The word ‘sewage’ doesn’t bring up many positive associations. If we were to list the pros and cons of life, human waste is right at the bottom of the pile. It’s a subject we generally like to avoid and try not to spend much time thinking about. However, as over 8 million of us are cramming into the 611 square mile space we call London, a working sewage system is one of our most important utilities. Back in Victorian London, the Industrial Revolution had caused a huge population boom in the capital and the amenities were struggling to cope. The streets and rivers of the city were streaming with rubbish and human excrement… pretty disgusting and a breeding ground for disease. The frequent outbreaks of Cholera were blamed on the inhalation of ‘bad air’. Of course, it was physician Doctor John Snow (1813-1858) who found it was spread by contaminated water, not oxygen. The River Thames was essentially an open sewer and was so toxic it was unable to sustain fish or wildlife. The existing sewers built in the 17th and 18th century were in a bad state and were unable to cope with a population which had nearly tripled to 3 million. However, it wasn’t until ‘The Great Stink’ in summer 1858, when the hot weather exacerbated the smell of the capital’s untreated waste, that the Government finally took action.
Step forward civil engineer Sir Joseph William Bazalgette (1819-1891), who was the Chief Engineer for the Metropolitan Board of Works at the time of the Great Stink. He had already been working for years on plans to revolutionise London’s sewer system and came up with a solution to create a network of smaller sewers feeding into a network of larger sewers. The Government finally gave Bazalgette the OK for his ambitious plan, with work commencing in 1859. The scheme involved 1,100 miles of street sewers feeding into 82 miles of main interconnecting sewers, with pumping stations located both sides of the River.
One of these pumping stations was Crossness, built in Abbey Wood in south-east London. The large site contained a beam engine house, boiler house, 208ft chimney, workshops, a 25 million gallon covered reservoir and homes for the employees. Crossness was designed by Bazalgette and architect Charles Henry Driver (1832-1900), with James Watt & Co building the four, huge beam engines, named Victoria, Prince Consort, Albert Edward and Alexandra respectively. Crossness was opened on 4 April 1865 by Edward, Prince Of Wales (future King Edward VII). As London’s population rapidly expanded, the need for an even more advanced sewage system grew. Crossness was further extended in 1895 with the addition of a triple extension engine house on the front of the original. This featured two triple expansion engines and reciprocating pumps. In 1916, it was extended again as 4 superheated boilers were added. However, by the 1940s, the beam engines were hardly used and eventually Crossness was closed in the 1950s with its chimney demolished in 1958. It was Grade I listed by Historic England in June 1970. Crossness has been under the care of the Crossness Engines Trust since it was founded in 1987. Read the rest of this entry
When it comes to London’s royal palaces, most of them tend to be rather young, with the oldest parts of Buckingham Palace dating back to 1703 and Clarence House, a few years shy of its 200th anniversary. However, long before the monarch resided at Buck House, the King or Queen had a home in the huge Palace Of Westminster. Today, the title belongs to the Houses of Parliament, the seat of our Government.
Most of the Medieval Palace of Westminster was destroyed by a huge fire in the 1800s, to be rebuilt as the iconic masterpiece, which remains today. However, two buildings managed to survive, the 11th century Westminster Hall, and the 14th century Jewel Tower. Now owned by English Heritage, the diminutive Jewel Tower is open to the public. Recently, I paid a visit to this small, but interesting piece of Medieval London. It’s a small space with the exhibition taking about an hour to see.
The Jewel Tower was built around 1365-6 at the southern end of the Palace of Westminster to house the treasures of King Edward III (1312-1377). The Tower stood at the end of the garden and was protected by a moat to the south and west of the building. It was built under the direction of master mason Henry Yevele (1320-1400) and master carpenter Hugh Herland (1330-1411) on land which had been appropriated from Westminster Abbey, to the chagrin of the monks. The keeper would have worked on the ground or first floor, logging the King’s treasures coming in and going out of the Tower. The most valuable goods were kept on the second floor.
