Museums at Night 2013: A Victorian Delight at London's 18 Stafford Terrace

By Richard Moss | 17 May 2013

Museums at Night Report: A Victorian Delight, 18 Stafford Terrace, London, May 16 2013

a photo of a shelf with a pot on it and Victorian decor
The still interior of 18 Stafford Terrace came alive during Museums at Night.© Photo Richard Moss
Punch cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne was, by all accounts, a convivial chap. He liked to entertain, enjoyed the theatre, fine wines, dining, and he was very generous with his champagne.

For Museums at Night he has allowed us to take a peek inside his Kensington house – largely untouched since its Arts and Crafts heyday.

Perhaps wisely, given the throng of people queuing to get into this Victorian time capsule, he has escaped to his club ("either the Garrick or the Athenaeum" according to his convivial wife Marion) and we’re left to cram into the parlour where the cook, a certain Mrs Refell, has been drafted in to welcome us.

As cook, Mrs Refell knows a thing or two about the goings on at 18 Stafford Terrace, and she gives a very lively account of life both upstairs and downstairs. 

The house maid, she tells us, “is a flibbertigibbet” and her predecessor as cook drank 24 gallons of beer in two weeks - which got her the sack. She also divulges how the master of the house likes a drop of the good stuff too and details the gargantuan menu for a recent dinner party. “Prawns and mutton in aspic… Coffee Savoy (Coffee Cream with an egg in it)” all washed down with “15 bottles of champagne”.

“Mr Sambourne complains of feeling seedy and bilious in the morning” she adds, revealing his ongoing problems with piles. “He had to go under the ether – he was rather backed up…” she says. Luckily  “cook’s pigeon pie” soon had him “firing on all guns”.

As this lively narrative unfolds, the looking glasses, potted plants, Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows and sooted William Morris wallpaper resonate with the ambiance of the Victorian period.

From the parlour we troop into the morning room where the eerily convincing Mrs Sambourne appears, framed by a stained glass window, like some Holman Hunt apparition.

She begins by regaling us with lively tales of new motor cars, the telephone (“it will never catch on”), Gilbert and Sullivan, the servents, Mr Sambourne and all manner of social histories of Victorian living.

It’s absorbing, enlightening, highly convincing, and very entertaining. But it’s all over too quick, before we’re gently ushered downstairs where the talents of a modern caricaturist are in great demand as he sketches the latest in a long line of eager visitors.

But this Museums at Night taster has left most people smiling - and eager to return to explore this remarkable Victorian treasure trove - and the characters that still inhabit it.

More pictures:

a photo of a woman in a Victorian cook's costume in a Victorian interior
Mrs Reffil, the cook.© Photo by Richard Moss

a photo of a wall of pictures close together around a round mirror
© Photo Richard Moss

a photo of a woman in Victorian garb talking to people in a Victorian interior
© Photo Richard Moss

a photo of a woman in a Victorian costume in a Victorian interior
© Photo Richard Moss

a photo of a woman smiling as she has her photo taken
Downstairs fun with the caricaturist.© Photo Richard Moss

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