London's Museum-Homes of Famous Figures
From the gilded opulence of the Duke of Wellington's mansion, via an architect's beautiful modernist home, to a crumbling property in Spitalfields where the role-call of former inhabitants mirrors the shifting fortunes and migrations of the area, London is rich in homes full of history.
Former London residents whose homes - in many cases containing their personal possessions, furnishings and collections - are open to the public include Dickens, Handel, Keats, Benjamin Franklin and other well-known figures. London also has a number of remarkable homes which are known for their extraordinary interiors, rather than for people who created and lived in them, most notably 7 Hammersmith Terrace, 18 Folgate Street and Little Holland House.
Return to London's museums grouped by theme
The Museums (in alphabetical order)
The former home of Edward Linley Sambourne (1844-1910), cartoonist for Punch Magazine, is preserved as it was in his lifetime with its original furnishings, contents and decorations. This late Victorian middle class family home is a wonderful time capsule - considered to be the best such survival in the UK - offering insights into both the personal lives of the Sambourne family, and late 19th century styles of interior decoration. Much of the décor is influenced by the 'Aesthetic Movement', and highlights include the William Morris wallpapers, stained glass, paintings, bronzes and oriental and African objects. Visits are by guided tour, either of the conventional sort, or costumed tours based on events recorded in Marion Sambourne's diaries.
Limited opening, booking recommended
Read our review of 19 Princelet Street
Built in 1719, 19 Princelet Street is an early Georgian house first inhabited by the Ogier family - successful French Huguenot silk weavers. In later years the house was subdivided and let as individual rooms, many rented to low-paid Irish immigrants, until in 1869 it was purchased by a Jewish 'friendly society' which built a synagogue over the garden and turned the house into a religious school and community centre. By the 1980s the synagogue was unused and parts of the house were being used as classrooms for English lessons for Bangladeshi women. This fascinating history of an individual building strongly echoes the successive waves of immigration and settlement that have shaped London's East End. 19 Princelet Street is a house full of moving stories and the ghosts of the immigrant experience. It is well worth exploring on its rare open days.
Very limited opening
A unique Modernist home designed in 1939 by the architect Ernö Goldfinger (1902-1987) for himself and his family. A film in the entrance hall introduces visitors to this fascinating house and its surprising design details that were groundbreaking at the time and still feel fresh and modern today The house contains Goldfinger's collection of 20th century art, including works by Henry Moore, Max Ernst and Bridget Riley, innovative furniture of Goldfinger's own design and many personal possessions.
The home of Sir Emery Walker (1851-1933), printer, collector and friend and mentor to William Morris. The Georgian façade of the Thames-side house conceals the only surviving authentic Arts and Crafts interior in Britain, the decoration and furnishings preserved as they were in Walker's lifetime. The décor is a typical Arts and Crafts mix of Morris & Co. textiles, wallpapers and furniture, 17th and 18th century furnishings, plus Middle Eastern and North African textiles and ceramics. There are also many mementoes of William Morris himself, including a chair from his library, his spectacles and even a cutting of his hair. The pretty walled garden, laid out as it was in Sir Emery's time, leads down to the river.
By appointment only. Limited opening
The Georgian aristocratic townhouse known as 'Number One London' was purchased by the Duke of Wellington following his famous victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. The lavish interior has changed very little since the days of the Iron Duke and contains both the Duke's art collection and a museum about his military and political successes. There are numerous portraits of both the Duke and Napoleon, Canova's massive statue of Napoleon, personal belongings of the Duke (including his boots), and gifts of silver and porcelain given to celebrate the defeat of the French. The centrepiece of the house is the vast and opulent Waterloo Gallery displaying paintings that originally belonged to the King of Spain, but were taken by Napoleon and subsequently captured by the Duke. Highlights of the extraordinary collection include old masters and masterpieces by Velázquez, Murillo and Goya.
The lodging house of Benjamin Franklin from 1757-75 and now the world's only remaining Franklin home. The man who would subsequently become the Founding Father of the United States was a statesman, scientist, inventor, writer, philosopher... and perhaps even a spy. Visitors may take a guided tour of the house or take part in a 'Historical Experience' which uses live performance, lighting, audio and film to present Franklin's many facets and interests plus something of the excitement and uncertainty of the London he knew, using the rooms where he lived and worked. This first de facto US Embassy has a collection of Franklin artefacts, including letters, papers and reconstructions of his inventions, including his glass armonica.
