History of Marble Hill House
Built in the 1720s, Marble Hill was an idyllic Thames-side retreat from court life for Henrietta Howard, mistress of King George II. In this perfectly proportioned villa, inspired by the 16th-century architect Palladio, she entertained many of the poets and wits of the age.
Marble Hill was saved for the nation by Act of Parliament in 1902, after a public campaign to protect the view from Richmond Hill from suburban development.
The Draw of the River
Marble Hill House sits prominently on the north-west bank of the River Thames at Twickenham, surrounded by what survives of a carefully designed landscape. However, surviving maps from the 17th and early 18th centuries show that before the house was built, the site was a patchwork of cornfields, meadows, and fruit and kitchen gardens split between multiple owners and farmed by various tenants.
By the 18th century the banks of the river between Hampton Court and Kew were increasingly punctuated by suburban residences built by those seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of London. They were drawn to the area both by its royal connections – it was close to the royal residences at Hampton Court and later at Richmond Lodge – and by its artistic associations. The river had long been a source of inspiration for poets, gardeners and artists.
Building Marble Hill
To construct her new residence Henrietta drew on the experience and expertise of her vast network of friends and acquaintances.
The builder-architect Roger Morris, who also worked for the royal family, was the builder of the house. We do not know for certain who designed it, but it has been suggested that Morris, the ‘architect earl’ Henry Herbert, 9th Earl of Pembroke, and the leading 18th-century architect Colen Campbell may have played a part in the house’s design. At the same time, the future royal gardener Charles Bridgeman and the poet Alexander Pope – who was creating his own garden just upriver – are known to have worked on the gardens. Henrietta was clearly a well-informed and well-connected patron, and may herself have contributed to the plans.
Marble Hill was at the cutting edge of 18th-century fashion. The house was built in the new Palladian style inspired by the architecture of ancient Rome, as revived by the 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio. It was ideally situated by a flowing river and nestled within an ‘ancient’ setting, which was inspired by the gardens of classical Rome. Together, villa and garden formed a peaceful pastoral refuge from court life.
On Henrietta’s death in 1767 her nephew, the politician John Hobart, 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire (1723–93), inherited Marble Hill. Henrietta’s will stipulated that the house, its contents and the estate were to stay together as ‘Heir Looms’, suggesting her pride in the home she had created.
Having been raised at Marble Hill, the 2nd Earl was familiar with Henrietta’s Thames-side retreat. He leased it out at first, but then lived there from1772 until his death in 1793.
When the 2nd Earl died without male heirs, Marble Hill passed to his niece, Henrietta Hotham. In spite of her childhood connection to the house, she decided not to live there. Instead she retired to a smaller house in the south-eastern corner of the estate, known as Little Marble Hill or Marble Hill Cottage (which was demolished in about 1873/4).
The Peels at Marble Hill
Jonathan Peel (1799–1879) was a soldier and politician, and brother of Robert Peel, who was twice British Prime Minister. He was also a well-known devotee of horseracing. After purchasing Marble Hill he immediately built a stable block to the north-west of the house, where he kept racehorses and almost certainly working domestic horses too. Among other changes to the grounds, he also created a fashionable Italianate garden on the 18th-century terracing which had been laid out by Henrietta Howard to the south of the house.
Peel bought Marble Hill shortly after marrying Alice (or Alicia) Kennedy, daughter of the 1st Marquess of Ailsa. They had eight children. Under the Peels’ ownership Marble Hill was not only a family home but once again paid host to those of ‘rank, beauty and genius’ in society. Lady Peel was said to have been one of the best-known hostesses of the mid-19th century – as one newspaper put it, ‘At Marble Hill and in London Lady Alice received statesmen, authors, and diplomatists among her intimate friends.’ 
Saving Marble Hill
William Cunard planned to develop the estate, and in 1901 started building roads and sewers, and felling trees. The future of Marble Hill was in jeopardy.
But outcry from local residents at the plans prompted a campaign to save Marble Hill. The house and park, they argued, formed a central and critical part of the famous prospect from Richmond Hill. Their destruction would mark the ‘ruin of the entire view’. A deal was reached with the Cunard family to halt development and in 1902 Marble Hill was purchased with contributions from the London County Council, private donors and local authorities.
Shortly afterwards the Richmond, Ham and Petersham Open Spaces Act was passed, which protected the view from Richmond Hill from any development. It remains the only view protected by an Act of Parliament today.