For 150 years, the Tower was used to house the subsequent Kings’ treasures until a fire at the palace in 1512. The building then became home to less valuable items, such as clothing, bed linen, furniture and royal children’s toys, according to an inventory in 1547. In 1600, the building was repurposed for the Government, rather than royals, when it became a parliamentary office. A three-storey timber extension was added to the side of the Tower as a house for the Clerk of the Parliament. The ground floor of the Jewel Tower became the kitchen and scullery, while the first floor was used as a repository for various parliament documents. In 1621, the building was renovated to become more secure to protect the important documents. On the first floor, a brick vault was added with a metal door featuring the year inscribed on the exterior and the cipher of King James I (1566-1625). That very door still exists today and can be seen on your visit.
By the 18th century, the Tower was apparently a bit of a state so work was taken to renovate and improve it. Larger windows and a new chimney were added, while the building was made more fireproof to protect the documents inside. Throughout the century, the Tower was gradually hidden by the buildings popping up around it. By 1827, the House of Lords’ records had been moved out of the Tower because it was too small and it was known as part of Old Palace Yard, with the name Jewel Tower dropping out of use. Read the rest of this entry
William Blake (1757-1827) is widely regarded as one of, if not the, greatest artist in British history. The born and bred Londoner was an acclaimed poet, painter, author and printmaker, although never had much success during his lifetime. Nearly 200 years after his death, Blake’s canon continues to amaze and inspire people around the world. Among his more famous works include ‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience’, ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’, ‘The Four Zoas’, ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Milton’, ‘And did those feet in ancient time’.
Having been brought up as an English Dissenter (Protestant Christians which broke away from the Church of England), Blake was laid to rest in a Dissenters’ graveyard following his death in 1827. The painter died at home in the Strand and was buried in Bunhill Fields in the London borough of Islington. As well as the location of his parents and two of his brothers’ graves, Bunhill also included the burial sites of Daniel Defoe, John Bunyan and Susanna Wesley. Blake was buried in an unmarked grave on 17 August – on what would have been he and wife Catherine’s 45th wedding anniversary. He was buried on top of several bodies, with another four being placed above him in the coming weeks. His widow Catherine died in 1831 and was also laid to rest at Bunhill Fields, but in a separate plot.
Bunhill Fields was closed as a burial ground in 1854 after it was declared ‘full’, having contained 123,000 interments during its 189 year history, and became a public park. Although William and Catherine Blake had both been buried in unmarked graves, the William Blake Society (founded 1912) erected a memorial stone to the couple in Bunhill Fields on the centenary of the painter’s death in 1927. The stone read: ‘Near by lie the remains of the poet-painter William Blake 1757–1827 and his wife Catherine Sophia 1762–1831.’ Re-landscaping in the 1960s following widespread damage during World War II resulted in many of the monuments being cleared. Although the Blakes’ memorial was one of those to survive, it was moved from its location at William’s grave to near Defoe’s memorial stone in 1965. Read the rest of this entry
Despite being extensively rebuilt following the Blitz, the City of London has retained many of its old street names. While some are rather humorous (e.g. Cock lane in Smithfield), others aren’t so flattering such as Eastcheap. Today, the word ‘cheap’ is used as an unattractive way to describe something low in price and quality. ‘Cheap’ actually comes from the Saxon word for ‘market’. In the Middle Ages, Eastcheap was the main meat market in the City. However, by the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution had transformed the area with offices and warehousing replacing the butchers’ stalls.
