The former home of famed Victorian illustrator and photographer Edward Linley Sambourne, this property at 18 Stafford Terrace in Kensington has been preserved as a museum.
Sambourne, famed for, among other things, the cartoons he produced for Punch magazine, moved into the property in 1875, shortly after his marriage to Marion Herapath in 1874, and the couple, who would have two children – Roy and Maud – lived there for the rest of their lives.
After moving in, Linley, inspired by the grand houses of his artistic friends in the so-called Holland Park circle such as Nick Fildes, Marcus Stone and Colin Hunter, set about redecorating the property in what was then the popular Aesthetic style. He installed stained glass windows, Morris & Co wallpapers and Chinese ceramic vases and over the next 35 years purchased ceramics and furnishings specifically for the property.
While Sambourne adopted many of Aesthetic elements in his decorative scheme such as the stylised motifs inspired by nature and the muted colour palette, he didn’t particularly follow the style’s call for restraint and the house quickly became home to a growing collection of furnishings and objects (in fact an inventory take in 1877, just two years after the couple moved in, shows the home already contained more than 50 vases, 70 chairs and around 700 framed pictures).
Sambourne, who was said to have been “skilled at making a great show on a limited budget”, couldn’t afford to create a purpose-built studio and worked in various parts of the house, initially in the morning room, which he had extended to meet his needs, and later in the upstairs drawing room. After their daughter Maud married and left the property, he converted the former nursery on the top floor into a studio.
After the deaths of Linley in 1910 and Marion in 1914, their bachelor son Roy moved in and lived there until his own death in 1946. The house then passed to Maud (now Maud Messel), although she didn’t live there, and on her death passed to her daughter Anne Messel.
Anne had married Ronald Armstrong Jones in 1925 and then, following a divorce, Michael Parsons, sixth Earl of Rosse in 1935, giving her the title of Countess of Rosse. She inherited the house in 1960 – the same year her son Antony married Princess Margaret and received the title of Earl of Snowdon.
Lady Rosse, who had proposed the house be preserved as it had been in Linley’s day, subsequently negotiated the sale of the property to the Greater London Council in 1980 and in turn it was leased to the Victorian Society, which she had co-founded in 1957. It was subsequently opened as a museum.
In 1989, after the Greater London Council was abolished, ownership of the house transferred to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (the lease to the Victorian Society meanwhile, ended in 2000). In 2022, the house, now Grade II*-listed, was re-opened to the public after a significant renovation and refurbishment project.
Alongside the decor, furnishings and ceramics, the house displays a number of the cartoons Sambourne drew for Punch as well as drawings he did for other projects, such as Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies, and some of his collection of more than 30,000 photographs used to aid his production of cartoons (not all of which apparently are suitable for public consumption). Sambourne’s “detective camera” which allowed him to photograph subjects surreptitiously is also there.
WHERE: Sambourne House, 18 Stafford Terrace (nearest Tube stations are Kensington (Olympia) and High Street Kensington); WHEN: 10am to 5:30pm, Wednesday to Sunday; COST: £11 adult/£9 concession/£5 child (six to 18-years-old/five and under free); WEBSITE: www.rbkc.gov.uk/museums/sambourne-house