The Londoness

Born in Paris.

Made in London.

Teller of London Tales.

Historic House Museums of London

Last updated on December 28th, 2023

London has some of the world’s most iconic museums displaying the finest art money can’t buy, but it’s the capital’s little treasures that I want to share with you today. Ensconced in these historical gems, you can amble around at a snail’s pace, savour every museum inch and still have time for tea and cake when you’ve finished. So, without further ado, here are London’s best historic house museums (time machine not required).

“Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart” (Winnie-the-Pooh)

Best historic House Museums of London

Charles Dickens Museum

London's best historic houses

The table is set for dinner at the Charles Dickens museum at No 48 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury. It’s 1838, the carriages have arrived and the fire is lit. Dickens is sipping sherry (his favourite tipple), and the kitchen servants below are preparing a Victorian feast. “Can you come and take a cutlet with us today at 5? Let me know and we’ll add a bit of fish,” he wrote to a friend. Can you guess who the other guests might be at this illustrious dinner?

London’s best house museums

Charles Dickens loved to entertain. Up to 14 dinner guests were once squeezed into the dining room.

The presence of the literary giant is palpable as you wander around the home where he completed The Pickwick Papers  and wrote Oliver Twist  and Nicholas Nickleby.  He lived at No 48 Doughty Street for two and half years with his wife, Catherine, and three of his ten children. Here, you can explore how Dickens entertained, where he wrote and slept and see personal letters, paintings, ornaments and the everyday objects that he used.

London’s best house museums

The table is set for dinner at No 48 Doughty Street. Other guests dining with the world’s then greatest storyteller might have included his wife, Catherine, his best friend John Foster, and the author, William Makepeace Thackeray.

Charles Dickens dressing room

This is thought to be Dickens’s only surviving suit, worn to an intimate royal reception hosted by Edward, Prince of Wales, on the 6 April 1870.

Charles Dickens writing desk

The desk and chair at which Dickens wrote Oliver Twist, Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby.  He wrote daily between breakfast and lunch, after which he would head over to his club or go for long walks around London.

Charles Dickens cafe

The garden café is open to the public Tuesday – Sunday (no museum ticket is required).

Charles Dickens Museum. Loved by Dickens devotees, of course.

Emery Walker’s House

Emery Walker House

Hammersmith has London’s best pub crawl, dreamy riverside walks and Britain’s most perfectly preserved Arts and Crafts interior at No 7, Hammersmith Terrace. This may be a museum, but it feels more like someone’s home with a penchant for all things William Morris.

Enter the pretty Georgian terrace, and there’s a Morris and Co linoleum floor (the only one of its kind in a domestic setting), and as you head into reception rooms and bedrooms, more Morris apparitions, this time in the form of wallpapers and beautifully restored rugs.

The printer and typographer Emery Walker moved here in 1903, having previously lived in No 3. He was a close friend of Morris’s who “did not think the day complete without a sight of Walker.” Like Morris, he was a prominent member of the Socialist League and a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts movement. The friends famously collaborated on the Kelmscott Press typefaces up until Morris’s death in 1896.

William Morris interior in London

The dining room is the perfect example of an Arts and Crafts room: Morris & Co blocked wallpaper adorn the walls and the furniture is upholstered with Morris textiles. You will also see photographs of leading cultural figures of the day (taken by Walker), a letter from George Bernard Shaw and a drawer containing Morris’s personal possessions. (Image: Matt Clayton)

Emery Walker House

Emery Walker’s drawing room has some fine examples of Morris & Co rugs. Much of the furniture is designed by the Arts and Crafts architect Philip Webb, who bequeathed many of his personal possessions to Walker. (Image: Matt Clayton)

William Morris and Emily Walker

Members of the Arts and Crafts movement loved to watch the annual Oxford and Cambridge boat race in Hammersmith. Morris held parties on the roof of Kelmscott House on Upper Mall, grumbling about how his guests were trampling mud all over his Morris & Co rugs. Walker also hosted boat parties at No 7 Hammersmith Terrace. The house provides a perfect vantage view for the race, and if you fancied hosting your own Oxford and Cambridge party, this romantic garden is available to hire.

William Morris house London

Emery Walker had a bohemian set of friends in Hammersmith. William Morris lived at No 26 Upper Mall seen above (you can visit the William Morris museum next door), George Bernard Shaw lived at No 8 Hammersmith Terrace, and the painter, set designer and healer Philip James de Loutherbourg lived at both No 7 and at No 8.

Thames Path best pubs

When you’ve finished at the Emery Walker house, head into the Black Lion pub for a refreshing pint. The pub has a skittle alley, once frequented by Hollywood star Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Emery Walker’s House. Loved by Arts and Crafts addicts

Handel’s House

Please note: Handel House is currently closed for renovation.

Handel House London

George Frideric Handel lived and died at No 25 Brook Street in Mayfair. Over the centuries, the house was completely stripped of all of its original features and furnishings, but in 2001, was lovingly restored to match its original Georgian finishes. Thanks to the discovery of some original 18th century panelling, the restorers were able to scrape away 28 layers of paint to reveal the original lead grey colour from 1723. The new paint, which has been created to match the original colour, is called ‘Handel Grey.’

