Sandycombe Lodge was built by 1813 to the designs of England’s great landscape painter, J.M.W. Turner, working here as his own architect to create a quiet retreat for himself, away from the pressures of the London art world. It also provided a home for his father, old William, in retirement from his trade as a barber and wigmaker in Covent Garden, and with old William’s declining health and changes in his own life, Turner sold the house in 1826.
Sandycombe Lodge after Turner
Turner sold Sandycombe Lodge in 1826 to Joseph Todd, a self-made business man in the London haberdashery trade whose own story is extremely interesting. He acquired several substantial estates, including Twickenham Park just across the road to Richmond Bridge. Such a wealthy man would not have wanted to live at Sandycombe, and the house was let. It seems likely that it was Turner’s fame that made this purchase so desirable, the house sitting on the edge of the estate almost as though it was a part of it. Todd collected a certain amount of paintings by contemporary artists, but it was the next owner, his son-in-law, James Morrison, who would truly have regarded Sandycombe as a trophy. Morrison’s own rise to wealth was even more starry than Todd’s and he acquired magnificent properties and built great collections of art, including work by Turner who stayed with him at Basildon Park. It was Morrison who acquired two great works from Turner’s early years in the ‘Matchless Vale’, Thomson’s Aeolian Harp and Pope’s Villa during its Dilapidation.
The significance of Turner’s own part in the design of the house probably diminished after his death in 1851, and the next owner, George Duckett Barber Beaumont, a barrister, gentleman antiquarian and inventor of a traction engine, may well have been responsible for raising the height of the wings.
The house acquired a handsome conservatory, greenhouse, and a coach house and stables, with fashionable planting of the grounds, all showing on the Ordnance Survey map of 1863. For the next twenty years or so the area retained its rural qualities, though commercial orchards began to spring up in various parts of Twickenham.
The coming of the railway and urban growth
Turner retained his little meadow nearby long after he sold the house, and in 1848 finally sold it for a large sum of money to the Windsor, Staines and South Western Railway Company. The area around Sandycombe began to change at this time, still rural in appearance. When in the 1870s the suburban line brought a station to St Margaret’s, just a few hundred yards away, this part of Twickenham, which had already begun to expand, saw a rapid increase in building and the Sandycombe plot diminished bit by bit as the Ordnance Survey maps show. In the 70s and 80s drainage and sewage systems were installed, and the lane became Sandycoombe Road.
The house changed hands frequently over the next decades, though newspaper advertisements for its sale show that the famous first owner was never forgotten, even if Turner’s unique contribution as its designer fell out of general knowledge.
Sandycombe Lodge in war time
In World War ll, the house was put to use for the war effort. Through a collaboration of local manufacturers, airmen’s goggles were made, with the lenses being produced in an optical factory in Cambridge Park – both ‘shadow factories’ concealed within private houses, not easy to spot from the air. Heavy-duty sewing machines were used, which did much damage to part of the flooring, and the house by 1945 was so run-down that the council were considering its demolition.
Professor Harold and Mrs Ann Livermore
The Livermores acquired Sandycombe Lodge in 1947, accepting it in a very poor state, and making it their mission to rescue it and to act as custodians of its important heritage. Ann Livermore (d. 1997) was a concert singer of some reputation. She also contributed significantly to knowledge of Turner’s time in Twickenham through researching and publishing several articles.
Professor Livermore’s academic work was in the field of Iberian history, languages and literature, and his professorship was at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, taking him away from Twickenham for half the year. However, he lived out a long retirement, continuing the work which his wife had begun in ensuring that Turner’s importance to Twickenham, and Twickenham’s importance to Turner was not forgotten. The Sandycombe Lodge Trust (now renamed Turner’s House Trust) was set up in 2005, enabling Professor Livermore to fulfil his wish to ensure a future for this unique building.
This small house has many stories to tell, of the famous artist who became his own architect, of Turner’s love for the Thames and the inspiration he gained from the ‘Matchless Vale’, and of his quiet life with friends and his ‘Old Dad’, so different from the fashionable London scene. And there are later stories too, for instance, the coming of the railway, which Turner found an exhilarating means of travel, bringing urban expansion and new expectations in terms of comfort and modern living – bathrooms and sewage, gas supplies for light and cooking – and the secret wartime history. Turner and his art, his exploration of many techniques with huge energy and intellect, will always be the magnet which draws visitors to Sandycombe Lodge.
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