Walking down Eastcheap today, you will see a lot of the Victorian buildings survive and are home to offices, coffee shops and the like. One particular building that stands out from the rest is No. 33-35 Eastcheap, a dramatic Neo-Gothic, double-fronted structure. Prior to No. 33-35’s erection in 1868, the site was home to the famous Boar’s Head Tavern. The pub’s exact origins aren’t known, but it was used as a meeting place by William Shakespeare in several of his historical plays, most notably Henry IV, Part I (abt. 1597). The character Falstaff was a frequent drinker at the Boar’s Head Tavern. The original tavern was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, and was rebuilt and became a pilgrimage site for Shakespeare fans. It stood on Eastcheap until 1831 when it was demolished to make way for a road widening scheme leading to the new London Bridge. At the time of demolition, the building hasn’t been used as tavern since the late 18th century and had been sub-divided into shops. The Boar’s Head sign was preserved and went on show at The Globe Theatre at Bankside in 2010.
The current building of No. 33-35 was constructed in 1868 to a design by English architect Robert Lewis Roumieu (1814-1877). Born to a Huguenot family, who had arrived in Britain 100 years before his birth, Roumieu was an original and daring architect for the time. Although many of his designs were Neo-Gothic – which was trendy in Victorian times – he did like to push the boundaries. As well as the Eastcheap building, he also designed Milner Square (Islington), the Almeida Theatre, the French Hospital in Hackney, among others. Roumieu was commissioned to design a vinegar warehouse depot for Hill & Evans at a cost of £8,170. Hill & Evans were founded in Worcester in 1830 and were, at one point, the world’s largest vinegar producers. By the early 20th century, they were selling 2 million gallons of malt vinegar a year. The company ceased trading in 1965 after 135 years of business.
No. 33-35 is a Neo-Gothic, five-storey building with a further attic storey in a slated roof. On the ground floor is a huge arched doorway which would have been used for delivery access and Devonshire marble columns. However, the current iron gates only date back to 1987. The top three-storeys feature Gothic arched bays with projected canopies over the windows. Above the second floor, central window is a sculpture of a wild boar peering through long grass – a nod to the site’s former Boar’s Head Tavern. Meanwhile, the second floor canopies to the left and right feature carved heads of Henry IV and Henry V. The building features a lot of decorative elements, including tiling, cast iron cresting, and plaster badges.
When the building was completed in 1868, it certainly caused a stir, with Roumieu being labelled a ‘rogue’ architect for some of his daring styles. The British Almanac of 1869 described it as: “The style is French, but some of the details are Venetian. The general effect is novel and striking, though somewhat bizarre.” Twentieth century critics Gavin Stamp and Colin Amery were more positive, proclaiming Roumieu’s creation as “the City’s masterpiece of polychromatic Gothic self-advertisement”. Meanwhile, architectural critic Ian Nairn (1930-1983) gave it a rather dramatic review: “This is truly demoniac, an Edgar Allan Poe of a building. It is the scream that you wake on at the end of a nightmare.” Despite the critics’ mixed reviews to the building, it was Grade II listed by Historic England in 1971. Today, it is home to offices, while part of the ground floor houses a branch of Black Sheep Coffee.
- 33 – 35 Eastcheap, City of London, EC3M 1DE. Nearest stations: Monument or Fenchurch Street.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
This August will mark 250 years since Captain James Cook’s ship Endeavour set sail from Plymouth. It was the first of three important voyages that changed the world. Although the figure of Cook can be somewhat controversial at times, there’s no arguing that he and his crew were responsible for some amazing exploration of the planet in challenging conditions.
To mark the anniversary, the British Library have curated a special exhibition following the story of Cook’s three voyages from 1768 to his death in Hawaii in 1779. This fascinating collection features many of the original maps, logbooks, sketches, and artefacts collected during the three expeditions. While many of Cook’s predecessors sought solely to claim new lands for their empires, his voyages were more intellectually minded as well with a goal to study the life and culture of the lands they visited. Joining him on the various vessels used over the decade were artists, botanists and astronomers.
