Days Out: Linley Sambourne House, Kensington, London

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The Independent Travel

The venue

From 1875 to 1910, 18 Stafford Terrace, just off High Street Kensington, was the home of the Punch cartoonist and illustrator Edward Linley Sambourne (shown, right, in a cartoon from Vanity Fair), his wife Marion, their two children and their servants.

Passed down the generations, little has changed and the house is now a unique example of a late Victorian middle-class home. Almost all the original decor is intact and the rooms are filled with the furniture, objects and possessions the Sambournes left behind including an amazing collection of 135,000 papers, bills, letters and diaries that give an insight into daily life and the world they lived in.

The only way to explore the house, which is run by the Libraries and Arts Service of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, is by joining a guided tour.

For children

Young visitors get an insight into Victorian life that you probably won't find in your average history book. On our tour we heard how Queen Victoria was partial to curries and how Mrs Sambourne had been particularly upset after a dinner at Oscar Wilde's. We found out how difficult it was to get good staff and the perils of employing "flibbertigibbet country girls". We also discovered how basic the servants' quarters were in comparison to the rest of the house - two girls slept head-to-toe in a single bed - and how they had to pretend to be invisible if they met the family on the stairs. During the autumn half-term children are encouraged to dress up in Victorian costume.

For adults

Tours start in the basement, in the former pantry, with a short video presentation narrated by Lord Snowdon, great-grandson of Linley Sambourne. Our guide was the housekeeper Mrs Reffle, the self-confessed family treasure, who filled us in on the comings and goings at No 18. After a while you feel you know the inhabitants intimately.

Once a month there are adult-only evening performances where visitors discover an extraordinary family secret. The performance, by costumed actors, is a true event based on material from the Sambourne family diaries.

Refreshments

Nothing on site but you are near Kensington High Street.

Access

The house has five floors with steep steps. There are no lifts and no wheelchair access.

Admission

Linley Sambourne House is open Saturdays and Sundays from March to December. Adults £6, concessions £4, under 18s £1. Booking is recommended. Evening tours cost £20 per person and includes a glass of wine.

How to get there

Linley Sambourne House, 18, Linley Terrace, London W8 (020-7602 3316 ext. 300, weekends 07976 060160; rbkc.gov.uk/linleysambourne house). By tube: High Street Kensington is five minutes away. By bus: 9, 10 and 11. By car: No parking on site but pay and display nearby. Free parking Sunday.

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