I know I’ve mentioned before how I am, to some extent, always fishing for an excuse to go out to Kensington. The lure of the giant Whole Foods there (mainly because they sell delicious chocolate chip muffins) + Ben’s Cookies simply proves irresistible. Well, I found another excuse to
gorge myself on bakery experience a fine cultural attraction in the form of 18 Stafford Terrace, otherwise known as the family home of the Sambournes.
If you’ve never heard of the Sambournes, don’t feel bad; I hadn’t really either until I went to this house. Linley Sambourne, patriarch of the Sambourne clan, was a cartoonist for Punch, a keen collector of Victoriana (which I suppose wasn’t really Victoriana at the time, just normal furnishings), and an avid photographer (which strayed into a “private” interest in photography, if you get my drift). He and his wife Marion purchased this terraced house in 1875, when it was only a few years old, and lived there until they died, collecting crap all the while. Their son and daughter did nothing to change it, as they had their own London residences, and eventually their granddaughter inherited it and was so inspired by its contents that she became one of the founders of the Victorian Society, and she transferred the lease of the house to them (it is currently owned by the Royal Borough of Kensington, who took over the lease in 2000), which is why it is now open to the public as a bit of a Victorian time capsule.
The house offers both guided tours, which much be pre-booked, and self-guided tours, which you can just show up and do. They were also offering a temporary 2-for-1 offer on self-guided tours at the time of our visit, which is what sold me on it at last! (Normally, admission is 7 pounds each, so I was quite pleased with 3.50. They somewhat disingenuously don’t mention the offer in person (it’s advertised on their website, and ends on the 30th of October), and I had to specifically ask for the 2-for-1 deal to get it; the admissions lady tried to charge us full price until I said something!) The “tour” began with a video, which explained how the house came to be a sort of museum, and told us the history of the Sambourne family. Linley sounded like a real character, which is reflected to some extent in the house.
Because although the house is a beautiful example of Victorian architecture and decor, the highlight by far is Linley’s photographic collection, which completely filled the walls of some of the rooms, in true Victorian style. He first got into photography when he realised that he could make models pose in the positions he wanted, snap their photo, and then use the resulting image as a guide to draw his cartoons, without all the hassle of having a live model in the studio. He also seemed to be a pioneer in the art of the selfie, as most of the pictures were of himself in various hilarious poses!
And of course, there was his slightly more prurient interest in risque (for the time) photography. As you can see, I was clearly delighted to spot the collection of sexy photos, which featured curvaceous nude women in various “artistic” poses, and was conveniently placed above the marble bathtub that he filled with developing solution for his own photographs.
My other favourite thing in the house was probably Linley’s “fern case,” set inside a sunny projecting window at the front of the house, where he kept ferns (naturally) and a sort of glass terrarium full of rocks (if it were mine, I would fill it with some sort of unusual taxidermy, but it was still pretty perfect as is. I think I’d probably grow strawberries in there too, with all the sun. Wouldn’t that be appetising? Strawberries and dead animals).
The house was also liberally filled with Linley’s cartoons and illustrations, many of which were actually pretty damn funny. There was a little laminated guide in each room (usually just a paragraph or two), but they didn’t go into a lot of detail about the illustrations, so I had to pause and lean real close to the cartoons to see what was going on (many of them were hung along the staircases, so you had to wait until no one was coming down. And the house had a tonne of staircases, as it was very tall and narrow. About five floors, but only a couple rooms per floor).
I’ve reached the point where I don’t have a lot more to say, but there’s still loads of photos, so here you go (the kind of crappy looking room towards the bottom is the maid’s room, in case you were wondering why it’s so spartan compared to the others):
Suffice it to say the house is amazing, especially if you appreciate Victoriana as much as I do (I could definitely live there!), but I’m still glad we only paid half price, as I don’t think it was 7 quid’s worth of stuff to see. Linley Sambourne seemed like a pretty neat guy (and according to the video, he was very proud of his daughter’s artistic abilities, which is nice to see from a Victorian father), and his photography was definitely entertaining, but I feel like the house caters more for guided tours, so there wasn’t really enough information available on self-guided ones (though some of the volunteers were very helpful…others not so much), and the normal price is a little high for what you get. Even still, it’s probably a must-see for lovers of all things Victorian. 3.5/5.