Tuesday 21 April 2015

Five hundred Years in Five London Houses by Imogen Robertson

What my world looks like

I’m at the white knuckle stage of writing my new book so am refusing to leave the house, but I’m taking the opportunity of my monthly post to give you a list of the London places I would be visiting were I not chained to the keyboard and unfit for human society. My historical fiction tends to involve the not so great and the not so good, so I’m always on the look out for the smaller London museums and lesser known houses which can give you a sense of how people lived when they didn't have a palace to call home.

Here are my top five for the last 500 years of London life:

16th century - Sutton House
A gem built by a courtier of Henry VIII in 1535 this red brick survival has hosted gentlemen, weavers, squatters and fire wardens. Some of the 16th century wood carving survives and you can see portraits there by the brillaint Mary Beale (1633-1699).

17th Century - Fenton House
Once the home of a London merchant, this is an often overlooked gem with an astonishingly varied collection. I’m particularly fascinated by the 17th century needlework and in weather like this, a visit to the 300 year old orchard is a must.

18th Century - Handel House
OK, so Handel was both great and good, but this is still a domestic space beautifully recreated to give a real sense of what it must have been to live and work there in the 18th century. The restoration is immaculate and there are portraits, manuscripts of Handel’s works and some beautiful instruments. There are regular concerts so you can get the full experience. Highly recommended

19th century - Carlyle House
This house in Chelsea was Georgian, but is preserved as it was in the times of historian and critic Thomas Carlyle and his wife, Jane in the mid to late 19th century. You can read the letters documenting their tempestuous marriage here http://carlyleletters.dukejournals.org/ 

20th century - 575 Wandsworth Road
Something a little different. A house that was transformed into a work of art by Kenyan poet Khadambi Asalache and preserved as he left it on his death in 2006. Just one of those astonishing treasures in which London abounds. You’ll need to book a tour to see it, but do.  



Lydia Syson said...

I know the first three but have never quite got round to the fourth and have never heard of the fifth, so thank you for both reminders and inspiration! Good luck with the knuckles. And the book.

Ann Turnbull said...

What an interesting list - I'd never heard about any of these before. I like visiting houses as they are so much less exhausting than castles and stately homes, and usually give a more intimate impression of what life was like in the past.

Good luck with the writing!

Imogen said...

Thanks, guys!

Clare Mulley said...

Thank you Imogen, all fascinating and the last a joy! *scribbles list down for half term...

julia jones said...

Stick at it Imo - but one day please may I introduce you to my dear friend Phillipa Lewis and her brilliant book Everyman's Castle?

Catherine Johnson said...

Oh LOVE Sutton House! Good luck with the work x