Above: Visitor entrance to Turner’s House. Photo: Turner’s House website
Small museums and historical locations can often be overlooked, but they’re such amazing places to appreciate history without the huge crowds that often visit the bigger names like the British Museum and Museum of Natural History.
Turner’s House in Twickenham was designed by the landscape painter J.M.W. Turner as a country home for himself, and as a main residence for his father, William (affectionately known as ‘Old Dad’). Before I joined their volunteer marketing team in September 2020, I was new to the world of art history and J.M.W. Turner, but my time there so far has really brought out a love for this small, yet important, piece of London’s history.
The house, named Sandycombe Lodge, sits in picturesque Twickenham, surrounded by what is now suburban London. Back in 1813, when the house was originally built, Turner had a view of the Thames in the distance and would often make this the backdrop of his paintings. Surrounded by a white picket fence, you can feel the comfort and relaxation that Turner envisioned for his home-away-from-home; a vast difference from his history of residences across Covent Garden and Marylebone in the hustle and bustle of central London.
When you first walk into the house, you’re greeted with a beautiful arched entryway which is reminiscent of Sir John Soane’s in Holborn. If you’re well-versed on 1800s London architecture, this isn’t a surprise - you’ll see a lot of Sir John Soane’s touches popping up around Turner’s House.
The faux marble on the walls was hand-painted during the restoration process and, diving further into the house, the wallpaper you’ll see in the large bedroom upstairs is a replica from a small original fragment found on the first floor during early restoration work.
A neat point of interest comes when you visit the Small Parlor located to the right of the entry corridor. Here, the restoration work included the installation of a window allowing you to imagine the view back in Turner’s day. Beautiful flower gardens and a dirt road paint the picture of a relaxing countryside home away from the industrial bustle of the city.
Apart from the quirky architecture and design, the walls of the house have heard many stories over the years, particularly from Turner’s artist friends. Interestingly, a speaking clock recounts their stories, creating an amazing atmosphere where you feel as if you’re living alongside its history.
While going up the stairs, you can look straight up to see a stunning stained glass laylight with an inlaid flower which, if caught at the right time of day, will reflect beautifully on the wall of the stairwell. On the upper floor of the house is the exhibition room and the main bedroom, which interestingly has side-by-side doors leading into the same room. Architect Gary Butler believes this was a way to split the room in two to allow for a guest room. However, with the fireplace on the opposite wall as Turner’s bed, this would make for a chilly night in the winter!
The exhibition during my time volunteering was Turner and the Thames: Five Paintings, with artworks borrowed from the Tate, where many of Turner’s paintings are kept. It’s incredible to see the detail and thought Turner put into each one of his paintings, notably his use of scrap pieces of wood which allows the natural grain to add a layer of depth to his scenes.
In the opposite direction, as you venture your way down into the basement of the house, a projection of ‘Old Dad’ is shown on the wall, giving the feeling that he’s right there with you. He lived and tended to the house and gardens full-time while Turner used the house occasionally as a getaway, eventually selling it in 1826 to a neighbour.
As someone who’s still quite new to London, and just discovering the amazing world of J.M.W. Turner (as well as Sir John Soane), I feel amazed at being able to stand in the home he designed and visited while admiring some of his greatest paintings. Turner’s House Trust does an amazing job at conserving the history and educating audiences worldwide about art history and this home. Often pairing up with other museums in Twickenham, Richmond and beyond, they’ve recently offered a series of talks about J.M.W. Turner’s Sandycombe Years, highlighting the painter’s history through London, his career, and the home itself.
While you don’t need to be an art history aficionado to appreciate the home - I am, admittedly, not - it should be a visit on your museum tour list when coming to London. There are also a few other notable places in Turner’s life and career to visit around London, including:
Location: Sandycombe Lodge, 40 Sandycoombe Road, St Margarets, Twickenham TW1 2LR
Admission: £8 (adults), £3 (children aged 3-15), £17 (family ticket). An additional 10% donation with Gift Aid can be added if eligible. All admissions must be pre booked, which can be done via the website.
Opening hours: entry times currently operating per hour, typically 11am – 3pm during May – September, with reduced hours from September. Closed November and December.
Covid-specific information: the museum was closed at time of writing, but is expecting to re-open from May 22nd 2021. Guided tours may be limited or unavailable during this time. Safety guidelines and more info can be found here.
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Kendra Biller is a museum marketing volunteer from Niagara, Ontario currently living in London, England. With a background working in municipal museums and small historic houses, she loves bringing the often-overlooked places of history into the spotlight. A project manager by day, she can often be found with her head buried in a book and a large mug of tea in her free time.