The Linley Sambourne House, nestled in the heart of London’s Kensington, allows a glimpse into the world of a growing Victorian artistic family and reflects an allegiance to the Aesthetic Movement, which fully burgeoned in the 1870s. The House remained the family home until 1980 when it was sold to the GLC and was subsequently passed onto the Victorian Society.
Built in the early 1870s by Joseph G. Davis as part of a speculative development in what was then Middlesex, the Sambournes purchased the house as newlyweds in 1874 for £2000. It was decorated in a rather general manner, of a kind which still operates today; some pieces of furniture were handed down from well-wishing family members while other parts were bought to commemorate the newly-weds new life together.
The entrance hall serves as an appropriate introduction to the house, revealing as it does a combination of invention and innovation which is further echoed in the adjoining rooms. The hallway, at a glance, reflects both advances in technology, as well as a retrospective, look into Victorian interior design; the lights above the mantle, designed by Benson, illustrate the change from gas to electricity whilst the water garden on the first floor landing also provides a touch of modernity, as it was considered an innovatory technical design when it was first installed; it in itself speaks of social history in that it housed the family’s collection of seashells, collected at the annual family holiday which had become accessible to the middle-classes by means of the railway, earlier in the century. The most expensive piece which was purchased was the sideboard which may be seen today in the dining room; it is decorated with gilt and painted panels, and it cost, according to a contemporary inventory, £62.10s.
Prevalent throughout the room, and indeed echoed in other places, is a collection of rather inexpensive blue china, one of the leading symbols of aestheticism, recalling Oscar Wilde’s famous aphorism. The dining room also boasts a Pugin-inspired dining table; its sturdy and geometrically shaped base offers a firm focal point to the room which is accentuated by a bay window with stained glass designed by Sambourne. The walls are hung with Morris’s Pomegranate in green and black which is complemented by the use of imitation gilt leather on the frieze, a feature that is repeated in the drawing room. The morning room, where Marion Sambourne, Linley’s wife, would spend the early part of her day preparing the day’s menu and shopping lists for the servants and receiving callers, is notably eclectic. The overall mood of the room is much more delicate than any of the others, thus hinting at its purpose. The furniture is much less heavy than in the neighboring dining room and the wallpaper, which is the same as in the dining room, is printed in a lighter color. The feminine air of the room is further underlined by the prints on the wall which include drawings by Kate Greenaway, and as Marion Sambourne was an accomplished seamstress, examples of her embroidery may be seen around the room.
The drawing room is almost a museum in itself, and most visitors feel slightly overwhelmed by its almost obsessional clutter. It contains what one would expect from a such a room; it centers itself around two lovely fireplaces; plush chairs adorned with antimacassars; numerous tables, with more collectibles from the family, ranging from a preserved hoof from one of Sambourne’s beloved horses to Victorian family photographs. Again, this room allows us a glimpse into contemporary technology, for, in the south corner, there is an example of a magic lantern in proximity to Sambourne’s camera; a technological advancement that he used to its fullest advantage.
A cartoonist, Sambourne often photographed his friends, family, and servants and used the resultant images as still life models for his cartoons, the pictures of which are still displayed in the upstairs bathroom. The stained glass windows in this room are of particular interest, however, as they feature the illustrious if ambiguous, the symbol of aestheticism: the sunflower. It is probably not an accident that this was chosen for a new and artistic home such as the Sambourne’s was; nor was it unintentional that stained glass was placed in a south-facing window since its position allows for the maximum use of light to brighten the room but it also becomes a metaphor in itself as it represents the dawning of a new day.
The upstairs bedrooms are more modestly furnished; the master bedroom is housing a suite of ebonised wood, indicative of the contemporary craze for japanned furniture. The master bedroom is the only room in the house with modern additions, for the wallpaper and carpet were replaced in the 1960s by the then Countess of Rosse, Marion and Linley’s granddaughter. The second bedroom includes an example of decoration which is socially topical, for on the mantle of the guest bedroom are several pictures of a music hall actress proclaiming her love to the recipient.
The walls of 18 Stafford Terrace are a potent reminder of the family who lived between them. Throughout the house, there are in numerous prints and clips from contemporary magazines and newspapers. This is again indicative of the family’s social standing and pretensions; unlike neighboring Leighton house which holds a great collection of Neo-classical paintings, the Sambourne House is content with minor works of art, many in the form of photographic prints. The house also serves as a memorial to Sambourne’s work as we can see many examples of his yearly almanac drawings for Punch magazine, in the master bedroom. Sambourne himself was not the only family member with artistic pretensions, as talent apparently ran in the family; his daughter, Maude, later became known for her gentle style of water-colours and drawings and would eventually have her work published in Punch. 18 Stafford Terrace was not only home to an artistic family but was decorated and furnished at a time when the Aesthetic taste was a natural choice. We are fortunate that such a specimen of interior design remains with us; we can see, at first hand, how Morris papers, Puginian, Queen Anne, and Japanese inspired furniture would have looked within their original context.