The exhibition is split into sections covering how the world was before Cook and how he changed the world’s map. It was amazing to see a copy of Dutch explorer Abel Tasman’s journal of his discovery of Tasmania and New Zealand. Following a brief introduction to world maps at that time, the exhibition begins chronically with Cook’s first voyage (1768-1771), taking in Tahiti, several Pacific islands, New Zealand and Australia’s east coast. During this trip, the botanist Joseph Banks (1743-1820) and his team collected thousands of animal and plant specimens. The exhibition features a sea urchin and squid captured and preserved by Banks from the Pacific Ocean. There are also drawings of the various native people they came into contact with upon arrival in each country or island, such as the Tahitians and Maoris, and their culture. What is particularly amazing about this collection were the various maps of New Zealand drawn by Cook himself. Tasman before him only saw a small section of NZ, whereas Cook’s voyage managed to circumnavigate both the north and south island. If you consider he didn’t have satellite or drones like we would have today, to map an entire country’s coastline as near-accurate as he is did in the 18th century is pretty impressive. It was also on this voyage, Cook’s men caught their first sight of the Kangaroo, which is featured in a sketch by Sydney Parkinson, the first European drawing of the marsupial.
The remainder of the exhibition continues in the same vein, with areas dedicated to the second voyage (1772-1775), which he crossed the Antarctic Circle and proved the so-called huge land mass named ‘Terra Australia’ was actually a myth. The third and Cook’s final voyage (1776-1779) resulted in the Captain’s death in Hawaii after clashing with the Hawaiians. Admittedly, Cook and his men made some mistakes along the way, although some of those you could blame the European colonialist attitude of the time. The pros and cons of Cook’s voyages, in terms of colonization and mapping is addressed by experts from both sides in a series of videos. In our world right now, we are so used to globalisation, it’s hard to imagine when the other side of the world was completely unknown and so dramatically different to our own way of life. Looking through Cook and his colleagues’ logbooks and diaries and seeing the images of the ships, you really get a sense of how treacherous and challenging these voyages were. It’s no wonder so many men never returned, dying from diseases or following violent clashes with the people they met along the way. Seeing these historic men’s handwriting was amazing and, admittedly, difficult to read at time with their small Georgian scrawls. It was particularly poignant to see Cook’s last ever logbook entry on 6 January 1779 – a week before he was killed in a skirmish over a stolen smaller boat.
Before this exhibition, I didn’t know much of Cook, a man I’d seen in various statues in New Zealand and Australia and had never really thought of him as a three-dimensional character. This fascinating exhibition has really provided a vivid and human picture of this famous figure together with the men who sailed with him and how they changed the world with these epic voyages.
- James Cook: The Voyages is on from now until 28 August 2018. At the PACCAR Gallery, The British Library, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB. Nearest station: King’s Cross St Pancras or Euston. Opening hours vary. Tickets: Adults £14, Senior £11, Students: £7 (free for members). For more information and tickets, visit the British Library website.
Metro Girl likes: While you’re in the British Library, head to the free exhibition Treasures of the British Library. You can look at genuine manuscripts, books and letters from some of Britain’s most iconic figures. Among the collection on display includes the original 1215 Magna Carta; Jane Austen’s writing desk and a 1809 letter to her brother Frank; Beatles’ handwritten lyrics; a 1603 letter from Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Christopher Wren’s designs for The Monument. Currently, the Treasures room also features a small exhibition (until 5 August 2018) on Karl Marx and his daughter Eleanor. It includes a first edition of the Communist Manifesto, letters from Eleanor after her father’s death, and a chair from the original British Library Reading Room which Marx is likely to have sat in. After you’ve had a good read, head to the nearby Gilbert Scott bar in the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel for a cocktail.
