Culture Editor Ally Azizi recommends some of her favourite house museums to visit in London.
While I love visiting London’s famous galleries such as the National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain or The British Museum, I prefer to visit house museums. Being surrounded by the objects and furniture that were once used by families from the past gives history lovers a nuanced understanding of what happened centuries ago.
My volunteering time here was unfortunately cut short by the pandemic. Nonetheless, I enjoyed my duration there. I’m only a casual fan of Charles Dickens, having read a few of his works, but I chose to volunteer in his house simply because I loved his décor. Something that sets this museum apart is its disabled access, where a lift has been installed for those who might have trouble getting around the five floors; it makes the house much more accessible. Dickens lived on 48 Doughty Street for only three years, but they were some of his most productive, having published: The Pickwick Papers (1836), Oliver Twist (1838), Nicholas Nickleby (1838-9) and Barnaby Rudge (1840-1). He lived there with his wife, three of his eldest children and sister-in-law, Mary Hogarth (no, not related to William Hogarth).
Open from Friday to Sunday, 10am – 5pm, last admission at 4pm.
Book your ticket in advance here.
48 – 49 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LX.
If you’re waiting for a class to start at the Virginia Woolf Building, take a trip to 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields (just a left turn after Gregg’s), where Sir John Soane’s house remains. Sir John Soane was a neo-classical architect who travelled around the world collecting antique objects and what were then considered souvenirs of his trips. This house was built in 1808 and had undergone many renovations and expansions during Soane’s lifetime. It is worth booking a tour here with their friendly guides, who make the visit enjoyable as they talk about some of Soane’s best pieces. If you decide you don’t want a tour, I recommend visiting the Seti sarcophagus – it is simply breathtaking.
A fun fact: Soane’s mausoleum dome roof became the inspiration for the K2 telephone boxes that you see around London!
From 1 October 2020, they will be open from Thursday to Saturday, 11am – 4pm, last admission at 3.30pm.
Book your ticket in advance here.
13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3BP.
18 Stafford Terrace
Once the home to Edward and Marion Sambourne, and more recently Antony ‘Tony’ Armstrong, this house is one of the very rare examples of the homes that were part of the Aesthetic movement. Heavily decorated with William Morris’ wallpaper designs as well as foreign objects coming from the East, the house holds so much valuable history. There are so many objects that it can be hard to manoeuvre around the building, especially with a group. It also gives us a glimpse of how the typical Victorian-era household was like, particularly for women. In one of the rooms, there even remains a guide for housewives – personally, not my cup of tea.
Unfortunately, it is still closed due to the pandemic. You can keep yourself updated with their website.
Alternatively, you can download the app Smartify and search for ‘Sambourne House’ which will talk to you through about selected objects and tell stories.
18 Stafford Terrace, London W8 7BH.
Red House, Bexleyheath
If you’re a fan of William Morris, the Red House would be perfect for you. It was co-designed by him and Philip Webb, for Morris and his family. Initially, it was supposed to be their house for the rest of his life; however, due to maintenance being too expensive, the family decided to relocate to Bloomsbury five years later. During his time there, many of his friends visited him, including Pre-Raphaelite painters Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It stayed as a residence until 2002 and was bought by the National Trust in 2003, which has been conserving it since.
The house is currently closed, but in the meantime you can visit their website, where they have further information about the house.
Red House Lane, Bexleyheath, London DA6 8JF.
Out of all the house museums listed, this has to be my favourite. It was once home to Medieval monarchs where its great hall remains, built in the 15th century by Edward IV. In the 1930s, it was bought and renovated by millionaires Stephen and Virginia Courtauld, whose décor was inspired by the Art Deco movement. Besides the great hall, everything else was built during the Courtauld’s time there. The room that attracted me the most was the great hall. The fact that a room from the Medieval period was able to survive until now never fails to amaze me – you can almost feel and visualise the events and balls that took place.
If you’re a fan of ghost stories, it has been said that their butler’s spirit still roams the halls of the house, and if you’re lucky, he might just give you a tour of the palace!
Open daily from 11am – 5pm, last admission at 4pm
Some rooms will be closed due to social distancing. Book your tickets here.
Court Yard, London SE9 5QE.
I hope you will enjoy your time at King’s and London, even with the ongoing pandemic, as well as visit these house museums when you can. While socially distancing, of course.