In addition to the three national museums, Kensington has three other museums that are much less well known but equally delightful. Unlike the national museums, which are all free, these museums do charge, but I think they’re well worth it.
First up: Linley Sambourne house in a stucco fronted terrace – Stafford Terrace to be exact. You’ve probably never heard of Linley Sambourne, a Victorian cartoonist; but that’s not really the point. What you get here is an almost unrestored Victorian family house, but one decorated in the ‘Aesthetic’ style and with, for instance, a fine selection of William Morris wallpaper actually on the walls – not just in sample books. Even the house plants in the conservatory with its tiny water garden are correct for the period, though I suspect not actually the originals; and there’s a fascinating insight into early photography when you notice that the bathroom is equipped with a little shelf where Sambourne could keep his chemicals when he used it as his darkroom.
Linley Sambourne House belonged to a reasonably well off middle class man. Leighton House, on the other hand, belonged to a man who had really made it in life – the painter Lord Leighton. A confirmed bachelor, he was able to follow his own taste in creating his home, with no need to be practical – the sturdy red brick exterior gives no idea of the dramatic and exotic delights inside.
An Arab Hall houses the glittering glazed tiles Leighton had collected on his travels in the Middle East; there are contemporary William de Morgan tiles, too, in other parts of the house, and rooms painted in dramatic dark red or shimmering green. The house also functions as a gallery for works by Leighton – and you can see the studio where he painted many of them.
And finally, there’s the Royal College of Music Museum – a tiny gallery, more of a corridor in fact, full of ancient musical instruments. If you’re not into early music, you might be a bit bored; but if old harpsichords, lutes, serpents and viols are of interest, you’ll be spoilt. The star attraction is the clavicytherium, a wonderful keyboard instrument from 1480, which stands together with a replica made in the 1970s to see how it actually worked. The museum also has some fascinating memorabilia; trombones which belonged to the composers Holst and Elgar, and portraits of composers and other musicians. It’s only open limited hours – Tuesday to Friday, 11.30 to 4.30 – and it’s best to book ahead (admission is free, but it can get busy with school or college groups).
Concierge Tip: Take advantage of our Family Package special offer (valid until the end of April) and the whole family can enjoy these great Kensington museums.
This is a guest post by Andrea Kirkby.