Step back in time at 18 Stafford Terrace


London has a number of famous museums in which visitors can explore its fascinating history, from the British Museum to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

While these are hugely interesting venues in their own right, those in search of a more intimate encounter with the past can take a trip to 18 Stafford Terrace, where they can step back in time and experience what life was like in the London of Sherlock Holmes.

This townhouse has been preserved virtually untouched since the Victorian era, when it was the home of Edward Linley Sambourne, the illustrator of the satirical magazine Punch, and his family.

The house was decorated in the ‘Aesthetic interior’ or ‘House Beautiful’ style by the Sambournes and passed down through the family, who preserved its distinctive furnishings. It was later decided to turn the building into a museum, and it is now under the ownership of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

At the time, the Aesthetic Movement encouraged the use of foreign or ‘exotic’ influences in the decoration of the home and these are in evidence throughout the building, with numerous Japanese, Middle Eastern and Oriental objects on show.

Visitors are able to view Oriental porcelain, stained glass windows and wallpaper by the renowned Victorian designer William Morris.

The museum also contains fine English tin-glazed wares from the 17th and 18th centuries, along with two Whitefriars glass lampshades from around 1870 and a collection of miscellaneous glass items such as drinking glasses.

As its historical credentials are so strong, the house has featured in a number of films, including the Merchant Ivory film A Room with a View and Arthur & George, a three-part British television drama based on the book of the same name by Julian Barnes.

Here are some of the house’s highlights:

The drawing room

Occupying the entire first floor, the drawing room contains Sambourne’s camera and easel, marking the place where he used to work before he moved to his studio on the top floor. Embossed paper covers the ceiling, while a high-level plate shelf runs around the room.

The drawing room contains two white marble fireplaces in the drawing room, which would heat both the northern and southern ends of the room and point to the traditional arrangement of two rooms on the first floor.

The morning room

This is the room in which Marion Sambourne interviewed her servants, wrote letters and entertained friends during the day. It is decorated using William Morris pomegranate paper, on a blue ground for the walls and a cream ground for the ceiling. Most of the furniture dates back to the 18th century, and there are also Victorian revival cabinets in Sheraton or Hepplewhite mode.

The room contains a lacquer desk under the bay window, which demonstrates the influence of Japanese design on the Victorians. Along with the embroidered fire screen and the framed Japanese prints on the east wall, the desk shows how artefacts from around the world were brought together to create the typical aesthetic interior.

The principal bedroom

The principal bedroom retains most of the original furniture, including the brass bed and ebonised suite of wardrobe, dressing table, bedside table and towel rail, decorated with white, scrolling patterns to resemble inlaid ivory.

One of the room’s most notable features is a Norman Shaw fireplace, which was installed in 1887. It contains antique Dutch tiles and is decorated with blue and white china. Above the fireplace is a classical bust and two small Michelangelo reproductions of Night and Day.

A fan stands in a glass case in front of the fireplace, with each leaf decorated and signed by a well-known artist of the period, including Watts, Millais, Frith and Alma Tadema.

Opening times and directions

Access to the building is through guided tours only and pre-booking is essential for group visits of six or more.

The house is open to the general public on Wednesday at 11.15 and 14.15, and Saturday and Sundays at 11.15, 13.00, 14.15 and 15.30. Each tour is for a maximum of 12 visitors and includes an audio-visual introduction. Visitors spend approximately one-and-a-half hours touring the house.

18 Stafford Terrace is only a five-minute walk from High Street Kensington underground station, which is served by the Circle, District and Hammersmith & City lines, putting it within easy reach of Kensington hotels.

Exit the station on to Kensington High Street and turn left; continue along here before turning right up Argyll Road. Take the second turning on the left and you will find yourself on Stafford Terrace.

Adult tickets cost £8, while the over-60s, students, disabled people and young adults between the ages of 16 and 18 can get in for £6. Children between the ages of five and 16 can enter for £3, while under-fives get in for free.