Conservationist, Artist, Social Reformer, Writer and Teacher


Marvelling at new management model

A private tour of a seventeenth century house in Wimbledon has given members of the Wisbech Society a chance to mull over a management model which could be applied to Octavia Hill’s Birthplace House.

A party of 18 travelled to the Grade II listed Southside House on the south side of Wimbledon Common on September 16 to see the property where Fenland District Council’s conservation officer, Nicola Duncan-Finn, has been involved in a University College London project.

The work has involved an analysis of the ways in which graded buildings and their contents are treated, enabling managers and trustees to employ a quinquennial approach as the basis for a business plan, which could be adopted at the home of the National Trust co-founder at 7 South Brink, Wisbech, and possibly at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum.

More than a quarter of a century after Peter Clayton conducted a Wisbech Society coach trip to Octavia Hill sites in London, leading to the establishment of the Octavia Hill Society and then the purchase of part of the Birthplace House, he was back in the capital city for the latest of the society’s annual coach excursions, which he has been running for over 25 years, to visit the house that had been the home of Axel Munthe, the author of the best-selling ‘The story of San Michele’.

Through his friendship with the Queen of Sweden the gifted writer and physician had acquired top-quality artworks that adorn the building, and his son, Malcolm, who had served as an officer in the Special Operations Executive, set about refurbishing the house after the Second World War, transforming the building into a stage on which his perceptions of family history were presented.

Society members were treated to a memorable presentation of the story of the house and its art collection, as well as learning about ways of managing such a building with the use of the latest technology to ensure that the optimum levels of temperature and light are maintained in the various rooms.

After lunch at the Crooked Billet gastropub close by, coach driver Mark Judd drove the party to Lincoln’s Inn Fields to visit the first public museum in London, Sir John Soane’s Museum, with its exhibition of Hogarth’s ‘An election’ series of prints, and in Great Russell Street the visitors saw the premises of Jarndyce Antiquarian Booksellers, which is linked with Wisbech through one of its partners, Brian Lake, who is restoring the old barn at 11 North Brink.

Nearby, the society members saw the Bloomsbury home of Soane’s rival architect, John Nash, and the residence of Sir Hans Sloane, whose collection provided the foundation for the British Museum.

In contrast, they also glimpsed the former slum area of St Giles Rookery, which features in Hogarth’s 1751 print, ‘Gin Lane’, and the church of St George, Bloomsbury, with its statue of George I on the steeple, where the funeral of the suffragette, Emily Davison, who died when she was hit by the king’s horse at the Derby, was conducted in 1913.

Other highlights of the trip included a view of The Albany, the home to the poet, Lord Byron, and Matthew Lewis, the author of the Gothic novel, ‘The monk’, the manuscript of which is in the collection of the Wisbech and Fenland Museum.

Facilitator David Crouch said:  “Members were delighted and inspired by this visit.”

And Mr Clayton, chairman of the Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum Trust, said:  “Wow!   What a pleasure to finish our annual coach programme at a place that everyone should see.   Southside House is one of the outstanding London venues.”