Turner's House in Twickenham
- Original design
- JMW Turner, 1813
- Gary Butler, 2017
The 2020 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2021 programme mid August 2021
In 1807 JMW Turner, then a young but already well-known and commercially successful painter, bought two plots of land on the edges of two large estates between Twickenham and Richmond Bridge. It was six years before he finally built Sandycombe Lodge on the larger plot, to his own designs, which can be traced through his sketchbooks, now part of the Turner bequest at Tate Britain. Here he fulfilled his wish – ‘if he could have his life again, he would have been an architect’. Turner installed his father, Old William, who tended the Sandycombe garden and kept house. Turner used this peaceful spot, with no other buildings nearby, to retreat from the pressures of the London art world, to walk and sketch along the Thames, to fish with one or two close companions, and occasionally to entertain larger groups of friends.
One of the fishing companions was John Soane, 20 years older than Turner, and a fellow Royal Academician. Soane was the architect of the Bank of England, and many other prestigious commissions. His influence on Turner’s designs at Sandycombe was very strong, particularly seen in the series of arches in the small entrance hall and corridor, and in the graceful top-lit stair.
It would have taken Turner about half an hour to walk to the top of Richmond Hill, sketchbook in hand, and the Arcadian landscape on this part of the Thames inspired a number of beautiful paintings, the most expansive being England: Richmond Hill on the Prince Regent’s Birthday, painted in 1819 (Tate Britain).
In 1826 Turner sold Sandycombe Lodge to his nearest neighbour, Joseph Todd, the owner of Twickenham Park. Todd enlarged the little villa and it was rented out, then sold many times over the next 100 years. From the 1880s onwards, the large grounds diminished as a new suburb, St Margaret’s, grew up around the railway station.
In World War ll Sandycombe became a ‘shadow factory’, where airmen’s goggles were made. The use of heavy sewing machines damaged the house badly and it was in a very poor state when in 1947 it was bought by Professor Harold Livermore and his wife Ann. They were careful custodians of the house and its precious heritage, and well-informed collectors of art relating to Turner and his time. In the 1950s they secured Grade II* listing for the building. Professor Livermore set up The Sandycombe Lodge Trust, now Turner’s House Trust, in 2005 and on his death at the age of 95 in 2010, the Trust became the owner of Sandycombe.
An important decision had to be made early on. Would we retain the house as it stood, or would we remove the additions of upper rooms and extensions that had been added to Turner’s own design? We chose to return to Turner’s intentions, drawing on the evidence of his own later sketches (Tate Britain Turner Bequest D08966 TB CXXVll 2), the drawing of c.1814 by William Havell, and the evidence already visible in the building itself.
During the early stages of conservation work some amazing discoveries were made, making us rethink what we thought we knew about the appearance of Turner’s House. As we had all known it, Sandycombe was rendered stucco, and this seemed to be borne out by Havell’s drawing. But when upper rooms were removed there was no trace of render or paint. When more render was removed, it became apparent that when first built for Turner, Sandycombe was an unrendered and handsome brick building, with careful ‘penny line’ pointing.
Some fascinating objects were found within the wallspace of the first floor corridor, which had probably fallen through from the roofspace, including fragments of children’s drawings and toys from a later period than Turner’s occupation. But most interestingly this little treasure trove included a scrap of early wallpaper, incomplete and very dirty, but just sufficient to allow recreation of the design which is now hung in the large bedroom. Paint analysis has been a valuable source of information and has allowed us to find some original wall colours and to recreate the early delicate marbling of the hall and stairs.
Sandycombe has been lightly furnished with objects from the early 19th century, using as a source contemporary accounts and information on the old-fashioned items listed in the inventory of his London house, taken after his death in 1851.
Conservation of Sandycombe Lodge was completed in the Summer of 2017, with its brickwork beautifully restored, and all the results of careful conservation study and craftsmanship visible in the joinery, plasterwork and paint finishes. We hope that our visitors will enjoy the experience of discovering this lovely little building, and learning more about the life and work of JMW Turner, one of England’s greatest painters.
More information on the history of Sandycombe Lodge can be found in JMW Turner, RA: the artist and his house at Twickenham, available for £5.50 at Turner's House.