18 Stafford Terrace: Inside a Victorian Home, Sambourne House

Wild about William Morris?  A penchant for Punch cartoons? Then visiting Sambourne House is for you.  Stepping through in the front door is like entering a time machine. You are instantly in Victorian London.

Dining Room, Sambourne House Kensington London.  Victorian House decorated in House Beautiful style.  Home to Linley Sambourne.
Drawing Room, 18 Stafford Terrace

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 probably 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

As you walk into Sambourne House you leave the twenty-first century behind and enter the nineteenth century.  Linley Sambourne, who lived here with his wife Maud, decorated 18 Stafford Terrace in the “House Beautiful” style. Everywhere you look there are photographs, paintings and drawings on the walls.  Look very carefully and you can see William Morris wallpaper behind it.  

Living Rooms at Sambourne House

Victorian Dining Room, Sambourne House London
Dining Room, 18 Stafford Terrace

Downstairs there are two rooms. A dining room and a morning room. Both stuffed to the gunnels with stuff, beautiful stuff. If the windows are not stained glass they are hung with stained glass roundels. Step out into the hall and stairway and Linley Sambourne’s work in the form of Punch cartoons hang everywhere.

Morning Room, Sambourne House, London.  Victorian "House Beautiful" style with William Morris wallpaper and no surface uncovered
Morning Room, no surface unadorned

The first floor is dedicated to a drawing room.  When the Sambourne’s lived here most of the houses in the road had two rooms on this floor. The Sambourne’s wanted a large entertaining space and knocked through (and you thought that knocking down partition walls in Victorian terraces started in the 1980’s).

Bedrooms at Sambourne House

Victorian bedroom with ornate fireplace adorned with blue and white Delft ware
Fireplace envy

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.

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 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.

Victorian bedroom with corner sink Sambourne House London
Roy’s bedroom … complete with pin ups of his theatrical heroines

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. Anne got together a group of friends one evening at 18 Stafford Terrace. They included 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. Ensuring that the time capsule of Sambourne House was preserved.

Sambourne House: Royal Connections

Kensington is known for its royal connections, it has Kensington Palace after all.  But 18 Stafford Terrace has its own royal connection. Marion and Linley grand-daughter 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, aka Sambourne House

  • Sambourne House, 18 Stafford Terrace, Kensington, W8 7BH
  • Open: Wednesday – Sunday 10am – 5.30pm
  • Admission: Adults £12
  • Visit both Sambourne House and nearby Leighton House on a combined ticket £22
  • Friends and Art Fund members free
  • A word of warning if you put Sambourne House into Google maps it will take you to somewhere on the opposite side of Kensington High Street, use 18 Stafford Terrace. Don’t do as I did!

If you would like to discover more historic London houses to visit check out this post or for another Victorian time capsule take a look at Emery Walker’s House.

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