575 WANDSWORTH ROAD – A MAXIMILIST’S DREAM

Envisage a National Trust property. Long sweeping drive, an impressive portico, maybe a lake for Mr Darcy to dive into. 575 Wandsworth Road has none of those things. It is a nondescript Georgian house on a busy London bus route. Do not be fooled by appearances, 575 Wandsworth Road is one of the best quirky things to do in London.

Finding 575 Wandsworth Road

On a grey day when the sun failed to show its face the Wandsworth Road seemed like the most unlikely place to find a National Trust property. Indeed we walked straight past the unsigned, nondescript frontage. Well not quite unsigned, there is a teeny tiny notice on the steps the announces that you have arrived.

575 Wandsworth Road doorway hidden by overgrowth
Not your average National Trust entrance

Why bother visiting 575 Wandsworth Road

Once you are beyond the plain front door, things stop being nondescript. Everywhere you look is festooned with fine wooden fret work.  No one fretwork panel is the same as any other. Khadambi Asalache, who lived here and made all the fretwork took twenty years to complete his decorative scheme.

Why Fretwork?

When Khadambi Asalache bought 575 Wandsworth Road it was in a sorry state. Squatters had been living in the property and it was riddled with damp. To cover up a persistent damp patch in the basement he decided to deploy some floorboards that he found in a skip. They worked a treat but the hard lines between the floorboards offended his eye. There was some wood left over and so he started whittling it. So appealing was the fretwork that he made some more. When the basement was covered he moved on to the rest of the house, for 20 years he whittled away, creating the ultimate maximalist interior.

Basement room covered with fine fretwork with large pine table
The Basement where it all began
© National Trust, photo: Adeline Thouverey

In addition to festooning his house with carving, Mr Asalache also collected many things.  He had a special fondness for lustreware and pressed glass ink wells,  examples of which are displayed in the many niches around the house.   The floors and walls of the upper two floors of the house have also been painted, one of the bedrooms has scenes from the river Nile all the way from source to Alexandria.

Who was Khadambi Asalache?

Khadambi Asalache was the oldest son of a Kenyan chief. He studied architecture in Nairobi and then moved to Europe to study fine art. When he arrived in London he worked for the BBC African Service, gained a Master of Philosophy in Maths from Birkbeck College and became a civil servant in the Treasury. Somewhere along the line he found time to pen some novels.

One day when riding to work on the 77 bus he noticed 575 Wandsworth Road for sale, made a low offer and was accepted. It was perfect, a few stops closer to work. When he died he left the house to the National Trust, which then spent many millions of pounds fixing the damp hidden by the pine panels and stabilising the fragile interior.

fretwork festooned hallway with clock
Fretwork in Hallway
© National Trust Images / Cristian Barnett

Visiting 575 Wandworth Road

575 Wandsworth Road is very small and its interior is extremely fragile so numbers are limited to 10 visitors at any one time.  All tours need to be booked in advance by either ringing 0844 249 1985 or via the website . Outside shoes are not allowed in the house, either bring your own slippers, pad a round in yours ur socks or hire a pair of slipper socks for £2.

575 WANDSWORTH ROAD – need to know

  • 575 Wandsworth Road
  • Open: Friday and Saturday. Tours at 11.30am, 1.30pm and 3.30pm
  • Admission: Adult £16.50 concessions available. Unusually National Trust members have to pay £3.50
  • Getting there: Wandsworth Road Overground station or bus routes 87, 77 and 452
575 Wandsworth Road, not your average National Trust House.  Fretwork festoons every surface one of the more unusual things to do in London

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