Sambourne House: A Victorian time capsule

Tucked behind the green door of Number 18 Stafford Terrace is Sambourne House a house museum which time forgot and an extraordinary five-storey cabinet of curiosities. You may have seen it before in Merchant Ivory’s A Room with a View or in Maurice. It’s the former family home of Punch cartoonist, Edward Linley Sambourne, his wife Marion and their two children. It’s a veritable shrine to Victorian interior design, providing a rare insight into the domestic and family life of the epoch.

Edward Linley Sambourne

The name may ring a bell. Edward Linley Sambourne was great-grandfather to Lord Snowdon (photographer and husband to Princess Margaret), and great-great grandfather to David Armstrong-Jones, aka David Linley.  Sambourne was a cartoonist and illustrator, working for the satirical magazine Punch for over forty years. During his lifetime, he produced about 3,000 cartoons for Punch as well as numerous book illustrations and advertisements.

Edward Linley Sambourne

Edward Linley Sambourne

In the mid-1880s, Sambourne took up photography which developed into a passion. His photographs would become the templates for his illustrations. He used his children as models and posed for his own selfies. In 1887, he began to photograph professional models in the nude. The collection at 18 Stafford Terrace includes 15,000 of his photographs, cyanotypes and glass plate negatives.

Linley Sambourne

Sambourne was a keen photographer. He converted the Night Nursery into a studio and developed his photographs in the bathroom tub next door.  He was one of the earliest street photographers, capturing the people and streets of West London using a ‘detective camera’.

Punch Sambourne Linley

18 Stafford Terrace – the Sambourne family home

A Victorian time capsule

Sambourne and his new wife Marion moved into Sambourne House in 1875, and lived in the house with their children Maud and Roy for the rest of their lives. They entertained the who’s who of Victorian society and were good friends with neighbours Lord Frederic Leighton and George Frederick Watts.

18 Stafford Terrace

Maud’s daughter, Countess of Rosse, campaigned for the preservation of Victorian art and architecture. She ensured that the house and its contents would remain virtually intact. In 1980, she sold the house to the Greater London Council, and in 1989 ownership passed to the Royal Borough of Kensington.

A Tour of Sambourne House

The house is stuffed beautiful, providing a rare insight into the Aesthetic style or House Beautiful, and Sambourne was very hands-on with the interior design. Oscar Wilde and his wife Constance were also fans of this interior design style. The House Beautiful was epitomised by dark colours with shades of green, maroon and gold. Ornaments would include blue and white china and Japanese ceramics, and Sambourne’s Victorian family house bears all the hallmarks of the decorative style.

Sambourne House tour

©RBKC. Image courtesy of Kevin Moran

The entrance hall retains original Minton tiles, and there are several examples of Sambourne’s illustrations on the walls. On the first floor landing is a mini fern conservatory hanging off the house, created by removing the original sash window.

©RBKC. Image Jaron James

The Drawing Room was decorated with a William Morris wallpaper but later upgraded with an embossed and gilded Japanese paper. As this was very expensive, the Sambournes only papered those areas which were visible, leaving the Morris paper intact behind pictures.

Sambourne House Kensington

©RBKC. Image Jaron James

Linley and Marion hosted many dinner parties in the dining room, at the centre of which is this beautiful octagonal dining table. Linley would eventually commission a round table top in order to accommodate more guests. The wallpaper is by William Morris and on the wall, you’ll see what was then a fashionable collection of blue and white ceramics.

Victorian interiors in London

©RBKC. Image courtesy of Kevin Moran

The principal bedroom was decorated by the Countess of Rosse in 1960. She retained some of her grandparents’ furniture including their brass bed. The fireplace is in the style of the architect Norman Shaw (largely responsible for the design of the Bedford Park homes in Chiswick). The fan was decorated and signed by well-known artists of the time including Watts and Alma-Tadema.

Visit Sambourne House

I do love a convex mirror

About Sambourne House

18 Stafford Terrace, London W8 7BH   Nearest Tube:  High Street Kensington

The house museum is open daily on Wednesdays to Sundays. Admission from £5 to £11. You can book tickets here. Pair with a ticket to one of London’s most beautiful house museums over at Leighton House. Please note the house is not suitable for people with mobility issues.

A London arts and culture blog featuring articles about art, theatre, opera, dance, music and design.

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