The name William Morris is often associated with home interiors, with some of his iconic patterns still available to buy today. However, the man himself was so much more, with poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist among the many hats he wore. Born to a middle-class family in Walthamstow in 1834, William Morris became influenced by the Medieval world while studying the Classics at Oxford University. The Medieval period appealed to Morris because of its chivalric values and a more organic manufacturing process. He disliked what the Industrial Revolution had done to British people and their homes. He saw people were moving away from nature into the cities and were doing repetitive tasks, while their houses were full of identical, lower quality factory-made products. Morris grew to dislike capitalism and became enamoured with socialism. When he was at Oxford, Morris found a kindred spirit in artist and designer Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898), who went on to become a lifelong friend and collaborator. Following graduation, Morris became an apprentice to Neo-Gothic architect George Edmund Street (1824-1881), where he met fellow apprentice Philip Webb (1831-1915). However, Morris soon tired of architecture and wanted to focus on art. Around this period, he was spending a lot of time with Burne-Jones, who had become an apprentice to Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). Morris and Burne-Jones ended up living together in a flat at 17 Red Lion Square in Bloomsbury.
By the mid 1850s, Morris was writing poetry and designing furniture, manuscripts and hangings in a medieval style. While he hadn’t established a successful career at this point, his personal life appeared to be going well as he married Jane Burden (1839-1914) in 1859. Following his marriage, Morris teamed up with architect Webb to design a family home, The Red House, in Bexleyheath, south-east London. The house was very different from the Victorian and Georgian designs and exists today as a unique example of arts and crafts architecture. After furnishing The Red House in a Medieval style, Morris founded a decorative arts company, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co in 1861. They aimed to bring the craftmanship and beauty of the Middle Ages back to British homes. It sold furniture, murals, architectural carvings, metalwork and stained glass windows. With Victorians going nuts for Neo-Gothic architecture, the company’s stained glass in particular was a big hit. It didn’t take long before the wealthy became fans of MMF&Co’s aesthetic. Despite Morris’s socialist values, his products did have higher labour costs, so weren’t as accessible to the lower classes. A year after establishing the company, Morris abandoned painting and started designing wallpaper. Read the rest of this entry
Did you know there’s a beautiful Georgian village in the centre of London? Connaught Village is a quaint part of the Hyde Park Estate, full of boutiques and cosy restaurants. For its 150th anniversary this year, the village is celebrating with a series of events throughout the summer.
Taking place on Thursday 5 July, is an immersive ‘Walk through Time’ around Connaught Village. Visitors will be lead on a journey through the eras with food, drink, live music and street entertainment. The family friendly event will feature two performances from kids’ favourite Horrible Histories. The Birmingham Stage Company will educate and entertain with ‘Barmy Britain’ at 4pm and 5pm. Also on site will be costumed, re-enactment specialists, who will be telling the history of the area through interactive dance and music.
Children and creatives will have plenty to keep them occupied with free activities, including face-painting, flower crowns, a fashion illustrator and a silhouette cutter. Meanwhile, food and drink wizards Bompas and Parr will be showcasing their fabulous food art. Guests can see and taste their range of weird and wonderful flavours of jellies.
Retailers throughout the village will be taking part with in-store promotions and exclusive offers, free workshops, masterclasses and interactive activities. You can enjoy wine tasting at Connaught Cellars, vertical cheese tasting art Buchanans Cheesemonger or free vintage make-up and hair braiding at Fé Hair and Beauty.
- Connaught Village – A Walk Through Time takes place on 5 July 2018 from 3pm-7pm. Free to attend. Connaught Village, W2 2AA. Nearest station: Marble Arch, Paddington or Lancaster Gate. For more information, visit the Connaught Village website.
For a guide to what else is on in London in July, click here.
I must admit not knowing too much about the arts and crafts movement until recently. I had known of William Morris for some years, but had never heard the name Emery Walker until this year. Recently, I was invited along to the Emery Walker House with a group of fellow bloggers to join one of their guided tours.
The Arts and Crafts movement was a response to the Industrial Revolution, which saw objects being mass-produced in factories, losing their originality and connection with the natural world. Figures of the A&C movement wanted to make products with more integrity and higher quality, with the crafter actually enjoying the process of making it. Textile designer, novelist and poet William Morris (1834–1896) was one of the leaders of the movement and believed in creating beautiful objects and interiors, influenced by the past. Morris established his own company Morris & Co, and store on Oxford Street selling his furniture, wallpaper and other interiors.
