The original house was built in 1582 for Sir Richard Martin – The Master of the Mint and three times Lord Mayor of London. Over the next 60 years, it was lived in by various individuals until Mary, Dowager Countess of Home, bequeathed it to her daughter Anne, wife of the Scottish Royalist John Maitland, the Earl of Lauderdale thus beginning the connection with the name.
In 1649 political pressure following the Civil War forced Lady Lauderdale to give the House to John Ireton, brother of Cromwell’s son-in-law General Henry Ireton. Ireton lived here until the Restoration, when Lauderdale, who had been imprisoned for his Royalist activities, was released and it was Ireton’s turn to become a prisoner. Forbidden to own property, he tried to sell the house, but a legal wrangle ended in its being returned to Lady Lauderdale. Lord Lauderdale was a member of the CABAL and therefore a key advisor to Charles II whose mistress Nell Gwynn, lived here for a short time with their infant son, the Duke of St. Albans.
Upon Lady Lauderdale’s death, the house passed to her daughter, who was bought out by German Ireton, John’s son, who sold it to William Mead in 1677. Mead was a prominent member of the Quaker movement and held frequent meetings at Lauderdale House, to which he made many improvements.
Over the next century the House changed hands many times, being described by John Wesley, who preached here in 1782, as “one of the most elegant boarding houses in England”. Later it became one of the many private boarding schools in Highgate, reverting to a private house again in the early 19th Century, when it was radically altered both inside and out.
Lauderdale’s last private owner was Sir Sidney Waterlow, another Lord Mayor of London, and he leased it for a time to St Bartholomew’s Hospital as a convalescent home. By 1883 the House lay empty, so in 1889, Sir Sidney gave the house and grounds to the London County Council “for the enjoyment of Londoners”. The 29 acres of land then became a public park and the House was restored in 1893 to serve for 70 years as a Park tearoom and park-keepers’ flats. Sadly, during the course of further renovation in 1963, a fire broke out, destroying the roof and much of the interior of the House.
After 15 years of lying derelict, the local community established Lauderdale House Society, the charity which now runs the House. In 1978, after much fundraising and lobbying, the House was opened by Yehudi Menuhin as an arts and education centre.