Townhouse Story

There is a house I know of in South Kensington. It has chartilly lace white walls on the outside and black Georgian balconies. There are two cream white pillars in front of a shiny black door with a doorknob encrusted with gold. Beside the door are two asymmetrical potted plants neatly trimmed to round balls that remind me of giant pom-poms.

This is a house I know of well. A house I love and admire.

15 people have died in this house. 52 people have lived in this house. 26 people have worked at this house. 10 people have been born in this house.

The list could go on.

People have came and gone and lived and died in this house and yet the house has stayed where it is, inviting others into its vast rooms and candle-lit hallways. The voices of the people who lived here seem to echo in my ears when I touch the walls- every inhabitant has left a memory of them behind it seems.

As I ascend the winding staircase now I am reminded of the twins Mary and Josie that used used to live here with their father Lord Charles in the 1840s. The twins always had sly, cheeky smiles and beautiful long blonde curls and fashionable lace dresses. They loved to slide down the staircase when no-one was watching. This house was their playground of adventures that lit their eyes full of curiosity for the world. It is such a shame they died so young.

And then there was Fred Hampton who rented the upper apartment in the late 1850s. He was a painter who detested other people’s company and relished being on his own. He’d be seen more frequently with a paintbrush than a pen. In the room that he painted he would smear and splash paint on on the walls when he was annoyed at something. The smears and splashes of paint formed a whole other painting on its own. It is a shame that it has all been painted over. Hampton lived half the year in Paris and half the year in London, often traveling around Europe to paint portraits of noble gentlemen and gentlewomen- he got a considerable amount of money from his clients. And then one day he left his upper apartment in Kensington. He set off with luggage containing mostly paints and canvases. I don’t know what happened to him after that.

And let’s not forget the servants that used to live there. There were many of them, for it was a large townhouse to manage. Where I stand in the basement now was where kitchen maids and cooks would be frantically at work, boiling vegetables, rolling out pastry, polishing silverware or preparing trays to take up their their masters. Their lives below stairs were ignored by others but together all the servants had their own little community downstairs spreading their own petty gossip and their hopes for the future.

Years later, a rich French lawyer and his wife bought the townhouse. They were the kindest and most generous people, who established their own orphanage in London and set up charities over the country. Their wealth enabled them to help others. They chose to help others. This is why I admire them. But they also brought life and laughter to the house by holding grand parties there. Over sips of cocktails, guests would discuss politics, travelling and business. Later there would be dancing and singing. The ladies would play harpsichord whilst the gentleman plucked their violins and sang tunes. Everyone favoured these merry nights, where the outside world was partially forgotten and everyone had something to amuse themselves with.

I wish I could continue to tell the other stories. Of the people who lived in the town house in South Kensington. This is only a page of people’s lives in this house. Only a very small portion of the timeline of inhabitants. There are thousands of stories in this very house. I could write chapters and chapters and books and books about it. But I’m not going to.

I’m just going to remember that everyone that’s lived in this house, in their own way, has made it come alive.

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