Monmouth House: The utterly breathtaking transformation of a great London townhouse

Monmouth House, Hyde Park Gate — an 1860s coach house that's a home of Hamish Ogston — has been internally reconfigured to dazzling effect with the help of the finest contemporary craftsmanship. Jeremy Musson reports.

In about 1860, one William Heathcote, the owner of 29, Hyde Park Gate, decided to add a coach house with servants’ accommodation to his property. The addition made his house — one of a pair constructed in the 1840s with large gardens — more commodious. It went on to be the residence of a series of distinguished people, including Sir Henry and Lady Elizabeth Babington-Smith (daughter of the 9th Earl of Elgin, Viceroy of India in 1894–99). In 1927, it was bought by Sir Roderick Jones, head of the news agency Reuters. His wife, Lady Jones — the novelist and playwright Enid Bagnold — recalled in her Autobiography the delight she felt in finding ‘this untouched house with its big garden’, which she felt had the character of a country house swallowed up by expanding London.

The couple swiftly commissioned Edwin Lutyens to re-order the property and, in 1928, he effectively absorbed the former coach house into the domestic accommodation of No 29. A plan survives, which can be read with commentaries and asides in Bagnold’s memoir, to show how Lutyens created a vast new drawing room-cum-ballroom on its ground floor, with the former hayloft ‘which in our time was the biggest nursery in London’ on the second floor. This portion of their house now became the hub of their entertaining and family life. The drawing room was additionally the setting for after-dinner demonstration boxing matches.

Fig 1: Highly finished: the exterior has been lime rendered and the windows renewed. ©Will Pryce for Country Life

Lutyens was then one of the most sought-after architects in Britain, at the height of his fame. Having effectively, ‘rearranged — for parties’, No 29 Hyde Park Gate and its coach house, he went on to design the vast new Reuters headquarters building on Fleet Street in the 1930s.

The Joneses’ parties at No 29 Hyde Park Gate were, indeed, legendary. The couple memorably mixed writers, such as H. G. Wells, Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West with press barons, including Lord Northcliffe, and many other journalists, politicians and diplomats. In her Autobiography, Bagnold wrote admiringly of Lutyens’s ability to envision the possibilities of the house, especially ‘the big drawing room… [that he] had “seen” through the jumble of bits and pieces which overlaid the coach house emerged as a sort of stage seen from the dress circle’.

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Bagnold recalled: ‘I took so long over the furnishing [of the house] it drove Roderick mad’, but she implies that she was able to acquire numerous fine Regency pieces, including ‘two staggering and fantastic rout sofas’, spotted in bits by the architect Duke of Wellington, who was a champion of Regency taste. She mixed such furniture with ancient alabaster funeral jars lit by electricity from within and owned a work by Henry Moore, which was hung on the big drawing-room wall between the French windows. The drawing room also had a ‘joke picture of Brighton’ painted directly onto glass by Allan Walton. In a house so dedicated to entertaining, the author needed a proper retreat if any writing was to be done and Lutyens created an ingenious writing room for her, ‘like a ship’s cabin [in] a niche above the drawing-room’.

No 29 Monmouth House was divided after the war. In 1974, the 1840s building became the residence of the Bulgarian ambassador, whereas No 29a, the former coach house, became flats. It was later re-purposed as a single dwelling and renamed Monmouth House. In the process of these changes, its 1920s interiors were lost.

Fig 3: The principal guest bedroom at the rear of the house, overlooking the sheltered garden to the west. ©Will Pryce for Country Life

All this set the scene for the most recent chapter in the history of the building: between 2019 and 2021, Monmouth House was entirely reordered, with new foundations and a dramatic new double-height entrance hall (Fig 2), with a three-sided gallery, on the north side of the house and the principal rooms looking west over the quiet garden (Fig 3). The exterior has also been re-faced in lime render and given new stone surrounds to the windows (Fig 1), to present a harmonious and appropriately Italianate character to the street. A fine new porch has been added, too, its distinctive rusticated form derived from the one surviving gate pier, designed by Lutyens.

These extensive recent works have been carried out for businessman and philanthropist Hamish Ogston, who acquired the property in 2018. His charitable trust, the Hamish Ogston Foundation, was formed in 2019 and supports heritage, music and health.

Monmouth House has been redesigned not only to serve as Mr Ogston’s London residence and home for his important art collection, but also as a place to hold events, meetings and entertainments in support of the foundation’s work. Furthermore, the house is to be left to the foundation and, on his death, sold to repay loans used to fund donations made in his lifetime.

The concentration of new work in this house, by a catalogue of highly skilled and renowned craftspeople, reflects Mr Ogston’s interest in building and craft tradition. It also has resonance with the foundation’s outstanding support of heritage-crafts skills training and apprenticeships — first in partnership with the Cathedrals’ Workshop Fellowship and Historic England — with a summer school this year for apprentices at Wentworth Woodhouse in South Yorkshire. From 2022, new partnerships have been formed with the National Trust and the Commonwealth Heritage Forum, extending the training opportunities across the world, the latter in the form of The Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Skills Training Programme.

