Is this Surrey's best book club?

In this month’s column from the National Trust, Emma Brien introduces us to a new book club that meets in the inspirational setting of Ham House

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine June 2011

Photo: NTPL / Andreas von Einsiedel


The National Trust’s 17th century riverside ‘jewel’, Ham House in Richmond, boasts impressive interiors, glorious grounds and an attractive setting on the banks of the River Thames.

Small wonder then that the 400-year old house has been the backdrop for so many lavish films in its past, including adaptations of several literary classics such as Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes, among others.

Well, now it seems, the literary inspiration is set to continue, with the launch of Ham House’s first ever book club earlier this year.

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Hamming it up Following the growth of the book club phenomenon across Britain, the stunning mansion house seemed the perfect location for the National Trust to set up its own version of the concept, which brings together people who enjoy reading for a monthly review, during which the book’s themes, characters, plot lines and moral messages are dissected and debated.

All book-lovers are welcome at the monthly meetings of the Ham House Book Club, which take place in the pleasant surroundings of Ham House’s Orangery caf�, where coffee and home-made cakes are also available to help stimulate debate.

The club launched in March with 16 participants discussing Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. The book is now a BAFTA-nominated film starring Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan, and in fact many of its scenes were shot at Ham House, which became the atmospheric setting for the fictional school, ‘Hailsham’.

This was followed up in April, when the equally enjoyable Trespass by Rose Tremain was put under the microscope, and now the book club is gearing up for its fourth meeting. Future books will be chosen by the group themselves, so details will only be available on a month by month basis.

The visitor services manager at Ham House, Gabrielle Gale, thinks the club’s success is down to the inspirational setting of the meetings and the relaxed, friendly atmosphere.

“We are extremely lucky to have such a lovely venue for our book club meetings,” she says. “The aim is that people may make new friends through the book club and discover new books to add to their list of favourites.”

Literary links Ham House is not the only National Trust-owned property in Surrey to claim literary links. In fact, the organisation’s houses and gardens across the county have inspired several authors in the past.

Polesden Lacey, near Dorking, was once home to 19th-century playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, while Jane Austen is known to have visited Box Hill and been much taken by its tranquil surroundings.

The Ham House Book Club meets in the Orangery Caf� at Ham House every second Tuesday of the month, from 11.15am to 12.15pm. Admission is free but non-National Trust members need to pay the usual �3.65 entry fee to the gardens and caf� (refreshments not included in the admission charge).

Anyone wishing to book a place can call the visitor services manager on 0208 439 8231.

For more details about Ham House in Richmond and its book club, you can visit the National Trust’s website at


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