers at the front. Lady Maryon-Wilson stood as Vice President.
By 1918, four years of hard continued fighting had led to huge numbers of wounded. Hospitals were full. In response, Sir Spencer and Lady Maryon-Wilson gave the Red Cross free use of their Jacobean home. Rooms that were once occupied by the family were turned into wards as the house was fitted out with new and donated furniture. On 14th October 1918, the house opened as an Auxiliary Hospital. In all likelihood patients came from the Brook War Hospital in Shooters Hill to convalescence at Charlton House. On the first day thirty-five patients were admitted, including twelve stretcher cases. There were eighteen wards throughout the house with around seventy beds. During its time as a hospital, over one hundred and sixty men were admitted to Charlton House and looked after by a team of over fifty Voluntary Aid Detachments, Nurses and Doctors. Many of those who cared for the wounded have been researched by a team of volunteers at Greenwich Heritage Centre. On 30th April 1919 the House closed as a hospital and furniture and bedding were auctioned off.
Click here to follow the timeline of Charlton House & Gardens, from 1607 to today.