Gunnersbury Museum reopened to the public in June 2018 after a £26m renovation. The former home of the Rothschild family, the house has been refurbished beautifully and the museum celebrates not just the Rothschilds, though their presence is everywhere throughout the house, but the previous history of the site and the development of this part of west London as well. The original Gunnersbury House was built by Sir John Maynard, a lawyer and politician during the time of Oliver Cromwell. In the 18th century Princess Amelia, daughter of George II, used it as her summer home. After her death the original house was pulled down and replaced by two mansions. Both were bought by the Rothschild family in the 19th century and purchased for the nation in 1926.
Pictures above: Visitors are shown round the museum on the opening weekend by Curator Julia Tubman. If you visit on the weekend of a conducted tour you may find yourself bumping into a housemaid on the servants’ staircase.
The museum is light and airy and easy to get around, with some rooms unfurnished, leaving it to your imagination what life would have been like at the big house, and others full of artefacts and photographs and an interactive video screening on the walls with actors playing the roles of the Rothschilds’ servants and family members. During the 19th century, the Rothschild family possessed the largest private fortune in the world, built on generations of banking. They entertained the most influential aristocrats, politicians and businessmen of the time. Benjamin Disraeli, who went on to become prime minister, wrote that a Gunnersbury banquet was ‘not to be surpassed in splendour or recherché (the rare and exotic) even at Windsor or Buckingham Palace.’ You can see where Leonora Rothschild married her cousin Alphonse de Rothschild in 1857 in the presence of four rabbis, and where they held the wedding breakfast. An engraving in the Skylight gallery shows the wedding presents laid out for guests to view. There’s a photograph of the servants lined up posing in 1914 and early examples of autochrome photography taken by the family themselves.
Pictures above, top to bottom left: the Dining room, Leonora and Alphonse’s wedding gifts laid out on the Skylight balcony in 1857, the balcony as it now with visitors on the opening weekend and the household servants photographed in 1914. Right: ‘housekeeper Mrs Weller’ dressed as she would have been in 1881, Alfred and Marie de Rothschild c. 1910.
The museum is open 10.00am – 4.30pm, Tuesday – Sunday and Bank holidays. Entrance is free. There is a programme of events for young children, ‘little flamingos’ and for older children, such as ‘Meet the Victorian Servants’, wood carving and print making. Teddy bears’ picnics draw inspiration from the Acton based Farnell Toy Factory, whose cuddly bears inspired the Winnie the Pooh stories. There are adult workshops, talks, tours and special exhibitions and also nature walks through the gardens and talks by the head gardener.
See also our feature about Gunnersbury Park