News of the Yews

The looming Yew trees and Magnolia right up against the front of Sandycombe Lodge have now been removed (with the necessary consent obtained from Richmond Council as the house is in a conservation area). The house is struggling against the elements as it is, and this was a problem too far. On Thursday 14th November the tree surgeons arrived, and by lunchtime the front of the house was displayed in the crisp winter sunshine, revealing itself as few people in living memory have seen it. We think the Yews date from the 1940s; a photo from 1952 shows them as quite small and shrub-like, but we don’t know if they had been trimmed to that size. Anyway, they are completely incompatible with a secure future for the house.

We will be storing the timber to season it, and hope to be able to find some sponsorship for the design and making of a few pieces of furniture for the restored house, as well as giving smaller pieces to any interested wood-turner with a view to making some bowls to sell.

Jenny Pearce

Sandycombe Lodge now on English Heritage’s ‘Register of Heritage at Risk’

English Heritage publishes an Annual Register of Heritage at Risk. These are buildings that are statutorily listed at Grade 1, Grade 2*, and in London Grade 2 (that is, they are designated as being ‘of special architectural or historic interest) – whose condition gives cause for concern. Sandycombe Lodge, which is Grade 2*, has been assessed by English Heritage as being At Risk and has been placed on the 2013 register, published in October 2013.

Why is Sandycombe Lodge considered to be ‘At Risk’?
Turner’s House Trust became the owners of Sandycombe Lodge in December 2010, after Professor Livermore’s long ownership which began in 1947. Trustees’ immediate duties included, for example, assessing utilities for safety, as a result of which the gas supply was turned off. The Options Appraisal Study of 2012 identified the problem of inadequate drainage of rainwater, and crumbling rainwater systems have been our greatest concern. The excessive rainfall of 2012 caused gutters, flashing and downpipes to deteriorate further, leading to damp in first floor rooms and the ground floor dining room, and the partial collapse of ceilings in the basement. Heavy thunderstorms exacerbated the problems, the cause only being revealed when the original coal chute was found, with its cracked stone cover, under several inches of earth.

The large Yew trees, planted very close to the house and unpruned for many years, have been a major cause of damage. The needles clog and weigh down the gutters and downpipes, and the roots have penetrated the walls of the basement, causing deterioration of the fabric of the building and further water penetration and leading to wet rot. Yew tree roots have also invaded sewage pipes, causing total blockage.

What has the Trust done to cope with these threats to the property?

Firstly, we have secured funding from the Pilgrim Trust for remedial work. Repairs have been made to gutters and flashing, downpipes have been extended to take rainwater away from the edge of the property and sewage pipes and a leaking lavatory have been replaced. Cracked roof tiles have been renewed. Spectacular outbreaks of mould on the kitchen walls have been treated and the walls partially re-rendered.

Secondly, after securing professional reports and planning permission, the Yew trees are being removed and the stumps ground out.

Thirdly, the wet rot has been professionally treated and stopped in its tracks.

Fourthly, and most importantly, the Trust has made significant strides in securing the necessary funding to enable full conservation, with awards being made by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Andrew Lloyd Webber Challenge Fund, the Architectural Heritage Fund and others, and with many donations from generous individual supporters. We cannot, however, hurry along the work of conservation until all our professional plans are fully developed and until all our funding is in place.

We are well on our way in this exciting project, and it is worth remembering that although buildings are put on the At Risk Register, they are also removed when they are fully repaired and their future is secured. Strawberry Hill was once designated At Risk, and look at it now!

Jenny Pearce

Heritage Lottery Fund Development Stage – Current Progress

We are now starting the process of appointing a landscape architect to design the restoration of the garden. Activity Plan consultants have already started work on education and outreach programme development and the project’s overall management is now under the direction of Simon Hawkins of Glevum Consulting. Our architect Gary Butler of Butler Hegarty – who carried out the Options Appraisal – continues with us and will be preparing the applications for listed building consent, conservation area consent, and planning permission (including change of use) which will be submitted in Spring 2014. We are also in the early stages of our interpretation and digital strategy development.

Turner’s House on the BBC – update!

In October, both BBC and ITV London news featured Turner’s House as a result of the launch of the Heritage at Risk Register for 2013 by English Heritage. EH featured and pictured Sandycombe in its Press Release, and ensured that the media were aware of the significance of the house. Now the BBC have been back again – last week Catherine Parry-Wingfield, the chair of the Trust, and Helen Hughes, a specialist art historian, were filmed for the local Inside Out programme which will be shown in early December. To everyone’s delight, the exploratory work Helen did ‘on camera’ investigating below the plaster in the dining room, revealed a wooden moulding we hadn’t seen before. There will be much more of this sort of work in the coming year.

