London is awash with things to do and see, but sometimes it’s good to go off the beaten track and visit somewhere entirely new. This is how we came to be standing outside a gorgeous Victorian house in Kensington one Sunday morning.
Linley Sambourne’s House appealed to me as I have long wanted to peek into these kinds of properties, and unless you’re a multi-millionaire, that’s unlikely to happen in London. But I didn’t realise there was much more to Sambourne’s own story and the house and guides explain that beautifully.
The House is located at 18 Stafford Terrace, W8, which is a great part of London and perfect for mooching about or getting something to eat, either before or afterwards. You can only see around if you book a tour, which we did, for 11am till 12.15 on a Sunday. We went with Robert, aged 11, but be aware that there is also the option of a specific family-friendly tour with costumed guides, which sounds like terrific fun.
Edward Linley Sambourne was a cartoonist and photographer. He and his wife Marion bought the house in 1874 for £2,000 and lived there for 36 years. The house is pretty much how they left it – with their belongings, photographs, ceramics and paintings, furniture and fittings. You can see many of Linley’s own cartoons on the wall (covering the original wallpaper!) and there are also diaries, bills and letters. The house was turned into a “living museum” by Linley’s granddaughter Anne and opened in 1980.
We arrived a few minutes before the tour was due to start, and were ushered into a room where we watched a short introductory film. It actually revealed a royal connection, because the family of Lord Snowdon (who was married to Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister) once lived here. Because we entered through the basement, and this is now a shop and visitor area, there are no kitchens or scullery area to be seen, but I don’t think that was a major issue.
After the film, you step back in time as your tour starts properly. It was quite special to see a house that has not been done up like a museum, but actually remains as it looked at the time it was lived in. There was so much clutter – I tried to imagine trying to keep all of it clean and dust-free, but think that must have been impossible – and it was quite dark too. And in fact, although it’s in an area where houses sell for millions of pounds, it was quite narrow and nowhere near as big as I would have expected.
The Sambournes collected a lot of art from Japan, China and the Middle East, which was the fashion at the time, and you can see this on the walls. Linley himself also became very interested in photography and there are many photographs on the walls, some quite risqué, in the bathroom (which has a fantastic old bath).
The couple had two children (plus live-in servants). It was interesting to find out that the children were basically kept up in the nursery (at the top of the house), although this later became Linley’s photographic/art studio. Our son found this really surprising, but I think that the Victorian way – out of sight, out of mind.
Some of the rooms have been modernised as the house was lived in after Linley and his wife died.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit, which was something completely different for us. If you have younger children, you may want to try the costumed tour, and if you have problems walking up and down stairs, then this isn’t for you. But we thought it was a great way to spend a few hours in London, learning something new and travelling back to the past.
18 Stafford Terrace is open to the public on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The costumed tour is on a Saturday at 11 till 12.15 and we did a “conventional” tour on a Sunday at 11am. You can visit without taking a tour, from 2pm till 5.30pm on these days. This will cost you £7 for adults and £5 for children. We paid £10 per adults and £8 for Robert, for our tour. There are also family costume tours in the holidays – check the Linley Sambourne’s House for details
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