Guided London Walks
Heinrich Heine (1828)
“I had made up my mind not to be astonished at that immensity of London of which I had heard so much…I anticipated great palaces, and saw nothing but mere small houses. But their very uniformity and their limitless extent are wonderfully impressive.”
London has always drawn people in to settle here. Some came from the British Isles, others from further afield. This has been the pattern since the Romans first founded London and it has been home to English incomers as well as to Scots, Welsh, Irish, Saxons, Normans, Flemings, Lombards, Jews, Huguenots, Bengalis, West Indians and Cypriots, to name but a few. This influx over the centuries helps make London one of the great multicultural cities of the world.
Many buildings, including a number of houses, are accessible during the weekend for London Open House every September. For details go to www.londonopenhouse.org
Other houses are accessible all year round and some brief details are set out below, with a note of their original date of building. Here is an opportunity to explore some homes of ordinary Londoners, some of whom became famous for their work. There are also one or two grander homes, allowing you to see how the wealthy lived. Also worth visiting is the Geffrye Museum, where house interiors through successive ages are laid out room after room: www.geffrye-museum.org.uk
Please note the smaller houses listed below usually have limited disabled access and are may not be suited for large groups. Many of the locations are within central London, but the others are further out (marked with an asterisk after the name) and they will take longer to reach.
Fulham Palace*, Bishop’s Park, Fulham. This has been the home of the Bishops of London for centuries and its buildings date back to 1495.
Hampton Court Palace*, Richmond. Thomas Wolsey, Cardinal and Archbishop of York, was the Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII and in effect he ran the government for the king during the early years of his reign. Wolsey started building at Hampton in 1514, but in 1528 he surrendered the palace to the king. Some of Wolsey’s buildings remain, despite a rebuilding scheme that began in 1689.
The Dutch House* (also called Kew Palace), is a separate Historic Royal palace inside the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew so plan your visit to make the most of the admission to the Gardens as well. The house was originally built in 1631 for City merchant Samuel Fortrey and his wife Catherine. From 1728 it became an annexe to a larger house of Queen Caroline, used later by her grandson King George III and his family.
Kensington Palace State Apartments, Kensington Gardens. King William III and Queen Mary II moved into their new home in about 1689. The palace is also celebrated as the birthplace of Queen Victoria in 1819.
Dr Johnson’s House, 17 Gough Square. c. 1700. Samuel Johnson moved here with his wife Tetty in 1748, so that he would be close to the printer for his great Dictionary, published in 1755. The achievement it represented was not immediately recognised and limited finances forced Johnson, now a widower, to move out in 1759.
Handel’s House, 25 Brook Street. In 1721 a developer began to lay out a terrace of houses, including this one, on a site where just a short time before cows had been grazing. Handel moved here in 1723, living and working in this house until his death 36 years later.
Benjamin Franklin House, Craven Street. This house was built in 1731, but it looks different from other contemporary examples because the front windows and door were replaced in 1792 to make it look modern. Franklin lived in this house at various times from 1757 to 1775 and the tour presents a dramatisation of his life here.
John Wesley’s House, City Road. This house was built for John Wesley in 1779 and he died here in 1791. Structural problems mean the exterior walls had to be rebuilt, but the interior is preserved as Wesley knew it.
Dennis Severs’ House, 18 Folgate Street. Dennis Servers was an artist who lived in this house from 1979-99, despite its lack of modern services which he contrived to avoid needing. Instead he refurbished the rooms as they would be in past centuries. Visitors to the house take a journey through time, as lived by the fictional Jervis family who remain just out of sight as one room after another is entered.
1800 - 1837
Sir John Soane’s Museum, Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Soane designed and built the three houses of this group at different dates. The centre house of the group was his home from 1809-1837 and it contains the splendid collection of art and antiquities he built up during his lifetime.
Keats’ House, Keats Grove, Hampstead. Built as two separate houses in 1816, this became home of John Keats from 1818-1820 at the invitation of his friend Charles Brown, who shared rooms with him.
Dickens’ House, 48 Doughty Street. Built in about 1809, this house was the home of Charles and Catherine Dickens from 1837-1839. It is the only survivor of three homes Dickens had in London, but was only just saved from demolition by the Dickens Fellowship. The society renovated the house and opened it as a museum in 1925.
1837 - 1867
Carlyle’s House, 24 Cheyne Row, Chelsea. The house dates from 1708, so it was old in 1834 when Thomas & Jane Carlyle moved here from Scotland. It offers a chance to see the ‘antique features’ that Carlyle described to his wife, tempered by the internal alterations they made to suit mid nineteenth century tastes.
Leighton House, 12 Holland Park Road. Frederick, Lord Leighton commissioned this house in 1864, making further extensions, and lived here until his death in 1896. Leighton was one of the most successful artists of his age and as his career developed he added to the house. On his death his furniture was sold, but the interior decoration of the splendid tiled Arab Hall remains and a selection of his paintings are on display.
1867 - 1897
Linley Sambourne House, 18 Stafford Street. Linley and Marion Sambourne lived here 1875-1914. Circumstances allowed the house to remain untouched over the following years and in 1957 this house was the venue for the foundation of the Victorian Society, at the suggestion of the house’s owner Lady Rosse. The tours are a costumed presentation by ‘Marion Sambourne’ to her visitors.
1897 - 1918
Little Holland House*, 40 Beeches Avenue, Carshalton. The house was self-built in 1904 by artist Frank Dickinson. His fiancée Florence gave the money for her trousseau to pay for the roof slates. They moved from a basement flat to ‘fields of lavender and corn…in unspoilt country, with a superb avenue of old beeches lining the road’. The fields have since been built over, but the beeches remain.
1918 - 1939
Freud’s House*, 20 Maresfield Gardens. The house was built in 1926 and adapted for Sigmund and Martha Freud by their architect son Ernst. Freud was forced to leave Vienna in 1938 by the Nazis and lived here for barely a year before his death from throat cancer. His daughter Anna live and worked from the house until 1982.
Eltham Palace*, Court Yard, Eltham. Stephen and Virginia Courtauld acquired the ancient palace site in 1935 and they had a house built here with striking Art Deco interiors.
2 Willow Road*, Hampstead. Architect Ernö Goldfinger designed this house in 1939 for his family, overlooking a corner of Hampstead Heath. The house passed to the National Trust after Ursula Goldfinger’s death in 1994.