48 Doughty Street was home to Charles Dickens (1812-1870) and his family between 1837 and 1839 while he was writing The Pickwick Papers
, Oliver Twist
, Nicholas Nickleby
and Barnaby Rudge
. The house was opened as a museum in 1925 and has the world's finest collection of Dickens-related material comprising manuscripts, letters, images, furniture, memorabilia, and many artefacts that belonged to Dickens and his family. See the desk at which Dickens worked, an iron grill from the Marshalsea Debtors Goal and numerous objects that inspired or feature in Dickens' writings, and drawings, illustrations and paintings of scenes from the novels. The Museum hosts a reading group and regular screenings of Dickens' works on film.
18 Folgate Street is an extraordinary 18th century Huguenot silk weavers house, meticulously decorated and furnished by Dennis Severs (1948-1999) to recreate a series of periods and 'atmospheres' from the house's history (between 1724 and 1914). Visitors silently participate in a historical-theatrical experience, sensing the presence and observing the traces of the Jervis family - fictional inhabitants invented for the house by Severs - in each of the 10 rooms. Like passing through the picture frame into the painting, the House offers the chance for those willing and able to 'play the game' to temporarily leave the 21st century and travel back in time. Perhaps not for everyone (the house's motto is "you either see it or you don't"), but for many visitors it is a magical experience.
The home and workplace of Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) between 1748 and 1759, covering much of the period when he was working on his commission to write the first comprehensive dictionary of English. With the help of six assistants working in the garret, the dictionary was finally completed and published in 1755. Two copies of the Dictionary's 1st Edition are in the House's collection. The House has been restored to its original 18th century appearance and contains period furniture, prints and portraits, and displays on the life and work of Johnson and his circle. There are monthly walks following in Johnson's footsteps around Fleet Street and the City.
The home of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the founder of psychoanalysis, and his pioneering child psychologist daughter Anna (1895-1982) is now a museum dedicated to celebrating their lives and work. The centrepiece is Freud's study, preserved just as it was during his lifetime, with the famous psychoanalytical couch. The house also contains Freud's library, the family's furnishing and many personal belongings, and an extensive collection of prints, carpets, rugs and over 2000 Greek, Roman, Egyptian and oriental antiquities. The garden that Freud was so fond of has been preserved and still contains many of the same plants as in his lifetime. The Museum has a programme of exhibitions and events.
The home of the great baroque composer George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) from 1723 until his death, and the place where he composed some of his greatest music, including Messiah
, Zadok the Priest
and Music for the Royal Fireworks
. The Museum celebrates Handel's life, his music and his time with displays of fine and decorative arts and important works from the Handel House Collection, including manuscripts, letters and printed scores. The house's finely restored Georgian interiors are hung with portraits of Handel and his contemporaries, and live music has been brought back to the house with a composer in residence
, frequent music rehearsals, weekly concerts and a lively programme of musical events.
The summer retreat of the great painter, engraver and satirist William Hogarth (1697-1764) from 1749 until his death. Hogarth was a self-taught artist and man of many talents and interests. His hatred of injustice made him a key supporter of the new Foundling Hospital
and its picture gallery, the first in England to be open to the public, and his most famous works are those that tell stories with contemporary (to the time) setting. Many of these were concerned with morality, such as A Rake's Progress
, and crime and poverty, such as Gin Lane
. So popular where his prints that they were widely copied, causing Hogarth to successfully campaign for the first copyright legislation (1735) to protect artists' works. Hogarth's house contains an extensive collection of Hogarth's prints, material relating to his life and work, and a collection of reproduction 18th century furniture. The attractive garden contains a mulberry tree that is at least 300 years old.
John Wesley's house is where the founder of Methodism (1703-1791) spent the winters of the last decade of his life (summers were spent preaching to Methodist societies around the country). Wesley occupied the first floor, and the remainder of the house was used by visitors, travelling preachers and servants. The house, considered to be one of London's finest surviving small Georgian townhouses, has been restored to its appearance in Wesley's day and is furnished with his furniture and belongings, including his 'electrical machine' (for the treatment of depression) and his study chair. Methodists consider the house's small Prayer Room to be the "Power House of Methodism". Wesley's Chapel, built in 1778, is adjacent to the house.
The home of English Romantic poet John Keats from 1818-20, and the place where he wrote some of his most famous poetry, including 'Ode to a Nightingale'. It was here too that he fell in love with Fanny Brawne, the girl next door. The house has been meticulously restored in authentic Regency style and contains a large and varied collection of material relating to Keats and his poetry, and also to poetry in general. Items on display include letters, paintings, books in which Keats wrote his poetry, furnishings and everyday items of the period, and the engagement ring that Keats gave to Fanny Brawne. The beautiful garden - a popular picnic spot - has plantings reflecting aspects of Keat's poetry and the Regency period, and a 200-year-old mulberry bush.
