Sometimes a food & travel blogger doesn’t have to go far to eat some good food and experience something new. My lovely friend Lucia wanted to visit Turner’s House in Twickenham, once home of the great artist, and open only on the first Saturday of the month during summer months while extensive restoration work is undertaken. This seemed an excellent opportunity for her to enjoy some of Ruben’s pizza again so she suggested we met there first at lunchtime, and it turned out that the Ealing Jazz Festival was on this weekend too. Ealing is just down the road from me … I never knew in all the years I’ve lived in the Richmond area that it existed. Something old – going back to Ruben’s; something new – the jazz festival; with art and gelato tucked in-between. A good day was promised.
As it happened, having not been to Ruben’s Refettorio for ages, I’d been there only a couple of nights before with Antonio and chosen my favourite Capricciosa pizza. So I decided to go off piste (I rarely have anything other than the Capriciossa there) and chose a Margherita instead with extra toppings of grilled vegetables. It was wonderful. Five of us tucked into pizzaiolo Daniele’s pizzas as they came straight from the wood-fired oven; their sourdough base something really special.
We were in no hurry; all was relaxed. We had the whole day before us. When we’d finished we walked the mile journey to Turner’s House, which is based in St Margaret’s in Sandycombe Road, near Marble Hill Park.
J.M.W. Turner is said to be England’s greatest landscape painter. Yet his masterpieces on canvas might have been lost to us for he harboured a desire to be an architect and had worked as a draughtsman in his teens; an experience evident in his paintings of buildings. Seeking a country retreat, he bought two plots of land in St Margaret’s, just outside Richmond, in 1807. At that time this was open countryside, not the crowded suburbia it is today, and while the house is now surrounded by buildings in close-knitted roads, at the time it was built it stood on its own with a view down towards the Thames across fields and meadows. Turner designed this pretty Regency lodge – Sandycombe Lodge – with the help of his friend, the famous architect John Soane and it was completed in 1812-13. He lived there with his father and it became a refuge from the pressures of London life and his work at the Royal Academy of Art.
It turned out that many other people had decided to visit the house yesterday; a rush of interest perhaps sparked by the Mr Turner film from last year in which Timothy Spall played the great artist. It was only open between 2pm and 4pm and there was barely room to fit us all. However, we were organised into groups, for entry (£4) included a tour. We had to wait a while for one of the three guides to be free to take our group, but it was worth the wait. I lived just round the corner from the house for twenty years and knew it when it was owned by Professor Livermore but it wasn’t open to the public then. The professor bought the house in 1947 when it was threatened with demolition by the local council. It’s thanks to him it still exists. It’s a pretty and unique little house but of course special because of its designer. As far as is known (I think) it’s the only house Turner designed. When the professor died in 2010, the house passed to a Trust. It’s in a very bad way and needs major renovation and thus money is being raised, but it’s hoped to start work next year and for the house to be reopened in its former glory in 2017. It was interesting to be shown around before the works as it’s planned to take down some of the extensions added by later owners and restore it to exactly how Turner designed and lived in it. We decided it will be great to go back after the work has been done and see the changes.
It’s quite a modest house. The rooms are small. But one can see that it would have afforded beautiful views when it was built and I think it’s quite interesting that it is such a pretty house and one can only wonder at that. The guide told us there is very little evidence to let us know anything about the house at the time Turner lived there and so there’s a lot of guesswork involved in deciding what some of the rooms were used for and how it would have looked.
From Turner’s House it was another 15-20 minute walk to Richmond bridge and over into the centre of Richmond where we headed to Gelateria Danieli. We may have been visiting the house of a great British artist but we were returning to Italian mode now with some of the best gelato in London.
We sat overlooking Richmond Green as we ate our ice creams; a cricket match was in progress, the players dressed in their whites – an interesting melding of Italian and English culture. Next stop Ealing and soon we were aboard the 65 bus and on our way.
The jazz festival was held in Walpole Park. It cost just £5 to get in. There were two stages – the ‘main’ and ‘south’ – in two large tents. Around them were masses of stalls selling all kinds of food, drink and crafts. There was a stall selling Dutch pancakes and I couldn’t resist a plate of poffertjes for us to share.
Two more friends of Lucia’s joined us and we moved between stages depending on what was playing. The main stage offered traditional jazz; the south stage more modern experimental with a touch of World music.
There was some great music and it had been a great day out. The sun went slowly down but the air remained warm and as darkness fell and the festival came to a close, it was time for me to head home, back in the other direction on the 65 bus while my friends had a trip across to the other side of London.