Stepping back in time to 1899 is made very easy at Linley Sambourne’s House, not only by the extremely convincing actress who plays Marion Sambourne, but also by the beautifully embellished interior of the home. Following advice given by Eastlake in ‘Hints on Household Taste’, published in 1868, Linley Sambourne was determined to create the ideal artistic environment in which to live and work. As a well-regarded cartoonist for Punch Magazine, this preoccupation was perhaps more than justified.
18 Stafford Terrace is consequently a house filled with many treasures, where each carefully-selected object has its own story to tell. In the master bedroom, for instance, the name ‘Roy’ can be seen scratched into the end of the brass bedstead – evidence of the Sambourne’s son’s unruly behaviour as a child. While upstairs, in Roy’s bedroom, a well fingered copy of The Water Babies, illustrated by Linley himself, can be seen resting on the bed. Casting pale coloured light onto all of these objects are beautiful stained glass windows, also designed by the talented cartoonist.
It is in the bathroom and studio where these stories really come to life. Row upon row of black and white photographic portraits stare into the marble bath, which dominates the tiny washroom. From comedic poses of Linley dressed as a soldier, to more titillating nudes, this room tells the story of a man obsessed with photography. This fascination is made all the more apparent in his studio, where hundreds of wooden boxes are filled with around twenty thousand photographic plates. Later in his career, Linley used carefully posed photographs as guides for his illustrations and cartoons, roping in servants and family to act as his models.
The preservation of this incredible house is mainly due to Marion and Linley’s children: Maud and Roy Sambourne, and in more recent times their granddaughter Anne. In 1923 Roy even went as far as to photograph every inch of the house, in order to record the layout and design. Walking through such a personal space is therefore like looking into the lives of others. And in the drawing room this sense reaches a height, with every metre of space filled with beautiful personal keepsakes: a piano; mirrors bought on honeymoon in Italy; writing desks; framed illustrations, and yet more spectacular stained glass.
Experiencing such a space is the perfect way to bring fin-de-siècle London to life.