Today I visited 18 Stafford Terrace, also known as the Linley Sambourne House. Quite simply, the house is amazing. It has been kept very well preserved over the years, as descendants of the Sambourne’s were always conscious of its preservation, and the grand daughter of Linley and Marion- Anne- became one of the founders of the Victorian Society. The house is full of amazing treasures from William Morris wallpapers to original bathroom fixtures to personal papers to the photography and art of Linley, who was a cartoonist for punch. Besides the house itself, the history of the family is also interesting.
Based on how beautiful and complete the house is alone, I would highly recommend a visit for any museum, historic house, victoriana, art, or photography enthusiast. You can do this by means of two different pre-booked guided tours- costumed or conventional, or, since September, on self guided open afternoons.
Unfortunately, despite the treasures awaiting us in the house, our tour left a bit to be deserved. We did learn quite a bit about the house and family, but there was a sense that we could certainly know more. This was partially because we had been split into two groups at the outset, and our tour guide kept saying how the other one knew so much more and was certain to give a longer, more in depth tour… There were also quite a few hmms, hesitations, I thinks, etc that reinforced the sense that maybe there was a bit more to know (of course, there always is, but I mean just even in this sense of the basic tour). There were also one or two times were some things were said that I internally questioned the accuracy of.
More than the possibly questionable info, I really cringed throughout the tour as the guide repeatedly picked up objects, leaned on furniture, supported herself with furniture, passed objects around, touched wall paper… In certain circumstances, I honestly don’t have a problem with this. If you have a teaching collection, or multiples of objects, great! You’re wearing gloves and have explained why? Great! But this tour contradicted everything you learn as a museum professional for preservation of the collection. Wearing no gloves, picking up one of a kind artifacts that have been preserved for generations, and even passing some around, after we’d just been told in the introduction (by the other guide) to please not touch the wall paper because it’s so delicate, was contradictory, and frustrating. Not only are these artifacts delicate, and irreplaceable, but the oils and dirt on your fingers can be very damaging- leaving fingerprints in metals, or attracting more dust. I understood her need to point out certain features of the house, but when saying ‘here’s some william morris wallpaper’ you can point or gesture- you don’t need to physically touch it, rub it, or knock it. When picking up a camera to show us how it works, you should be using both hands, not one, and be using gloves. When waiting for visitors to finish looking at a room, you shouldn’t be leaning on the historic furniture, and you shouldn’t be steadying yourself on the brass bed rail while you swing your leg up over that rope.
Guides should be pointing out interesting objects and features, and telling stories that make museums interesting, but they also need to keep in mind the safety and preservation of the collections. And unfortunately this guide, while obviously having an appreciation for the house, did not show this awareness for the collections. Perhaps just some easy training would fix this.
Despite my inward cringing throughout the visit, I do recommend seeing the house. All the features are truly beautiful, and all of the art, and Linley’s photography are certainly worth a look!