A late 18th century house that was the home of designer, poet and socialist William Morris (1834-96) from 1878 until his death. The house is now the headquarters of the William Morris Society, housing the Society's extensive archive and a comprehensive collection of Morris & Company designs, wallpapers, textiles and Kelmscott Press material. Displays include photographs related to Morris' political activities, plus one of the proofing presses used in the printing of The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer
. The only press used by Morris still in the UK, it is in full working order and regularly used in demonstrations.
The former home and studio of the leading Victorian artist Frederic Lord Leighton (1830-1896) and one of the most remarkable buildings of the 19th century. Together with architect George Aitchison, Leighton worked on the house for 30 years to create a 'private palace of art'. At the house's centre is the extraordinary Arab Hall of 1877, displaying Leighton's collection of over 1000 Islamic tiles brought back from his travels in Syria. Other rooms are also sumptuously decorated with golden ceilings and peacock blue De Morgan tiles. Visitors can also see Leighton's grand artist's studio with a dome and apse, plus temporary art-themed displays and exhibitions.
The remarkable home of amateur artist, designer and craftsman Frank R. Dickinson (1874-1961) who - inspired by the ideals of John Ruskin and William Morris, but with very limited finances - designed, built, decorated and furnished the house himself. The house was completed in 1904 and the result is a unique fusion of Art Nouveau and the English Arts and Crafts Style. The interior is filled with Dickinson's hand-made furniture, carvings, metalwork and paintings, all now grade II listed.
Very limited opening: The house is generally open on the first Sunday of every month, plus bank holiday Mondays.
A 'recreation' of the home of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, just as described in the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes is said to have taken rooms at 221b Baker Street (itself a fictional address), and this museum is indeed on Baker Street and has assumed the number 221b. Fans of the great Victorian sleuth will find Holme's study and the rooms of Dr. Watson and Mrs Hudson the landlady, furnished with their belongings, including iconic items such as Holmes' pipe and deerstalker hat.
Sir John Soane (1753-1837) was a distinguished architect, two of his most famous buildings being the Bank of England and the Dulwich Picture Gallery. He designed 12 Lincoln's Inn Fields as a family home, but also as a setting for his extensive collections of antiquities and works of art. Soane himself opened the house as a museum for 'amateurs and students' of painting, architecture and sculpture, and in 1833 negotiated an Act of Parliament to preserve the house and collections after his death, stating that entry should be free, and everything should be kept 'as nearly as circumstances will admit in the state' in which he left it. On display are his personal effects and extraordinary collections, which include paintings and prints, architectural drawings and models, a substantial library, and furniture and antiquities, including the alabaster sarcophagus of Seti I.
The lodging house of famous Japanese novelist Natsume Soseki (1867-1916) during the two years he spent in London from 1900 to 1902. Soseki was short of money and in poor health, and became obsessed with buying and reading hundreds of second hand English books. Nevertheless his stay appears to have been a springboard for his subsequent success as a writer back in Japan, and features in several of his works. Displays include manuscripts and published works, plus information on his friends, activities and travels in Britain.
Opening times: February to September: Wed & Sat 11am-1pm and 2pm-5pm, Sun 2-5pm, last admission at 4.30pm. Closed November to January. 80b The Chase, London SW4 0NG, Tel: 020 7720 8718
Avenue House, an imposing grade II listed mid Victorian mansion with extensive landscaped grounds, was bought in 1874 by Henry 'Inky' Stephens, local Member of Parliament and owner of the Stephens Ink Company. Stephens' father had invented the company's famous "Blue-Black Writing Fluid" in 1832, and Stephens continued the development of inks, extending the house to create a laboratory for his experiments. Displays include the history of the house and its grounds, the historical development of writing materials, and the story of the Stephens Family and the Stephens Ink Company.
The family home of William Morris (1834 -1896), the Father of the Arts and Crafts Movement, from 1848 to 1856, containing an internationally important collection illustrating his life, achievements and influence in the spheres of design, writing and socialism.
The gallery is currently closed for a major refurbishment that will install interactive displays, allow hands-on craft activities, and enable much more of the outstanding collection of Morris textiles, wallpapers, ceramics, glass furniture, stained glass, books and art to be on display. The reopening is planned for July 2012.