Week off (Thursday): Carlyle's House
Off the Chelsea Embankment, up terraced Cheyne Row, is the home of Victorian wordsmith Thomas Carlyle. He lived here for almost half a century with his wife Jane, herself a lady of letters, and made his name in society as a historian and philosopher. His books were verbose and somewhat hard-going, but highly acclaimed, and introduced several words we now take for granted to the English language. Foreshadow, mainstream, craftsmanship, outcome, decadent, pretentious and elitist were all Tom's invention (as were fugle, mowl, anywhen, jugglery and squeaklet, which alas didn't catch on). The great and good came visiting, including Dickens, Tennyson and Ruskin, and after the great man died (in 1881) a trust was established to preserve his home as it had been during his lifetime. Carlyle's House is therefore a rare authentic throwback to Victorian middle class London, still with most of its original furniture and interior decor in situ, across five floors (four of which you're free to explore). Now one of the National Trust's handful of London properties, it's open five days a week from March until the end of October, so I got in quick.
To enter, ring the bell, after which a guide will hide your bags and lead you to the parlour. If it's gloomy that's because the house is pre-electric, and the Victorians preferred darker shades to modern magnolia, but this all adds to the atmosphere. Jane's choice of sofa is by the window, and the painting she was trying to buy the day before she died hangs on the back wall. Upstairs is the drawing room where guests were welcomed, and up top the spacious attic added so that Thomas would have somewhere quiet to write away from noises in the street. You can also step out into the back garden, where the fig tree still fruits, and contemplate how very different the houses to either side must now be inside. But what makes the visit are the A4 printed sheets (in large font) scattered everywhere across chairs, walls and tabletops, with information and anecdotes from the Carlyles' lives. These add historical depth in a way that most heritage properties never manage, plus Jane gets as much coverage as her husband providing intellectual and domestic balance. And there's reams to digest, so if you visit with someone else best ensure their reading speed is the same as yours. The house remains a fascinating throwback, and memorial, and Thomas would no doubt be proud to be so remembered. Call anywhen.