18 Stafford Terrace, The Linely Sambourne House

I've visited a lot of beautiful places during this sojourn in London but 18, Stafford Terrace may have been my favorite. The home of the Punch cartoonist Edward Linely Sambourne and his wife Marion, 18 Stafford Terrace has been preserved intact since the turn of the Twentieth Century. What a wonderful place, I found it very moving to look right into a Victorian home and to see it just as it was, without the need for renovation, restoration or recreation.
So many of the interiors that you can see in London are essentially recreations, because the building (including places like Red House, Eltham Palace and Spencer House) passed through so many incarnations before they opened to the public. Often what we are looking at is a faithful reproduction,  for example in the case of Spencer House even the marble fireplaces and wooden chair rails are entirely new. In this sense London struggles to compete with the wonderful French Parisian house museums such as the Jaquemart-Andre and the Nissim Comodo which were conceived and arranged by individuals and passed directly from them into their status as museums. The equivalent in London would be the Soane which is surely one of London's gems.
I was so thrilled to find something similar, a house with heart, authenticity and a story. 18 Stafford Terrace is something very special, a middle-class Victorian home that was preserved by the family almost intact. The story of how it was preserved is fascinating too.
In a way it was protected by the happy coincidence of too much money at one time and too little at another. The Linely Sambourne's had two children and they left the house to their son Roy. He never married and struggled with his work in the stock market. He loved his parents home and kept it exactly as they had left it to him, perhaps because he loved it or perhaps because he did not have to means to make any changes. On his death in the 1940s the house passed to his sister Maud who had a similar attachment to her parent's lovely home. Maud had no need for the house but rather than selling it she offered it to her daughter Anne, the Countess of Ross. 
Anne kept on her uncle's old servants and used the house as her pied-de-terre in London. On her mother's death she inherited the house and made some modest changes in the master bedroom and bathroom, but most importantly she left the rest of the home's domestic interior, furniture and decoration intact. As a women of some means she didn't need to sell the house and was comfortable enough to keep it as her London home.
However, her attachment to her grandparent's  house was as more than just as a convenient London perch. The Countess of Rosse  had a deep appreciation for Victoriana and founded the influential Victorian Society at the house along with others including the poet John Betjeman and the architectural critic Nikolaus Pevesner,  in 1958. She donated the house and its contents to the society and from here it passed into public hands. It is now managed, along with the nearby Leighton House, by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
It's difficult to describe the house and even these beautiful photographs don't do the place justice. This is a family home built on four floors. One of the things I like about the house is that it isn't too precious. The house is as it remained. This isn't a museum ruled by a rigid recreation or pedantic "historical authenticity" and as such it has a more living feel. They haven't reversed the small changes Anne made in the 1960's, which included painting the ceiling a lighter color and adding a carpet in the master bedroom. I'm so happy to see them retain these moment which seem to represent the texture of the house and to personify the story of it's endurance.
The whole place is packed with objects,  prints, examples of Linely Sambourne's cartoons and commercial works, stained glass,  elaborate wallpaper, Asian porcelain, object d'art and anything and everything you can think of; silver, china, clocks, vases, bowls, trays, mirrors, militariana, lamps, stools, rungs laid on top of each other, tables covered in various small treasures. To string together a number of cliches it's a feast for the eyes, a hidden gem and a jewel box of decorative arts. You need to see it for yourself. For me, the Soane Museum and 18 Stafford Terrace have my highest recommendation in London. These are the places I would take my friends or family if they were visiting. 
Tips: The Linely Sambourne House is only open on certain days. Currently the are only offering guided tours (including some in costume) and you should book in advance, though they may experiment with self guided tours in the coming year. They close over the summer months so do be sure to check the times. This property makes a wonderful day out in combination with the nearby Leighton House the extraordinary home of Frederick, Lord Leighton. I recommend planning your trip to see both properties.
Note: Many thanks to 18, Stafford Terrace for the use of their images, taken from Pinterest. They do not allow photography in the house.