A house designed by the painter JMW Turner as a country home to share with his father will be saved from dereliction and opened permanently to the public through a £1.4m grant to be announced on Wednesday by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
“We are just so excited, it is superb news – this house is a national treasure, but it is in a sad, sad state, and if we had to get through another bad winter without knowing whether we could go ahead with restoration, it would be truly worrying,” said Rosemary Vaux, of the Turner House Trust. “The months of torrential rain last winter did terrible damage, and we were really fearful of the consequences if we had another prolonged spell of such bad weather.”
The Grade II listed house, Sandycombe Lodge in Twickenham, west London, is the only known building designed by Turner. It was described by Vaux as a three-dimensional work of art. It was left by the last private owner to a trust, but its increasingly fragile condition meant that it was only open to the public one afternoon a month, and placed on the English Heritage register of endangered historic structures.
The grant, with extra funding being raised by the trust, means that it will close this year and reopen in 2016 for 46 weeks of the year, with later features removed and the garden and interiors restored to their appearance in Turner’s day. The house had many features including distinctive tall narrow arches inspired by his friend Sir John Soane, the architect whose own much grander country home, Pitzhanger Manor, was only a few miles away in Ealing. Turner lived in Twickenham for part of the year from 1813 until 1826, producing many dazzling paintings of nearby stretches of the Thames, with his father as housekeeper and gardener. As portrayed in Mike Leigh’s film Mr Turner, father and son were devoted, though many visitors mistook the modestly dressed little man pottering around the garden with a wheelbarrow – seen in one Turner drawing – for a groundsman. He entertained friends to lavish picnics in the garden, which had colourful flower beds, a large pond full of fish and water lilies, and a weeping willow planted from a slip he took from the garden of another local celebrity, the poet Alexander Pope.
In 1826 Turner sold the house and moved his father back to his larger town house, studio and gallery in London. Although the house passed through many hands, and the fact that he designed it was forgotten, the connection with the artist was never forgotten locally and it was cherished on his account by a succession of owners. The narrow country lane is now a suburban street, with the house hemmed in by later buildings, but it is still recognisable from 19th century engravings made in Turner’s day. The interior was barely modernised even after being a second world war factory making goggles for aviators.
Turner kept the adjoining meadow for years, finally selling it for a handsome profit in 1848 to the railway company which was driving a new line through to Windsor.
In 1947 Professor Harold Livermore bought the surviving scrap of garden and the house which was in such poor state that there was talk of demolishing it. He carried out extensive research with his wife Ann on Turner’s time in Twickenham, campaigned to prevent development which would have damaged its setting, established the trust in 2005, and bequeathed the house on his death in 2010 along with an extensive collection of books and works of art.
Blondel Cluff, chair of the London committee of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: “Interest in Turner has never been greater, as reflected in the success of the recent biographical film and the exhibition of his work at Tate Britain. The restoration of this modest, classical property introduces us to Turner, the architect, adding a whole new dimension to our understanding of this great artist. Sandycombe allows us all to literally walk inside the work of one of the world’s leading artists – a truly unique experience.”
Source: The Guardian.