I have always loved the idea of time travelling and I got as close I as I possibly could to this notion on a recent visit to London to see 18 Stafford Terrace – a Victorian house stopped in time. It was once the home of Punch cartoonist Linley Sambourne and his wife Marion Herapath. This was not and is not your average Victorian house, it was a space where Sambourne’s unique vision was created for the page for Punch and also on the walls of his home. You can feel his spirit and see his sense of style all over the house, from the bay windows he created with a shell water feature to a coffin like marble bath where he had a cold dip every morning AND later in the day developed his photographs in. He was a prolific photographer and took endless photos that were the starting point of his illustrations. One of the funniest and quirkiest things I like about the house are his posed photographs, many of himself in theatrical dress and pose. His inordinate number of self portraits have given him the grand title of the ‘grandfather of the selfie‘ and I am inclined to agree, see below.
Image above: Linley Sambourne the ‘grandfather of the selfie.’
I ventured to the Linley Sambourne house on a wet November day and took a costumed tour of the house with the housekeeper, the lovely Mrs. Reffell, who made me feel very welcome, she gave a tour of the house as ‘the family’ where not at home. I am not usually a fan of costumed tours, I think they can be a bit mawkish and twee, but this was not the case at 18 Stafford Terrace. The 2 hour tour was amazingly atmospheric and the actress [pictured above] was incredible. Her accent, her archaic turn of phrase, her explanation of how the family lived at that time and her funny (and true) anecdotes about the family made for a really great tour. All her accounts of life at 18 Stafford Terrace are based on Marion Sambourne’s diaries.
Image above: Linley and Marion Sambourne
I would recommend putting this on your must-see list if you are a fashion or history buff and in London. But until you can see the real life version here is a virtual tour of the things that I found fascinating on the tour.
Image above: Linley and Marion Sambourne’s stained glass window with their initials intertwined.
A Victorian Artist’s House
The aforementioned master of 18 Stafford terrace was a Mr. Linley Sambourne, a cartoonist for Punch Magazine, the most popular and prestigious satirical periodical of its time. Contributors to Punch became minor celebrities at that period, as was the case with Linley. In his early work Sambourne drew cartoons which were often fantastical or grotesque, but later he converted to realism. He used models, amateur and professional to create posed photographs from which he then would use to draw from; a single cartoon could potentially combine up to several posed photographs for the finished result. As his fame and fortune grew he was able to adapt and furnish his house in glorious ‘aesthetic’ style, the walls were hung with William Morris wallpaper, elegant oriental furniture graced the rooms, Pre-Raphaelite style stained glass windows [pictured above] were commissioned and endless photographs and paintings were hung floor to ceiling around the house, all under the artistic direction of Linley.
Image above: Detail of the photos and drawings lining the Linley Sambourne house.
Tea with Oscar Wilde
Linley was a fashionable and sociable person and was friends with London’s artistic and literary milieu, including notable characters like Oscar Wilde who came to visit the house. I’d like to imagine it was here at Marian’s tea table he delivered his famous quips over tea.
The Artist in the Garret
The idea of an artist in the garret is really a Victorian idea, Linley created his own studio in the attic of the house from the night nursery, he had it adapted to create more light. It is here that he took photographs of models for his cartoons, often more risque nude versions when his wife was out and all of which he developed in his adjoining marble bath.
Image above: Linley Sambourne’s studio with camera, desk and archive.
Image above: Linley Sambourne photo and the resulting sketch in Punch.
The Irish Connection
Linley Sambourne’s granddaughter was Anne, Countess of Rosse of Birr Castle. She inherited the house in the 1940s. Because of its historic value and significance she wanted to preserve it and in 1980 she sold it to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea who have created it into the marvellous and unique museum we see today.
Image above: Anne, Countess of Rosse, Birr Castle
Visiting the house
If in London I would highly recommend visiting the house. You can book a costumed or conventional tour, which take place every week. For Christmas the house has some amazing twilight and candlelit tours which I would go back to London to see in a heartbeat!
Check out their site here for more info on how to book.
Costumed Tour is £10 for Adults and £8 for Concessions, advanced booking essential.
Some links to enjoy about the Linley Sambourne House
Beautiful photos of Anne, Countess of Rosse Linley Sambourne’s granddaughter
More about 18 Stafford Terrace
Fashion from 18 Stafford Terrace can be seen in The Messel Collection in the Brighton Museum
Early Victorian street style photos from Linley Sambourne, our generation did not invent it!
All photos above by Ruth Griffin on Canon EOS 600D