Tucked away in calm and leafy street in St Margarets, London is the house where one of Britain’s greatest painters lived. After a major £2.4 million restoration project you can now visit the house and gardens that Turner lived in from 1813 to 1826 and peak into this slice of his life.
Turner is one of my favourite painters and I’m not alone as his magnificent painting The Fighting Temeraire was voted Britain’s Greatest Painting in a Radio 4 poll in 2005. The new £ 20 note (to be issued in 2020) will feature this painting, a self-portrait and a quote which sums up much of his work: “Light is therefore colour”. You can see his wonderful painting in the National Gallery.
Turner’s House is a delight to visit, surprisingly small with a domestic feel in a residential street. However, as you approach a blue plaque alerts you to the fact there is something special inside Sandycombe Lodge.
Turner, or to give him his full name Joseph Mallord William Turner, bought the house for his father who he was very close to and they lived together here, a refuge away from the pressure of central London and his life at the Royal Academy. His father’s presence in the house is wonderfully brought life in the kitchen where you can wave your hand over a tankard to activate a silhouette of his father smoking his pipe, sitting in a kitchen chair as he would, even sleeping there, and talking about his life. Theirs was a modest life, even frugal without servants and trappings of wealth and fame.
This house is Turner’s own work as he was the architect, going back to the skills learned in his early life. Rather surprising he said that if he had his time again he’d had been an architect, what a loss that would have been to us! When he bought the plot of land it was the countryside and was the size of 3 football pitches. You are given the chance to see the world outside the house as Turner would have seen in thanks to two inventive approaches from the curators of the house: a window painted with his view; and, a telescope which cleverly gives you what he would have seen.
The house is his artwork in 3D and is the sort of home anyone would aspire to owning, I certainly would move in without hesitation! It’s not large and grand but has beautiful spaces and lines, curving staircases and fine details including a sky light showing the influence of his great friend Sir John Soane. The gardens, now belonging to neighbouring houses, were a considerable size certainly by today’s standards and included a fish pond for Turner to keep the fish he’d caught in the nearby river as he was a keen fisherman.
The furniture is not Turner’s but is sourced from the period and based on accounts written by visitors. The bedroom has hand block printed wallpaper copied from a fragment found during the meticulous restoration the Turner House Trust undertook to bring this building back to life for us to enjoy.
As for the man himself, we learn how his immense talent was clear early on through a delicate self portrait from when he was just 20. Born in Maiden Lane in central London to a father who was a wig maker, he had relatively humble beginnings and rose to great fame and adulation as a member of the Royal Academy but we are given the impression he was never comfortable with that life. Despite being well off during the time he owned this house, he preferred to live quietly away from the constant visitors to his studio with his father as company and support.
Turner sold the house in 1826 and it had an interesting life after this including being a shadow factory during World War 2 making airmen’s goggles. A shadow factory was a normal house used to manufacture important war items, acting as a disguise so that Nazi bombers would not target them and luckily they did not.
There is so much more to tell about Turner, his life and works and about the house so you’ll just have to visit yourself! More information about visiting can be found on their website: turnershouse.org
Full disclosure: As is customary in the travel industry I was invited by the Turner House Trust to visit and review but my views are my own.