The property was perfectly located for the composer, close to the King’s Theatre in Haymarket (now known as Her Majesty’s Theatre) where he was co-manager. Handel composed some of his greatest works in Brook Street, including Music for the Royal Fireworks, The Arrival of the Queen of Shebah, Zadok the Priest and Messiah,  which he wrote in only 24 days.

Handel's Messiah London

You can view a facsimile of the final page of Messiah in the museum.

London’s best house museums

The house is filled with volunteers who will answer any of your questions. I highly recommend popping in for one of their intimate concert evenings which might include a Harpsichord concert played on this stunning Kirkman, made in 1754.

where did Handel die

The bedroom where Handel died. Thanks to a meticulous inventory of the house, we know that the bedroom fabric was this colour and material. The bed is short as Handel would have slept in it sitting up. Handel loved his food, and sleeping this way was thought to aid digestion.

Handel and Hendrix Museum. Loved by Baroque buffs

Dennis Severs

Dennis Servers House

The Drawing Room (image: Roelof Bakker)

Welcome to No 18 Folgate Street in London’s East End, a life-size cabinet of curiosities. Step inside this time-capsule in Spitafields, and you’ll instantly forget you’re in 21st century London. Built in 1724, the house is four stories high and ten rooms deep in history.

The American artist Dennis Severs bought the house in 1979 and spent 20 years restoring it and cramming it full of antique objects (he died at the age of 51). The result is an 18th century immersive experience which follows the fictional Jarvis family of Huguenot silk-weavers who “lived” here from 1724 to 1914. As you wander from room to room, you can hear them chatting somewhere in the house. Horses are trotting on old cobblestones outside, and the doorbell rings. There’s a half-eaten meal on a table, and you can smell bread baking in the oven. The house is lit by candle and by crackling logs. The clock tick-tocks. There’s a cat purring on the bed. In the nursery, you can hear someone reading books to the children.

Leave your 21st century version behind as you enter No 18 Folgate Street and walk into a tableau of life in the 17th and 18th centuries. It’s a dizzying adventure or, as David Hockney dubbed it, one of the world’s great operatic experiences. 

London's best historical houses

Even the master bedroom is fully-stuffed. You might be tempted to get your feather duster out, but go with the flow. This is still-life drama at its most eccentric and at its best. (image: Roelof Bakker)

Dennis Severs House. Loved by anyone looking for a date with the past

Sir John Soane Museum

London best house museum

Image: Gareth Gardner

Those who regularly read this blog will be rolling their eyeballs now. Not the John Soane again. Sorry, yes, the John Soane again. It’s my favourite hideaway in this city, perfectly formed and literally, stuffed full of character.

John Soane (1753-1837) was one of the country’s best-loved architects, the creative genius who gave us the Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Bank of England. Soane bought three houses adjacent to each other on Lincoln’s Inn Fields in Holborn, and today, No 13 has been preserved as a facsimile of the home as it was when Soane lived in it. Nos 12 and 14 are also part of the museum, the Soane being a national centre for the study of architecture.

As you cross the threshold into the Soane, you enter what must be one of the world’s most exquisite architectural gems. And the house is not just beautifully, no exquisitely  designed –  it’s also a treasure trove of antiques, paintings and sculptures. There’s even a sarcophagus of Seti I, purchased in 1824 for £2000.

This little baby is not to be missed if you are visiting London, and if you live here, what the heck have you been waiting for?

London's best house museums

The South Drawing Room (image: Gareth Gardner)

Picture Room Soane Museum

The Soane has an extraordinary collection of paintings by Canaletto, Turner and Hogarth. Every two hours, a museum assistant peels back the recesses in the Picture Room to reveal  The Rake’s Progress  by Hogarth, one of art’s greatest series of paintings, and a must-see at the Soane. (image: Gareth Gardner)

Best historic houses London

The Crypt in candlelight (image: Gareth Gardner)

sarcophagus Soane

Soane held a three-day party with 890 guests in honour of his most expensive acquisition: a sarcophagus of Seti I. Guests included J W Turner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Peel. Makes those Tatler  parties pale, right? (image: Gareth Gardner)

Sir John Soane Museum. Loved by Londoness, admirers of architecture (and Hogarth devotees)

Leighton House

Leighton House

Holland Park has some of London’s most exclusive, jaw-droppingly expensive homes. You’d be forgiven for walking past Lord Frederic Leighton’s former home and shrugging it off as an ambassadorial residence.  But move from the Victorian façade into the entrails of the house and you’re suddenly on the set of Arabian Nights.

Lord Leighton was a Victorian painter and sculptor and President of the Royal Academy of Arts. He was the first painter to be given a peerage, but he died the day after receiving it.

Leighton House is the only purpose-built studio house open to the public in the UK. Leighton spent 30 years renovating and extending the house. He designed a superlative Winter Studio upstairs, where he entertained the who’s who of the age, not limited to Queen Victoria herself who visited in 1859.

Arab Hall Leighton House

Leighton House literally shimmers when you walk in. Imagine a peacock in the shape of an entrance hall:  The Arab Hall and Narcissus Hall (image: Will Price)

Yoga in museums, London

You can yoga away in Leighton’s garden during August and September. The museum also organises Museum lates and guided walks of the Holland Park Circle artists’ houses. Check the website for further details.

Leighton House Museum. Loved by Orientalists

Feature Image: Will Price

A London arts and culture blog featuring articles about art, theatre, opera, dance, music and design.


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