The Emery Walker House stands on Hammersmith Terrace, a neat row of narrow Georgian terraces with gardens overlooking the Thames. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, this small neighbourhood in west London became the hub of the arts and crafts movement. Sir Emery Walker (1851-1933) was a London-born engraver, photographer and printer. He was a self-made man, having left school at 13 and establishing his own business by 30. In the late 1870s, he befriended Morris when he moved to Hammersmith Terrace as they bonded over socialism. The pair became firm friends and saw each other nearly every day. Walker initially lived at No.3 Hammersmith Terrace, before moving to No.7 – the house you can visit today – in 1903 and remained there for the rest of his life. Morris lived a short walk away at Kelmscott House and sowed the seed for the growing arts and crafts community of the area. Artist, bookbinder and sometime business partner of Walker (more on that later!), T.J. Cobden-Sanderson (1840-1922) lived at No.7 before Walker did, while Morris’ daughter May (1862-1938) ended up living next door at No.8 with her husband Henry Halliday Sparling. The playwright George Bernard Shaw lodged with the couple for a time and ended up having an affair with May, causing her divorce. Walker and Morris were firm friends with architect Philip Webb, who made Walker a beneficiary of his will, with some of his furniture now in No.7.
One of the most interesting stories about Walker is his business partnership and eventual feud with Cobden-Sanderson. The latter established the Doves Bindery in 1893, eventually becoming the Doves Press in 1900 when he partnered with Walker following the closure of Kelmscott Press in 1898. Cobden-Sanderson’s wife Annie provided funding after Walker admitted he didn’t have enough money to contribute. Their publications, featuring the Doves typeface which was inspired by Italian Renaissance, were a huge success. However, by 1902, their working relationship began to sour with Cobden-Sanderson complaining Walker wasn’t devoting enough time to the business. In 1906, they agreed things weren’t working, but disagreed over the splitting of the assets. Walker was entitled to have the metal letters and castings, but Cobden-Sanderson didn’t want him to have them. Between 1913-1917, the elderly Cobden-Sanderson made around 170 trips from Hammersmith Terrace to Hammersmith Bridge in the middle of the night, lobbing the heavy type, punches and matrices and hurling them into the Thames. Following Cobden-Sanderson’s death in 1922, his widow Annie paid Walker a large sum towards compensating the loss of type. Nearly a century later, designer Robert Green and the Port Authority of London searched the Thames below Hammersmith Bridge and managed to recover 150 types of the Doves Press. Read the rest of this entry
When visitors come to Greenwich Park, they usually make a beeline for the Royal Observatory with its historic GMT line and stunning views. However, in the south-west corner of the park, there’s a fascinating piece of London’s royal history hidden behind a hedge. Situated just a metre from the park’s wall is the remains of Queen Caroline’s bathhouse.
Caroline Amelia Elizabeth, Princess of Brunswick (1768-1821), was born in Germany and was betrothed to her cousin, the future King George IV (1762-1830) in an arranged marriage. The pair wed at St James’s Palace in April 1795, with the heir-to-the-throne apparently drunk during the ceremony! Their coupling was a disaster and they separated shortly after the birth of their daughter Princess Charlotte (1796-1817). By the time their child was a year old, Princess Caroline was living in a separate house in Charlton, eventually moving a few miles away to Montagu House in Blackheath around 1797-1799.
