Tucked away in a quiet corner of Kensington is 18 Stafford House, the former home of acclaimed 'Punch' cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne. Perfectly preserved and offering a treasure trove of objects on display, this Victorian household is a time capsule of a bygone era. We take a tour around this beautiful house with senior curator Daniel Robbins who tells us a little bit about why this house is one of London’s loveliest hidden gems.
London Calling: Why is this house so unique?
Daniel Robbins: Well this was the home of punch cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne and his family. Very soon after he died, the family seemed to have had the idea that they should try and preserve the home. And so what’s so special about it is that it has really retained an enormous proportion of its original contents. Not only that, but all the family’s papers and diaries also survived, so it’s a house that we can really understand and appreciate as to how it functioned and how the family lived. It’s also interesting because it wasn’t just a typical Victorian home - Sambourne had definite aspirations as a cartoonist to be seen as an artist and to be taken seriously as an artist. So these interiors were definitely created to give the sense of an artist’s house, not just a conventional middle class home.
LC: How similar is the house today as it was in Sambourne’s time?
DR: The Sambournes’ granddaughter lived here in the 1960s and she did a certain amount of renovation work, but she tried to do it in a very sympathetic way. She did as little as possible to disrupt the original interiors. But the vast majority of the objects and the furnishings that the Sambournes had are all still sitting where they sat in their time.
LC: Can you tell me a bit about Sambourne’s studio in the house?
DR: For a long time Sambourne didn’t have a room that was really his studio. What he did was work at the end of the drawing room. As an illustrator he wasn’t making a lot of mess and he didn’t need a lot of space, so it was actually quite convenient to be able to work downstairs and still be part of the life of the household rather than being away in a different studio. So it was only when his daughter Maude married and moved out that he got to use the rooms at the top of the house. He converted them from what had originally been the nursery into his studio. He put the shelving in, he re-papered it and then he had his easel here where he would work on his weekly punch cartoon.
LC: Can you tell me a little-known fact about the Sambourne family?
DR: The Sambournes’ great-great-grandson is the current Lord Linley, the son of Princess Margaret. I think it would have been astonishing to the original Sambourne family to think that their great-grandson would have married the Queen’s sister. That family connection is something that people aren’t usually aware of.
LC: There’s so much to see in the house, but is there a particular object that’s usually overlooked by visitors but that’s worth taking time to see?
DR: This house is more about the mixing of objects and how they’re all combined and displayed as none of the objects were individually particularly valuable. But something that always fascinates visitors, and you have to look a little closely to see it, is that the Sambournes originally papered all the interiors with William Morris papers, and then as they could afford it, they replaced those papers with embossed and gilded expensive ones. But instead of taking everything down in these rooms and re-papering, they only papered around the objects as a more economic way of doing it. So if you peer behind some of the mirrors and the pictures, you can see the original Morris papers are still there and they were just papered around with this more expensive paper.
LC: How funny! It seems strange to do it in that way though.
DR: Well, that’s a very typical Sambourne thing to do – he was more interested in the impact of what he was doing than actually doing it properly. And it’s the same in how he amassed all the things in the house. He liked to give the impression that he was buying the very best, but we know that he went to effectively what were junk shops and house clearance sales. In a very kind of magpie way, he was assembling different things that appealed to him and then bringing them all together in the house. It was about the impact rather than having the resources to do it properly.
LC: It seems like he was a bit of a hoarder…
DR: He was. There’s a wonderful thing in his wife Marion Sambourne’s diary where she reports that a cart has pulled up with more chairs on it and she sort of despairs as to where they’re going to put all these chairs. I think when he was out and about, he was always looking out for things that appealed to him that he could acquire for the house.
LC: His poor wife!
The house is located at 18 Stafford Terrace, London W8 7BH. Go online for opening times and to arrange a visit.