18 Stafford Terrace

When you step inside 18 Stafford Terrace, you also take a step back in time to the year 1899.

We spoke to Shirley Nicholson, a long-serving former tour guide for Stafford Terrace, to find out the secrets of the fascinating Sambourne family that resided there from 1875.

“It’s a standard London terrace house with five stories and two rooms on each floor,” she explains, “There’s a lot of stairs, 96 to be exact. In the basement, there’s the kitchen and service room, then above that, we have the dining and morning room. The next floor has been turned into one big drawing room. Then we have the bedrooms on the rest of the floors.”

Upon entering the house, you will begin to learn a lot about the family and their private lives. Edward Linley Sambourne was a cartoonist for the satirical magazine, Punch. He lived there with his wife, Marion, and two children, along with their servants.

“The house is a typical Victorian middle class home. It’s wonderfully full, crammed with furniture, objects and photographs,” Shirley tells us. “A lot of what you see is original. The house has not been altered much since the original owner died in 1910. So it’s a wonderful snapshot of pre-war life.”

For the interior design buffs, Stafford Terrace is a haven. It’s a rare sample of a late nineteenth-century movement called House Beautiful or Aesthetic Interior. This meant that the decor was heavily influenced by foreign countries and had exotic features.

“There are plenty of examples of Japanese and Chinese ceramics, as well as bronzes, clocks and pictures. All sorts really. It’s crammed full,” Shirley explains. “It was a period of consumption for the rising middle classes, the Industrial Revolution had created the opportunity for an enormous amount of stuff to get churned out by factories. There was so much to buy, and newly working middle class families loved to go shopping. They would fill their houses.”

The family lived in relative comfort, but Edward wasn’t as successful as other artists, such as oil painters. This was because he worked in black and white, drawing for the magazines, and this wasn’t considered as important as other work.

“Everything in the house looks grand, but up close you can see he did it on a shoestring budget,” Shirley tells us. “A lot of the ornaments have chips. He went to a lot of sales and junk shops but had an eye for it, so managed to make it look a lot better than what it really was.”

Edward was extremely confident and would make friends with wealthy men to keep up his extravagant lifestyle.

“He was quite a cocky character, but he carried it off with panache,” she chuckles.

Shirley has also written a whole book about the house, called A Victorian Household. In here, she describes in even more depth the everyday lives of the family with the help of Marion Sambourne’s diaries.

“There are many knowledgeable guides at the house to show you around. You can also visit during one of their open house afternoons on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday,” she informs us.

Stafford Terrace is open to the public on Wednesdays and weekends. With tours taking place from 11am until 12:15pm and a costumed version on Saturdays. For more information, please visit the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea website. 

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