Twilight was starting to set in as I made my way through picturesque Kensington, looking for yet another one of London’s secret museums. I was on the lookout for the little known 18 Stafford Terrace -the family seat of the Sambourne clan- which for the first time in its history was putting on a special event for the Museums at Night festival.
Meet the Family
From 1875-1980 18 Stafford Terrace was home to the Sambournes. I hadn’t really heard of them either, but it transpires that pater familias Edward Linley Sambourne was a cartoonist for Punch; a publication I am very familiar with after my time working at the Cartoon Museum. The house, and especially its interior, have been remarkably well-preserved.
“We have lived in this house ever since we were married and it has taken years to accumulate whatever treasures we possess. What you see is the very best. That has been my principle throughout; not to buy anything but what was really good.”
Sambourne, interviewed in 1893
Indeed, you could tell it was all top draw, even the welcome mat which greets visitors not with a welcome, but “SALVE”. Classy indeed!
So, before I get too distracted by the shiny objects, on with the adventure!
As I mentioned above, this is the first time 18 Stafford Terrace has done anything like this. Like with anything new, there were a few teething problems. Nothing major, nothing to spoil the evening, but just enough to make the
posh very posh pensioners I was queuing with to start carping: “This queuing is unacceptable, I’m going to write a strongly worded letter and demand my £5 back!” quoth one gentleman with exquisite vowels, but awful manners (readers, what a miser!). When I spoke up in the museum’s defense, it seems that “This is their first time doing anything like this, cut them some slack!” doesn’t cut the mustard.
What a miserable specimen. Not even free refreshments would placate him.
Dining in Style
Stunning, isn’t it?
The Samboune’s Cook and Housekeeper – the fantastic Mrs. Reffle- ushered us into this elegant and opulent room and told us all about it. “I know it’s vulgar to talk about finances,” she said with a twinkle in her eye, “but do you want to know how much that wallpaper cost? £70!” Thankfully she put that in perspective for those of us who weren’t around pre-decimalisation. “Now, I’m doing quite well for myself thankyouverymuch,” she explained,” and the Sambourne’s are generous enough to pay me £25 a year.”
There’s a reason the wallpaper costs as much as three years worth of service from the cook; it was designed by William Morris.
Look at the picture again, do you see the arrangement of the pictures? That was deliberately designed so the eye wouldn’t be drawn to one in particular, but would rather enjoy the collection as a whole.
Once Mrs. Revell had finished, she introduced us to another member of the household- Mrs Sambourne, the mistress of the house herself, presiding over her domain, the morning room. Mrs Sambourne’s talk was peppered with fascinating anecdotes. My particular favourite was when a certain Mr Wilde came to dinner…”And he managed to spill a whole glass of claret on my dress!” exclaimed Mrs Sambourne, “Of course one passes this off as no big thing, but let me tell you I was silently fuming!”
Oh, we’ve all been there!
Unfortunately, this is where the journey ended, just when I was getting a taste for it all! I would have loved to have explored the rest of the house, but I think I’ll have to go back another time.