Earlier today, I went on a fascinating tour of 18 Stafford Terrace with the London Historians. This charming late Victorian house, a stone’s throw from Kensington High Street, was once home to Edward Linley Sambourne and his family, prominent and artistic members of Victorian society.
The house – and its neighbours – was built in 1870 and at the time its exterior would have been painted grey, instead of the contemporary white that it is today. Linley purchased his house in 1874 for £2,000 – just as Kensington was becoming a fashionable suburb of London. Living near other artists, Linley took the opportunity to create his own version of an artist’s home – with incredible results, as we were to see for ourselves.
So, who were the Sambournes and why do we find them so interesting? Even if the name Edward Linley Sambourne isn’t immediately familiar to you, you will undoubtedly have encountered elements of his work in one form or another. Punch cartoonist, artist, children’s book illustrator, photographer and advocate of the Aesthetic Movement, Linley was born in 1844, hailing from relatively humble origins, and in 1861 was apprenticed to a marine engineering firm. He got his big break in 1867, when a friend showed some of his caricatures (something Linley did in his spare time) to Punch Editor Mark Lemon, who commissioned work to Linley over the next few years, eventually hiring him full-time in 1874.
This new job, together with a bequest from Linley’s Aunt Jane (who had encouraged her nephew’s artistic ability from childhood), enabled Linley to marry the love of his life, Marion Herapath, the daughter of a wealthy stockbroker. The couple would go on to have two children, Maud and Roy – and 18 Stafford Terrace would pass on down through the generations until, in 1980, Linley’s granddaughter Anne sold the house and its contents to the Greater London Council, who opened it as a museum. These days, the house is owned by the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.
To find out more about Linley, his family and their many achievements, you really should visit 18 Stafford Terrace and view the Sambournes’ home for yourself. I highly recommend taking a guided tour – our guide was excellent and incredibly knowledgeable both on the subject of the house and on the Victorian era in general. To whet your appetite, here are some snippets about what you can expect to see…
The hallway of the house makes an immediate impact – as is intended. With a striking ceramic tiled floor, the walls are absolutely covered by dozens of paintings but also – and unusually for the era – with photos of classical sculptures which the Sambournes brought back from their European honeymoon. We were also surprised to see a fireplace – again, an unusual feature in a Victorian hallway.
The dining room is equally impactful and entering it feels as though you are stepping back in time. With oriental carpets adorning the floors, and embossed leather wallpaper on the ceiling, not to mention the replicated Dutch and Spanish leather wall hangings, it is hard to know where to look first. The Victorian taste for exotic plants is reflected in the box of ferns outside the window.
I was particularly taken with the morning room. This was very much the room of the lady of the house and is where Marion would have written letters, read, consulted with her housekeeper and received friends. Her copy of ‘Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management’ sits proudly on the writing desk; it’s the size of a brick! Again, every inch of the walls are covered with paintings, prints and yet more porcelain. The room was decorated specifically to Marion’s taste, hence the Hepplewhite-style furniture and the paintings gifted to her by family and friends.
That said, as our guide pointed out, the room today is much darker than it would have been when it was used by Marion. Decades of fire and cigarette smoke have turned the walls a much darker colour than they were originally painted, and a conscious decision was made by the restorers of the house to leave the walls as they are now, demonstrating the natural wear & tear over the years.
Interestingly, the Sambourne coat of arms has been painted on to one of the window panes – a coat of arms adopted by Linley from a 17th century gentleman farmer with whom he claimed (we’re not sure how accurately) kinship.
The drawing room, up on the first floor, is much larger and was used for family entertaining, hence the piano (Marion was a talented pianist and singer). Particularly beautiful are its marble fireplace and its stained glass windows which feature Guinevere and Enid (the legend of King Arthur was very popular with the Victorians). It was also a “working” room, for a time, Linley worked in here and had a stove installed to keep him warm.
It’s interesting, seeing how the style of the rooms changes the further upstairs in this tall, narrow house you venture. After a peek in the master bedroom (more modern than the other rooms due to the fact that it was used relatively recently, we travelled on to the top floor – the domain of the children and the servants. You probably don’t need me to tell you how much the servants’ living quarters differed from those of the family they worked for – I couldn’t decide whether it would have been more comfortable sleeping in one of the box rooms, or doing as the groom did and sleeping above the stables.
Once the Sambourne children had left home, Linley converted their top-floor nursery into a studio, which again has been left exactly as it was used – and for me, gave the best insight of all the rooms into Linley’s character. Many of his favourite books adorn the shelves, as well as copies of some of the books that he illustrated (‘The Water Babies’ and Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales among them). Scattered around the room are Linley’s easel, photo shoot props (including a rather marvellous sword), personal documents such as an invitation to join the Garrick Club and a beautiful box brownie camera (one of the earliest of its kind).
What I like most about 18 Stafford Terrace is that, although it hasn’t been lived in for several decades, it still feels very much like a family home. Once I’d got used how much “stuff” there was everywhere – and believe me, it does take some getting used to; not a single inch of the walls or of the floors remains uncovered – I was able to appreciate the love, time and effort that must have gone into creating this Victorian treasure trove. It’s the kind of place to which you could return time & time again, each time discovering something new and exciting.