Robert Hooke’s Summer House

I’ve been meaning to talk about the Grange for a very long time. You may not be as familiar with the house itself as you are with its eastern outbuilding – the cute little gazebo seemingly perched on the top of its outer wall, hanging out over Crooms Hill. I’ll come to the summer house in a moment, but first we should at least peek (and frankly that’s all we’ll be able to do) at the building.

It’s very old, though it’s been remodelled so many times it’s hard to see where the age comes in. In its first incarnation, it was probably the Paternoster Croft for the Abbey of Ghent, though there’s precious little if anything left of that particular construction (and for once, I know this first hand - in one of those weird quirks of life I did actually once look round the building, from cellar to loft. Things have moved on and, sadly, I don’t think that will ever happen again.)

When it moved into private hands the Grange became home to a splendid collection of individuals – not least one of Greenwich’s very first evil developers, Sir Lancelot Lake. Queen Elizabeth’s chief joiner had lived there earlier, presumably leading an indolent life since the Queen was much happier staying in other people’s homes than forking out the cash to build her own. It was also home to the Lanier family (see Shakespeare’s Dark Lady of Crooms Hill but I promise to get on to the rest of the family some day, they really warrant their own post). Some even reckon Sir William Boreman lived there while he was remodelling Greenwich Park, but if he did he must have been a guest, given the dates.

But the man who most people associate with the Grange is the “plain, ordinary, silly man” that Sam Pepys claimed kept “the poorest mean dirty table in a dirty house that ever I did see any sheriff of London”, Sir William Hooker.* I have no idea whether Hooker warranted Pepys’s poor opinion of him, but blimey – if he was considered dirty in those days he must have really honked, given the smell of everything else…

Hooker was Lord Mayor of London, but when the plague really hit hard in 1665, he did what so many city dwellers did, move out to the countryside. I don’t know how much of the Grange he rebuilt, but it was a grand old affair by the time he finished with it. He, his wife, son and three daughters had three coach houses and kept stables for eight horses.

In 1672, he commissioned Young Turk Robert Hooke to build him a little conceit in the garden, right on the edge so that he could get a good view of the Park.

It’s a cute little building, in a sort of oriental-ish style, but with those classic Restoration touches that you can see in the Observatory which was being built at more or less the same time.

Here are some better views, taken by Stephen:

I just adore it. If you crane your neck you can just see the fabulous moulded plaster ceiling, restored, like the rest of the gazebo exactly three hundred years later in 1972.

It utterly baffles me that the current owners seem to be using it as a glorified shed, rather than holding dainty little champagne soirees, midnight feasts or fabulous sugar banquet courses in there, which is what I would be doing.  Hey ho – each to his own, I guess.

There’s something else that puzzles me. The coat of arms above the window. I’m assuming it’s original, and, if it is, that it’s Hooker’s family crest, but I’ve been unable to find any mention of it at all anywhere. I am sure some local historian can help me out there.

For so many reasons – not least because only forty years separates them, and because they’re both frivolous little pleasure buildings built by men more famous for other things, but who knew which side their bread was buttered when it came to the toffs, I’ve decided to twin it with Inigo Jones’s Loo in Charlton.

Sir William Hooker, for all his mean dirtiness, wasn’t short of a few bob, and when he died in 1697 he was placed in the family vault under old St Alfege’s Church, and a splendid memorial in white marble showing him in his Alderman’s kit erected in the South Aisle. Sadly the Luftwaffe  disposed of that particular piece of Greenwich history in WWII but a little memorial to Greenwich’s very own Mean, Dirty, Ordinary Man still exists in the glorious Greenwich Millennium Embroideries where Hooker can be spotted standing next to a plague doctor, rescuing a sick child.

*Not to be confused with the 18th /19th Century botanist Sir William Hooker who’s just been given a blue plaque in Kew


the attachments to this post:

gazebo 3 low
gazebo 3 low

gazebo low
gazebo low

gazebo low2
gazebo low2

the grange 2 low
the grange 2 low

summerhouse closeup
summerhouse closeup

summerhouse 2
summerhouse 2

summerhouse low
summerhouse low


7 Comments to “Robert Hooke’s Summer House”

  1. OldChina says:

    What a fantastic post. And lucky old nosey Phantom getting to poke your spectral apendage around the Grange. I’ve never been able to make out the house behind the wall so it’s good to see a photo.

    I love the summerhouse, it’s a lovely little building and try to walk past it whenever possible. But yes, it does seem to be used as a shed now. I guess the owner isn’t as taken with it as we are. It looks as though it should be filled with chamber music, not cardboard boxes.

  2. TGP says:

    Chamber music – of course! That’s what’s missing from my Phantasy. Midnight Champagne, Sugary banquet-course and Chamber music!

  3. OldChina says:

    Great! Count me in. We’ll all have to wear Venitian masks to preserve our secret identities.

    Good to see the photo of it from the other side too. I’m doing my best not to judge someone who’d use such a building as a storage shed though. That’s my dream reading room, right there!

  4. Paul T says:

    Top post, phantom, I did manage to get a decent look around the garden a few years ago before it was acquired by its present owner. I happened, via complicated means, to hear all about the new owner via the builder that was working on the house, and I wasn’t led to believe he’s an architecture buff – he’s more into huge basement swimming pools, that kind of thing.

    So maybe we should be thankful it’s storing furniture, rather than housing a jacuzzi.

  5. WestCliffGB says:

    I know the builder,the wonderful Roy Town. I was lucky enough to see the restoration work carried out by his team as the project developed. To say the owner wasn’t concerned with stuff architectural is wide of the mark. The house is stunning inside.

  6. Jack says:

    Great post: I love that little gazebo, and every time I go past it I dream of what I could do with it if I were ever lucky enough to own it! Well, I can always dream…

  7. Topny Kirkbank says:

    Hi Phantom,
    Just like to extend the knowledge about the coat of arms on the gazebo. My ancestors were the Hookers of Brenchley, Kent ( some 6 generations ago). In Brenchley church is the table tomb to Stephen Hooker 1706-1775 upon which is the same coat of arms with the motto “Esse quam videri”. The same bearings are also seen in various stained glass in the church and elsewhere.Stephens g grandfather was Thomas Hooker of Oldbury Hill,nr Sevenoaks who would have been born around 1600 but I have yet to find best evidence to connect the various Kent/Brenchley/Tonbridge Hookers with Sir William – apart from the coat of arms and the money!!!