18 Stafford Terrace, situated to the north of Kensington High Street in London, is one of the city's best kept secrets; behind its classical Italianate façade lies the UK's best surviving example of a late Victorian middle-class home. Incredibly well preserved and largely unaltered since the last quarter of the nineteenth century, complete with its original contents and much of its original interior decoration, including numerous William Morris wallpapers, it offers visitors a splendid opportunity to catch a glimpse of late Victorian middle-class life.
Between 1875 and 1910, 18 Stafford Terrace was home to the Punch cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne, his wife Marion, and their two children, Maud and Roy. With them lived their cook, parlour maid, housemaid and groom. From the moment that the newly married Sambournes took on the eighty-nine year lease for the house, for which £2,000 was paid in the March of 1875, they put their hearts and souls into decorating and furnishing their new family home in the Aesthetic style. William Morris wallpapers were hung throughout the house on both walls and ceilings (some of which were later replaced by embossed and gilded papers), stained glass panels were installed at the rear, and the woodwork was painted blue-green. Following the house's decoration, furnishing it became something of an obsession for Linley. Within two years of acquiring the house, the Sambournes had already acquired a great number of paintings, objects and pieces of furniture; in 1877 alone, over one hundred and fifty items were added to the interior from a nearby house sale.
The fact that this marvellous house has remained largely untouched by the passage of time is mainly due to the efforts of the Sambournes' children, Roy and Maude, and to Maude's daughter Anne, one of the founders of the Victorian Society, who was determined that 18 Stafford Terrace should be preserved as a historic home. The house was sold to the Greater London Council in 1980 and opened to the public for the first time in that year; ownership of the house was transferred to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in 1989, after the Greater London Council was dissolved.
There is so much to see in the house; I wouldn't know where to begin in listing the highlights, and one visit certainly isn't enough to take it all in. Of course, no artistic Aesthetic interior would be complete without a good amount of blue and white ceramics, and there is a large collection of Chinese export porcelain in the house, dating from the 17th to the 19th century, mostly blue and white but also famille rose and famille verte. And there are dado rails a plenty. Linley certainly liked his chairs; according to Jeremy Paxman, in his The Victorians programme, there are currently one hundred and forty-four of them within the rooms of the house. There are also nine hundred pictures hanging on the walls; Linley's own cartoons line the walls of the staircase. Linley was also a keen photographer; he took thousands of photographs and persuaded family, friends, and even his household servants to pose for him. His rather more risqué productions are hanging on the walls of his bathroom, where he developed his photographs in his marble-lined bathtub. Both the house and the collection it contains really do deserve to be better known; I really can't recommend it highly enough.
Visits to the house are by guided tour only. Tours last approximately one and a half hours, and it's advisable to book in advance as visitor numbers are limited. Our visit, which took place on a recent Saturday afternoon, began with a ten minute introductory video within the basement area, after which we made our way outside and up to the front door, where Mrs Sambourne was waiting to take her enthusiastic guests around her beautiful home. When we visited the house, the actress playing the part of Mrs Sambourne was called Melanie, and she was wonderful; she was very welcoming, informative and incredibly convincing; she was also quite a card. By the time the tour was over, I was very comfortably settled in the nineteenth century; it was something of a shock to the system to exit the house onto the modern street, lined with cars and peopled with passers-by using mobile 'phones. I wanted to rush straight back inside.
Details: 18 Stafford Terrace, London, W8 7BH. Call 020 7602 3316 to book a place on one of the public tours (conventional and costumed tours available), or 020 7471 9158 to book a private tour. For more information visit the official web site: www.rbkc.gov.uk.
* All images reproduced by kind permission of The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Museums Service.