The Fruitful History of the Greenwich Villa in Bridgerton
As Bridgerton whips the nation into a new-found love for period dramas, The Resident takes a look at the history of the Bridgerton family residence – the Ranger’s House in Greenwich
Lead image: Ranger’s House © English Heritage
Talk about wisteria hysteria – when the Ranger’s House in Greenwich turned up looking absolutely resplendent in Netflix’s latest hit series, Bridgerton, we were practically apoplectic.
Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but hey, none of us are getting out much at the moment. Still, it’s always great to see London landmarks shown off at their best on TV, especially when they’re somewhat lesser known, and especially when you happen to live nearby.
Ranger’s House is one of those places that you pass often and think, ‘I really should visit that place one day’. The English Heritage property stars in the shiny new modern period drama as the family home of the protagonist, Daphne Bridgerton (played by Phoebe Dynevor), and her numerous siblings (there are eight of them altogether).
I used to live in Blackheath and, for some foolish reason, would cycle to work in west London. On the way home, my reward for hefting up Blackheath Hill and along Shooters Hill Road, would be a long lingering look at the Ranger’s House, standing proud at the south west corner of Greenwich Park.
I now live on Greenwich Peninsula and work from home, staring at the same four walls day in, day out, but that’s by the by. And of course, I never did get around to visiting. But Bridgerton has resurrected my interest, so I decided to find out more.
The history of the Ranger’s House
‘Ranger’s House is a hidden gem in a unique part of London,’ said Olivia Fryman, Curator of Collections, English Heritage, when I enquired.
‘It has a fascinating history as the home of aristocrats and royalty, and today houses part of the world-class art collection amassed by the 19th century diamond magnate, Sir Julius Wernher.’
The red-brick villa, built around 1723 by Captain Francis Hosier (1673-1727), Vice-Admiral of the Blue in the Royal Navy, was positioned to offer Hosier ease of access to the sea via the Thames. Greenwich was already popular with seafaring men on account of the Royal Naval Hospital in Greenwich.
The design has been attributed to the architect John James, a clerk of works for the Royal Hospital for Seamen, but Hosier, alas, did not have much time to enjoy his new home. In 1727, along with about 4,000 other seamen, he died of yellow fever in modern-day Panama while blockading Spanish treasure ships.
A bumpy start to the long and fruitful history of this beautiful villa, then, which is now home to the Wernher Collection, featuring more than 700 objects of fine and decorative art. A German-born businessman, Wernher made a fortune from dealing in South African gold and diamonds at the turn of the 20th century, affording him many outstanding artworks.
The Ranger’s House underwent many changes of ownership over the years. In 1748 the house came onto the possession of Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773), a former politician and ambassador and avid collector of great paintings, works of art and furniture. He initially intended to use the house entertaining, but he went deaf in 1752 and withdrew from aristocratic life, quietly tending to his vegetables and correspondence.
In 1807 Augusta, Dowager Duchess of Brunswick, sister of George III, took up residence at Ranger’s House – then known as Brunswick House. The duchess moved to Greenwich to be near her daughter, Caroline, Princess of Wales (later Queen Caroline), who, after separating from her husband, the future George IV, lived at the property next door, the now-demolished Montagu House.
‘Caroline’s reportedly reckless and spirited behaviour did not pass without comment from the royal family (although Lady Danbury and Daphne Bridgerton would no doubt have approved)’
In 1806 Caroline had been appointed Ranger of Greenwich Park, an honorary position granted by the monarch. At Montagu House, she established a rival Regency ‘court’ where she frequently entertained the great and good of society.
These informal entertainments and Caroline’s reportedly reckless and spirited behaviour did not pass without comment from the royal family (although Lady Danbury and Daphne Bridgerton would no doubt have approved). Amid increasingly tense relations with the Crown, and given a financial incentive to leave by the government, Caroline left England in 1814.
The first Ranger of Greenwich Park to live at the present Ranger’s House was Princess Sophia Matilda, niece of George III. She arrived in 1815 and became the longest serving resident of Ranger’s House, living there until her death in November 1844.
In 1862, the arrival of 12-year-old Prince Arthur of Connaught, the third son of Queen Victoria, saw the return of a royal to Ranger’s. He embarked on a successful military career, retaining Ranger’s House until he was 22.
The last Ranger to occupy Ranger’s House was Field-Marshal Lord Wolseley, who lived there after retiring from active service with his wife, Louisa, and their daughter. But their tenure was short. In 1890 Wolseley was made Commander-in-Chief in Ireland and moved to Dublin, with Louisa and his daughter joining him the following year.
The London County Council bought the villa in 1902, following lobbying by the local community. It was used as changing rooms and a tea room, and the grounds were converted into a bowling green and tennis courts.
‘Ranger’s House was put to use during both world wars’
Ranger’s House was put to use during both world wars. In the First World War, together with McCartney House next door, Ranger’s became the headquarters for the No. 2 Reserve Horse Transport Depot, which was formed on Blackheath in 1915. It was requisitioned in the Second World War, during which the stable block was damaged by bombing, and later demolished.
The property was restored in 1959-60, and again in 1973-4. During this period it was put to varied uses. Initially the gallery was used for events and local history exhibitions, the dining room as a restaurant and the upper floors as offices. In 1986 the house passed from the Greater London Council into the care of English Heritage, which cares for more than 400 historic buildings, monuments and sites.
The Ranger’s House has had a bit of a CGI nip ‘n’ tuck for the Netflix hit – hence all that glorious wisteria and the appearance of an exquisitely manicured flower garden out front, instead of a car park. It has also been magically transported to Mayfair.
Though we were straining our eyes for more glimpses of Regency London in the series – and we did spot The Queen’s House in Greenwich and Hampton Court Palace in some scenes – most of Bridgerton was filmed in Bath. Check out our sister title Somerset Life’s synopsis of the beautiful period filming locations in Bath here.
More about Bridgerton
The series, from Shondaland and Creator Chris Van Dusen, follows the main protagonist, Daphne Bridgerton (the eldest daughter of the powerful Bridgerton family) as she makes her debut onto Regency London’s competitive marriage market.
It’s a classic tale of a young girl trying to find love in a world where marriages are negotiated according to beauty, rank and society rules. But a society scandal sheet written by the mysterious Lady Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews) and the dashing-yet-rebellious Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page) wreak havoc on Daphne’s prospects.
But sparks fly between the unlikely couple as they find themselves engaged in an increasing battle of wits while navigating society’s expectations for their future. Will love conquer all?