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Walpole House, Chiswick Mall
Walpole House on Chiswick Mall was the home of the courtesan Barbara Palmer, 1st Duchess of Cleveland, Countess of Castlemaine (Barbara Villiers) (born November 1640 – died 9 October 1709), former mistress of King Charles II (29 May 1630 – 6 February 1685). She moved into Walpole House in 1700 and died there nine years later of an oedema (also known as dropsy/hydropsy), where fluid accumulated under her skin swelling her to a large size. Her coffin was borne from Walpole House by four peers and two dukes* on the day of her funeral and she is buried at St Nicholas’s Churchyard in Chiswick.
Between 1785 and 1794, the building was a boarding house. During this time Daniel O'Connell (born 6 August 1775 – died 15 May 1847) the Irish politician and champion of Catholic Emancipation stayed here with his close friend Richard Newton Bennett whilst they were studying at Gray’s Inn.
The name of the house actually comes from this later resident, the Hon Thomas Walpole, Member of Parliament (born 6 October 1727 – died March 1803), nephew of Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford (born 26 August 1676 – died 18 March 1745), the first Prime Minister of Great Britain. Thomas lived at Walpole House between 1798 and 1803. He is also buried at St Nicholas’s Churchyard in Chiswick.
By 1817 Walpole House was a school for young gentlemen. One of its pupils was the novelist William Makepeace Thackery (born 18 July 1811 – died 24 December 1863). He is said to have based his Miss Pinkerton’s Seminary for Young Ladies from his novel Vanity Fair upon Walpole House. According to Lloyd Sanders in Old Kew, Chiswick and Kensington ‘By 1817 the house had sustained yet another change of fortune and became a school for young gentlemen under the charge of the tremendous Dr. Turner, who read the prayers to the boys in tones reminding them of Mount Sinai. Among his pupils was a nervous and unhappy child, so short sighted as to be bad at games, called William Makepeace Thackeray, just arrived from India. The doctor and his wife, distant relations of his mother, were not unkind to Thackeray, but he disliked the place and made a very half-hearted attempt to run away.’
During the years between 1834 and 1841, the Royal Victoria Asylum for girls was based at Walpole House and in 1838 it was visited by Queen Victoria (24 May 1819 – 22 January 1901) who described it as “a most interesting and delightful establishment . . . for poor vagrant girls”
It again became a school for boys in 1840 and in 1885 Walpole House was bought by Sir John Isaac Thornycroft (1843–1928) the ship builder.
Walpole House is usually considered to be haunted by Barbara Palmer, 1st Duchess of Cleveland who died there on 9 October 1709. Her apparition was said to appear on stormy nights and ‘act threateningly’ toward those who witness her. It has been suggested that she was bitter because the dropsy ruined her looks.
Stuart M Ellis in ‘Mainly Victorian’ quotes C J Hamilton saying; ‘Walpole House looks as if it must be haunted…..at midnight. Perhaps, the tapping of high heels is heard on the worn-eaten staircase or the faint rustle of a silken gown glides mysteriously down a dark passage’
Given the above quote and the fact I do not know of any witness accounts of experiences at Walpole House , it could be like with many old cases, that the haunting has no real basis in fact .
Walpole House is a private residence and not open to the public.
*Dukes of Ormond and Hamilton, the Earls of Essex, Grantham and Lifford and Lord Berkeley of Stratton.