10th October report:

Catherine Parry-Wingfield was interviewed by Brenda Emmanus about the house and the restoration project. The interview is on the BBC’s website, at

The Big Draw, 6 October

The Big Draw, held at the house on October 6th as part of the Campaign for Drawing’s national Big Draw month, was a great success too, with 85 people attending, most of them family groups. There were three workshops, exploring through drawing and modelling- Turner’s travels locally, the past residents of the house, and scenes using found objects inspired by our artist-in-residence, Michael Coldman, and his popular 3D cartoons that show Turner and his friends as pipe-cleaner figures.

Update, 5 September

From Jenny Pearce:

Waiting for the Heritage Lottery Fund result has all been a bit like waiting for A Level results this summer. We’d stayed up late, we’d written the papers, we’d had worried chats with other people who’ d done the same subject, we’d waited for the envelope……and we passed. All we didn’t have in the end was a photo of six blonde teenagers leaping in the air and shrieking. (We tried, but mostly our knees aren’t what they were, and although our Hon Sec is blonde-ish and an athletic tennis player, he’s not a teenager.)

The announcement of a First Stage Pass by the Heritage Lottery Fund for the Turner’ s House restoration project has been a big boost for the morale of trustees and volunteers. With £135,000 of funding for the development stage over the next year, at last we can start doing investing some essential money as well as our time. We have to work on the architectural development, the conservation plan, the garden design, the activity plan, the intepretation, the business plan – all with the help of specialist consultants. In parallel, we have to raise the £600,000 of match funding we need to guarantee before we can get Stage 2 funding, the real deal to start the work of transformation. And we have to keep the house going somehow through another two winters – more mould alerts, flooding panics, and mutters of What’s that funny smell…?

What’s happening now is the appointment, by the THT Project team, of consultants and specialists for the development phase. The fabric of the house will examined in detail to establish, for example, the original wall finishes. In parallel with that, our Fundraising Committee is expertly setting about extracting money, preferably without menaces, from grant-making funds and generous individuals who we hope will be sympathetic to the project. The official launch on 10th September of our Bicentennial Appeal at Tate Britain will bring the house’s critical state to the notice of the national press as well, and we will be welcoming more press to the house a week later.

You will soon notice a dramatic difference to Sandycoombe Rd when the Yews vanish – we’re getting tenders for the felling operation now. The serious effect of the roots on the basement and drains means we have no alternative, but there will also be huge benefits to the appearance; the house will actually be visible again as it hasn’t been for many years.

It would be easy to keep the house closed until the restoration project is complete, but we don’t want to do that. We are sufficiently encouraged by our visitors’ fascination with its atmosphere, history and detail to keep going with regular openings and events. This summer we have opened on the first Saturday of each month, and will be open for London Open House weekend this month. We had a very successful archaeological investigation of the garden with professional archaeologists and local school students, led by our trustee Sue Youngs. We hosted painters at our July Open Weekend for artists, and there is another on 14th and 15th September, which is now fully booked with 15 people coming each day. Finally there’s another Big Draw event on Sunday 6th October welcoming families as part of the Campaign for Drawing’s annual October drawing festival. The house will be open two more Saturdays as well, September 7th and October 5th. See our Events page, which also has details of the fund-raising lecture to be given for us by Ken Howard RA RWS at his studio on October 17th.

Then, because of the cold and damp, and the expense of our ad hoc heating arrangements, we will have to close to the public for the winter, leaving our stoic tenants Daniel and Lucy on the first floor with supplies of thermal underwear and recipes for warming soup in lieu of central heating.


Look away now if you are having your breakfast

A brief digression to one of the more unlovely aspects of owning an elderly house: the drains. After the major seizure of the plumbing which resulted in us having to close our only lavatory during the Tea with Turner event, drastic action had to be taken:  builders were summoned, holes were dug, ancient drainage was inspected, and the causes of the blockage were found to be a combination of tree roots (those Yews again), a wodge of hessian,  and a large pair of black knickers – don’t ask –  of which the former owner has not been traced. Maybe Turner had more lady friends than his biographers suspected. All sorted now.

Jenny Pearce

Yew may be interested

And we have consent from the Council to fell the Yews at the front of the house, so soon the walls, floors and drains will be safe from invasive roots for good.   We are planning to do something creative with the Yew wood, possibly some commissioned furniture for the house, and possibly in collaboration with the Building Crafts College in Stratford, East London, with whom we already have links through our architect Gary Butler who is a lecturer there.

But if anyone knows anyone who would be interested in using the wood for the benefit of the house (and some publicity for themselves0 please get in touch. Sections will be small – Yew grows in a clump of separate trunks rather than one large trunk, so chairs and small tables are the most obvious possibility.

Jenny Pearce

Archaeology in the garden

July will see two weekends dedicated to an archaeological dig with a local school, supervised by real archaeologists including our own trustee Susan Youngs. We are not seriously expecting to find any priceless Turner artefacts, unless he was in the habit of burying canvases he wasn’t very pleased with.

Jenny Pearce