Fig 4: The stone cantilevered staircase in the entrance hall was made by Ian Knapper of Cheadle in Staffordshire. ©Will Pryce for Country Life

Before all the recent work at Monmouth House, the history of the property was closely researched by Angela Lownie of London House Histories and this article is indebted to her exhaustive study.

Hyde Park Gate is a fashionable, quiet, London street, close to Kensington Palace. It has always been a popular place to live and a preferred area for embassies and ambassadorial residences. Sir Winston and Lady Churchill acquired No 28 in 1945 and the adjoining house in 1946, combining the accommodation and gardens of both. The Churchills were often filmed coming in and out of their Hyde Park Gate home, and No 29a — as it then was — was often glimpsed in the background. At the time it was as Lutyens had left it, with its window surrounds surprisingly painted a dark colour (possibly black).

In 2017, Mr Ogston commissioned architect Chris Mitchell, of Kensington-based practice Mitchell Berry Architects, to transform the accommodation within, giving the house a sense of splendour. Notably, the entrance hall on the street side of the house, which evokes, to some extent, the theatre of the lost Lutyens drawing room.

The upper storeys are approached by a cantilevered stone staircase (Fig 4), crafted by stonemason Ian Knapper of Cheadle in Staffordshire, a leading specialist in stone staircases, who also supplied the floor in the entrance hall. Mr Mitchell acknowledges the many challenges of adapting the house, as well as how, at each stage, they looked to Lutyens for inspiration. Whenever they discovered original 1920s details, including hidden panelling and cornices, they used them for reference in the new work. This house now celebrates traditional style, as well as incorporating the very newest technology in lighting, heating and security.

Fig 5: The house is now home to a major art collection, including Sisley and Pissarro. ©Will Pryce for Country Life

The fine handmade metalwork balustrade on the staircase and gallery was made by Michael Jacques at his forge in Chalgrove, Oxfordshire, and the vivid black scagliola pilasters are by Hayles & Howe and their scagliola workshops in Crediton in Devon, run under the supervision of Mark Burston. Hayles & Howe also supplied the simplified Jacobean-style plasterwork ceiling for the drawing room. Wood-block flooring in both the drawing room and first-floor study is by Weldon Flooring. The oak-block pattern in the study is based directly on examples of the Lutyens-period oak block found under later layers (Fig 6). New stone and marble chimneypieces have been specially carved on 18th-century models by Jamb in their south London workshops.

The most surprising element of the whole ensemble is perhaps the painted trompe l’oeil ceiling in the entrance hall, executed by Fiona Sutcliffe and her west London-based Sterling Studio team. This presents what appears to be a view up into a sky through a dome, framed in neo-Adam plasterwork panels in blue and stone colours. At the point of entry from the front door, everything on the ceiling is perfectly aligned for the viewer, but as you progress through the room the refraction is startling and amusing.

Fig 6: In the study, the distinctive oak-block floor reproduces a small section of part of the 1920s floor pattern introduced by Lutyens and discovered underneath later layers. ©Will Pryce for Country Life

A further trompe l’oeil effect is painted on the south wall, to suggest a deep Adamesque landing with an apsidal bookcase seen through columns — as, for instance, at Kenwood House in Hampstead, NW3. The ironwork balustrade is painted across this, so that the gallery appears to continue on to a fourth side. The hall leads through into a drawing room and dining room combined, with generous windows to the garden behind (Fig 7). The black-and-white paving of the terrace is based on evidence of the garden terracing designed by Lutyens for the house in 1928.

Fig 7: The drawing/dining room has doors to the garden. Its ceiling, by Hayles & Howe, is a nod to neo-Jacobean Lutyens work. ©Will Pryce for Country Life

The principal ground-floor rooms are home to an outstanding collection of European 19th- and early-20th-century art (Fig 5), with paintings by Chagall, Magritte and Picasso, as well as landscapes by Pissarro and Sisley, a selection that Mr Ogston has formed over some years with the advice of the art adviser and artist Hector Paterson. Sally Storey of John Cullen Lighting has advised on lighting this careful hang. The fine gilt-framed mirrors in the magnificent entrance hall came originally from the Earl of Macclesfield’s London town house.

Since the completion of works in early 2021, Monmouth House has already hosted a number of gatherings associated with the activity of the foundation. Its work in sustaining heritage skills has become even more vital with the uncertainties caused by the recent pandemic. According to Robert Bargery, the project director for Heritage for the Foundation, the intention in all cases is to support heritage-skills training in a manner that lays the basis for a long career in the field and that, wherever possible, it is young people from areas of higher socio-economic deprivation who receive the training. This investment helps ensure these skills remain for the future.

Monmouth House in itself embodies the traditional skills that bring so much to our architectural environments, historic and modern. These layered contributions speak of Mr Ogston’s exacting standards and assiduous research to find the best of the many skilled hands who have been called on to provide the different elements. They are perhaps seen to best advantage with the sound of music rising through the house from the double-height hall, where a grand piano stands always at the ready.

For more details of the work of the Hamish Ogston Foundation, visit

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