Montagu House was built in the late 17th century for Ralph Montagu, 1st Duke of Montagu (1638-1709). His son John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu (1690-1749) employed Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780) as a butler at the house for two years. Sancho was born on a slave ship, but gained his freedom and educated himself, partially with the books from the library at Montagu House. He went on to become an early prominent figure in the fight for the abolition of slavery and wrote many letters on the subject. Today, there is a plaque commemorating Sancho on what was the wall of Montagu House. The bathhouse is believed to be an addition added by Princess Caroline in the early 19th century. It was a structure of glass and light lattice, with an adjoining greenhouse. Bathhouses were trendy in Georgian times for improving health and entertaining guests. Surprisingly to us 21st century Brits, the Georgians usually wore their clothes while bathing.
Returning to Princess Caroline, by the time she moved into Montagu House she was being subjected to harsh custody arrangements over her daughter Charlotte. Under English law at the time, the father’s rights were considered more important than the mother’s, and partially out of hatred for his estranged wife, George made things incredibly difficult. Princess Caroline was only allowed to see her daughter in the presence of a nurse and governess, overnight stays were forbidden and she was banned from making any decisions about Charlotte’s care or education.
During her 15 years or so living at Montagu House, Princess Caroline was the target of some wild rumours. A sociable and confident woman, Charlotte hosted famously wild parties at Montagu House and was romantically linked to several men. She was accused of flirting with Naval heroes, Admiral Sir William Sidney Smith (1764-1840) and Captain Thomas Manby (1769-1834) and having a brief relationship with politician and future Prime Minister George Canning (1770 –1827). She wasn’t just a known for her social skills, but also her generosity with poor neighbours. In 1802, Caroline adopted a baby boy William Austin when his desperate mother brought him to the house. Read the rest of this entry
Twickenham is home to some famous former stately homes, such as Marble Hill House and Strawberry Hill. However, there’s a rather less grand, but equally important building that recently been restored to its original Georgian splendour – Turner’s House.
Otherwise known as Sandycombe Lodge, Turner’s House is the Grade II-listed former home of one of Britain’s greatest artists, J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). In his teens/early adult life, he briefly considered becoming an architect with his Twickenham home the only one of his building designs realised in bricks and mortar. Having opened last year following an extensive renovation and restoration project, what’s left of Turner’s garden has now been completed for the spring, full of green grass and flowers to complement the stunning architecture. I went along last week with some fellow Londoner bloggers for a special tour of Turner’s country retreat.
In the early 19th century, Twickenham wasn’t a part of London but the open countryside. It had become a popular spot for the wealthy to build riverside abodes as a retreat from the bustling city. While born and bred Londoner Turner had a home and studio in the capital, he desperately sought an escape from the pressure of city life. In 1807, he purchased two plots of land in between Twickenham and Richmond and started designing his dream home in a cottage style. Finally, his plans were realised in 1813 and Turner moved in his beloved father, ‘Old William’ Turner (1745–1829), who had retired as a barber and wigmaker. Old William acted as housekeeper and tended what was then 3 acres of garden. The house was relatively modest, just two bedrooms upstairs – a large main overlooking the garden and the River Thames in the distance, and a smaller bedroom in the front. Downstairs, the ground floor featured a main living room, a dining room and small parlour, with a kitchen and further smaller rooms in the lower ground. Although Turner didn’t paint at the house, he did sketch and spent time fishing and strolling along the Thames and occasionally entertaining friends. One famous pal to visit was the Regency architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837), with his influence in the design of Sandycombe Lodge clearly visible in the hallway and staircase.
Turner sold the house in 1826 to a neighbour Joseph Todd, who extended it and rented it out. Turner’s garden was dramatically shrunk in the 1880s after the nearby opening of St Margaret’s railway station saw the area transforming into a more built-up commuter suburb of London. The house remained a residential home until World War II, when it was converted into a ‘shadow factory’ to make goggles. It was during this period, the house really began to deteriorate. However, a saviour came in Professor Harold Livermore (1914-2010), who bought the house in 1947. He was particularly proud of its history and campaigned for its Grade II listed status in the 1950s. Following Prof Livermore’s death in 2010, he gifted the house to the Turner’s House Trust with the provision it should be enjoyed by the nation. Read the rest of this entry