Burgh House was built in 1704 during Queen Anne's reign. Its first occupants were Henry and Hannah Sewell. After Henry's death in 1708, Hannah continued living here until 1720.
At this time the Spa (or Hampstead Wells) was flourishing. In 1720 the Spa's physician, Dr. William Gibbons, moved to Burgh House. He was the first physician to encourage the drinking of the foul tasting "Chalybeate" waters and is said to have drunk two or three glasses of it every morning. He enlarged Burgh House and added the present wrought-iron gate which bear his initials.
From the 1740's the house was occupied by a variety of professionals. The longest inhabitants in the house were Sarah and Israel Lewis (46 years). Israel was an upholsterer of Fleet Street who was involved in a court case in which he was found guilty of creating a nuisance by "making an enclosed Dung stall" in his garden. He was fined £5 to make him remove it. As late as 1854 the house was known as Lewis House.
After Israel Lewis' death in 1822, the house was sold to the Rev. Allatson Burgh (1769-1856) for £2,546. From 1815 he was the vicar of the Guildhall church of St. Lawrence Jewry in the city. By changing the liturgy in his church, he made himself so unpopular that his parishioners petitioned Queen Victoria to have him removed. They were unsuccessful and he remained their vicar until he died in 1856. He is buried in Hampstead Parish Church Crypt.
In 1858 Burgh House was taken over by the Royal East Middlesex Militia. It served as the Head-Quarters and Officers' Mess until 1881 and barrack blocks were built in front of it.
The house returned to domestic use in 1884 when Thomas Grylls moved in with his wife and 12 children. Thomas Grylls was a distinguished stained glass designer and, as a partner in Burlison and Grylls, designed the rose window above Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.
From 1906-1924 Dr. George Williamson, an international art expert specialising in portrait miniatures and trade tokens, occupied the house. He wrote over 100 books. One was about Wedgwood's "Frog Service"; a 950-piece dinner set made in 1774 for the Empress Catherine the Great of Russia. A few of these plates depicted Burgh House. Dr. Williamson also commissioned Gertrude Jekyll to design the garden here. Only the terrace now remains.
In 1925, a director of Lloyd's Bank, Captain Constantine Evelyn Benson DSO CBE, bought the house for £4,750. He built the present music room on the site of Dr. Williamson's library.
Between 1933-1937, Rudyard Kipling's daughter, Elsie Bambridge lived here with her husband, Captain George Bambridge. She reported that the house was a "source of happiness" to her father. His last outing in 1936 was to Burgh House to see his daughter.
From 1937-1946 Burgh House was mostly unoccupied and was fortunate to escape bomb damage during World War II. It was bought and restored by Hampstead Borough Council in 1946. Later the barrack blocks in front of the building were pulled down. In 1947 it reopened as a community centre with a Citizen's Advice Bureau in its basement.
The house was again closed indefinitely in 1977 when its new owners, Camden Council, discovered dry rot in the building. Threatened with proposals to turn the house over to a commercial use, local residents formed a charitable trust and launched a "Keep Burgh House" appeal. After the Trust raised £50,000, Camden Council granted them a lease for the House. On 8th September 1979, the House, restored by the Council and refurbished by the Trust, opened to the public as the house and museum that is here today.
In recent years, however, the 300-year-old building urgently needed more facilities, refurbishments and improvements - especially to provide better disabled access to the house. Plans were drawn up to add a new extension, with level entrance from the street, to the rear of the building and to bring the standards of display and conservation of the Museum up to modem requirements. The £800,000 scheme, which received generous backing from The Heritage Lottery Fund, Bridge House Trust and many local benefactors, was formally opened to the public on 16th July 2006.
The House and Museum:
Monday & Tuesday: Closed
Wednesday – Friday & Sunday: Open 12-5pm
Saturday: Ground Floor Art Gallery only, 12-5pm (entrance via Buttery Cafe).
The Buttery Cafe:
Monday and Tuesday: Closed
Wednesday to Friday: 11.00am - 5.30pm
Saturday and Sunday: 9.30am - 5.30pm.
Admission is free.