The Londonphile has been out to Twickenham again, this time to visit Sandycoombe Lodge, the former house of Britain’s renowned landscape painter, JMW Turner. This fairly modest Regency house in St Margarets is thought to have been designed by Turner himself, with a little help from his close friend John Soane. Today, Turner’s former abode is surrounded on all sides by houses, but it once sat on a plot of land that stretched all the way to the Thames, where Turner strolled, went fishing and gained inspiration.
Turner bought the plot of land in 1807 as a country residence for himself and a permanent residence for his father, Old William, a Covent Garden barber and wigmaker who had long had a hankering to play farmer. The house itself was not built until 1812. Although his father generally maintained both the house and garden for him, it was Turner himself who snuck into Pope’s nearby derelict villa to steal a cutting of the poet’s famous willow tree for his own garden. Some lovely Soanian touches are still evident in the curved walls and decorative roof light in the stairwell.
Turner’s father also looked after his son’s West End studio – it’s not known for sure whether Turner had a studio at Sandycoombe Lodge, but at the very least he would have sketched here. Old William lived at Sandycoombe Lodge – his quarters were mainly in the basement area – until poor health forced him to return to central London. Even today the house is clearly still very damp. Interestingly, Turner’s mistress and two daughters never visited this house. After his father’s departure, Turner sold the residence in 1826 for £500.
Having served as a secret factory during the war (producing pilots’ goggles), the house was bought by one Professor Livermore in 1947, who was interested in preserving it as Turner’s former home. He certainly undertook very little modernisation during his time and the house is now awaiting a substantial restoration, overseen by Turner’s House Trust. This means that current visitors are allowed a rare opportunity to see the ‘before’ picture of what promises to be a significant project.
Sandycoombe Lodge has been open on the first Saturday of the month since April and will have its last opening of this year on the 6th of October from 10am-1pm (last entry 12:30). £4 gets you an informative guided tour of the premises. It will also be open for free guided tours as part of Open House on the weekend of 22nd and 23rd of September, from 10am-3pm both days, on a first-come, first-served basis. The Trust is still seeking donations towards restoration and maintenance so do get in touch if you can help out at all, or show your support by paying a visit.
2013 update: this year the house will be open on the first Saturday of each month from April-October. 10am-12:30pm, no booking required, and still only £4! It will also be open 10-12:30 on Saturdays June 8th, 15th, 22nd and 29th as part of the Twickenham Festival.