Five minutes walk from St Margaret’s station on a quiet residential road of large late-Victorian villas stands Sandycombe Lodge, former home of one of Britain’s greatest painters, J M W Turner.
Turner designed the house as a country retreat for himself and ‘old dad’, his father William (1745–1829), a barber and wig-maker. Located close to the river Thames in what was then rural Twickenham, the house shows the influence of Turner’s friend, the architect and art collector Sir John Soane. It’s a modest residence with well-proportioned, high-ceilinged rooms and a spiral staircase which is almost identical to the one at Sloane’s house in Lincoln Inn’s Fields. Turner used this peaceful spot to escape from the pressures of the London art world, to walk and sketch along the Thames (it would have taken him about 30 minutes to walk to the top of Richmond Hill, from where he sketched and painted the view which is still recognisable today). He also enjoyed fishing with one or two close companions, and occasionally entertained larger groups of friends. His father tended the garden and looked after the house when Turner was away.
The house has undergone considerable renovation under the auspices of the Turner’s House Trust (THT), which raised the necessary funds to restore the house, remove Victorian additions and return it to its appearance in Turner’s day.
The restoration is exquisite and sensitive, and one of the first things which strikes the visitor on arriving at the house is how beautifully the exterior brickwork has been restored, complete with careful ‘penny line’ pointing. The render, a later addition, was completely removed after evidence of what the original exterior looked like was discovered when the upper rooms were taken down. Inside, the muted earthy colour schemes, wallpapers and carpets have been selected to reflect the taste of the day. The discovery of a tiny fragment of wallpaper in the bedroom enabled the THT to recreate the design which now hangs in the large bedroom. The delicate marbled effect on the walls of the vestibule, hall and stairwell is all hand-painted, using an ancient paint effect which came back into fashion in the early 19th century. The house is lightly, but carefully furnished with furniture in keeping with the period of the house, together with selected prints and other artworks and ephemera such as clay pipes. Everything is elegantly and tastefully displayed and the house is thankfully free of the rather didactic or bossy displays one encounters at National Trust houses. And there is no twee tea room either: given its proximity to St Margaret’s, one can stroll back towards the station or down towards the river to enjoy a cup of tea in a local cafe.
The house is open to the public from Wednesday to Sunday, and in the mornings one can wander at will, while those wishing for a more informed visit can enjoy a guided tour in the afternoon.
For more information and to book tickets, please visit turnershouse.org
(Header image: Turner’s House museum)