Wild about William Morris? A penchant for Punch cartoons? Then visiting 18 Stafford Terrace is for you. Stepping through in the front door is like going inside a Victorian house that time has forgotten.
Take one of the side roads off High Street Kensington and you are immediately away from the bustle of an upmarket shopping street and into the hush of a monied residential street. Tall white terraced houses rear up on either side of you, most have the latest interior decoration but one of them is unchanged since the turn of the nineteenth century.
18 STAFFORD TERRACE: INSIDE A VICTORIAN HOUSE
We knocked on the front door and it was opened by a servant. Mrs Reffell invited us in saying that the mistress was expecting us. As the door shuts we leave the twenty-first century behind and enter the nineteenth century. Mrs Reffell showed us round the house, she was full of gossip about famous visitors, Linley Sambourne’s work for Punch magazine and just how much all the fixtures and fittings cost.
Everywhere you look there are photographs, paintings and drawings on the walls. Look very carefully and you can see William Morris wallpaper behind it. The light fittings are far from minimal. I quite fancy this green beaded one.
As we make our way upstairs Marion Sambourne greets us. Just in time to show us her lavish drawing room. Unlike all the other houses in the road it has been knocked through (and you thought that knocking down partition walls in Victorian terraces started in the 1980’s) giving a large space perfect for entertaining.
The one room that is not festooned with stuff on the walls is the master bedroom. What it lacks in clutter it makes up for with the grandeur of its fire place. What looks like marble is actually a very clever paint effect and I confess that I covet those blue and white vases.
Not all tours are led by people in character, some are led by knowledgeable staff dressed for modern day and you can also walk around on your own taking in the maximalist decor. The costumed tours are led by actors with a script based on Marion Sambourne’s diaries.
18 STAFFORD TERRACE: A HISTORY
Sambourne Terrace is much like hundreds of other London streets, its houses have two rooms on each floor with a small extension on the back to house bathrooms and storerooms. The ones I have lived in have only ever had two storeys and been in less salubrious postcodes. Here there are five and those two rooms are quite large. In 1875 the newlywed Punch cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne and his wife Marion Sambourne moved in and set about decorating in the latest Aesthetic or House Beautiful style.
Think William Morris wallpaper, think dark green paint, think colourful Minton tiles, think elaborate lamps and lots and lots of stuff on the walls. So much stuff that you have to look really really carefully to see that William Morris wallpaper. This was the height of fashion. The Linley Sambourne’s were friends with people like Sir Frederic Leighton and George Frederic Watts who lived in somewhat larger even more ornate houses just a stones throw away toward Holland Park.
In time two children, Maud and Roy, were born and raised in the house. Roy never married and lived at 18 Stafford Terrace until his death in 1946. Maud married a wealthy stockbroker, Leonard Messel and together they set about restoring Nymans in Sussex. After Roy’s death Maud kept the house on fully staffed for the use of her daughter Anne. All this time the house had never been redecorated and the family now wanted to preserve it but all things Victorian were far from fashionable in the mid twentieth century. Anne got together a group of friends one evening at 18 Stafford Terrace, including the poet laureate John Betjeman and the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, and they founded the Victorian Society. Eventually Anne negotiated the sale of house and contents to the Greater London Council and it opened to the public.
18 STAFFORD TERRACE: ROYAL CONNECTIONS
Kensington is known for its royal connections, it has Kensington Palace after all. But 18 Stafford Terrace has its own connection Anne Messel, married Ronald Armstrong-Jones and they had a son Anthony. Anthony Armstrong Jones married Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister, in 1960 and became Lord Snowdon. When he came to choose the courtesy title he thought of his cartoonist Great Grandfather. So the now the oldest son of the Earl of Snowdon will always be known as Viscount Linley.
VISITING 18 STAFFORD TERRACE
- 18 Stafford Terrace, Kensington, London, W8 7BH
- Open: Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday 2pm – 5.30pm
- Admission: Adults £7, children free, concessions £5
- Guided tours: Wednesday and Sunday 11am
- Tour ticket: £10
- Costumed tours: Saturday 11am
- Costumed tour ticket: £10
- Twilight costumed tours: Third Wednesday of the month 7pm
- Twilight tour ticket: £12
- Booking essential for all guided tours.
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DISCLAIMER: I visited 18 Stafford Terrace on a press tour, this is an honest review of my visit.