When asked if I wanted to go to Mae Ping for my birthday, I gave it some consideration before deciding I felt like doing something other than going out to a restaurant. The question was what. There were a few things on the lists of possibilities, but somehow I really couldn't see my parents going roller skating, and it is no fun to go alone. I needed to think of something that all three of us would enjoy. No easy task.
Then it occurred to me that for the past year Mum had wanted to take a tour of Southside House. A friend had recommended visiting this Jacobean farm house, but Mum had never found someone to go with.
Southside House is only open to the public on certain days, so I needed to check. Tours are available from Easter to the end of September at 2pm & 3pm on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, which fortuitously fit in just right. Tickets are £9 and can be bought online, but it is not recommended for children.
Entrance to Southside House is like a fort
If you don't know the area, Southside House can be quite hard to find, because the building is almost impossible to see behind the high walls, gates, and shrubbery. There are several landmarks for guidance, however. Southside House is next to Kings College, adjacent to Wimbledon Common, and directly opposite The Hand in Hand pub.
While from the outside, Southside House appears like a fort that no one wants you to get into, once you step inside, you enter an enchanted world. The doors open twenty minutes before the tour, which gave us time to explore its magical grounds.
The court yard has many fascinating features, such as classical statues, lion sculptures, and gas lanterns. What is most intriguing, however, is the front of the house itself. You may recall me say Southside House is a Jacobean House, well that is only partially true. If you look at the front, you'll see that it looks nothing like a Jacobean House, but rather in the style of William and Mary. This is because the original front of the house to masked over.
John Axel Viking 'Peter' Pennington-Mellor Munthe
Opposite the house is a tranquil scene depicting a man lying leisurely by a pond. The statue is of John Axel Viking Pennington-Mellor Munthe - and if that name isn't long enough for you, his family called him Peter. Peter is just one of the members of the Munthe family we learnt about on our tour. At this point, however, we knew nothing of this man, so his statue just increased our curiosity.
There are some Jacobean features remaining.
Overall, Southside House looks nothing like a Jacobean farmhouse, so you might be forgiven if your thought someone was pulling your leg. There is one, section, however, that has not been tampered with, and clearly indicates its original era. As you leave the court yard, the pathway to the back garden has all those period characteristics you would expect, from the barn doors and cobbled stone floor to the wooden logs and bales of hay.
The Munthe family have been artists for generations, ranging from writers, painters, craftsmen, and landscapers; this is evident wherever you look. One of the most incredible pieces, I think, is the shell fountain that greeted us as we entered the back garden.
Where does this lead to?
The garden is just like the type of magical garden you would expect to find in a classic children's books. It is full of nooks and crannies, and secret little hiding places waiting to be discovered.
my favourite spot was the pet cemetery. A narrow little pathway, slightly overgrown, but bursting with lover of former companions. Pets include cats, dogs, rabbits, and birds. A lot of headstone are very weathered, indicating their age. One of the statues is of an owl, which we later learned must have belonged to Malcolm Munthe.
Southside House Garden
The landscaping is a meld of formal and informal, with streams, statues, murals, allotment patches, and hedges designed in the shape of arches, names, etc.
Mini temple in the garden.
There is even a classical style 'temple', although though it is in a bit of a state of disrepair.
The back of Southside House is Georgian
Looking at the back of the house, there is yet another clear difference in style from the front. That is because the house is pretty much divided into two halves. The front is the original Jacobean farmhouse (albeit in disguise), while the back is a Georgian extension.
Horatia Nelson's Rocking Horse
At three o'clock we stepped through the back entrance for our tour. The walls are in great need of a paint job, but this is quickly forgotten upon sight of the fascinating decor. The first thing that struck me was the rocking horse which had once belonged to Horatio Nelson's daughter, Horatia, to teach her how to properly mount, sit, and ride.
We were greeted by our friendly tour guide, who is a descendent of the Pennington-Mellor-Munthe family, and runs Southside House not only as a place for public tours and concerts, but also as a private family home. The Grade II listed building was originally built for Robert Pennington after he lost his son to Bubonic Plague.
As we walked through the hallway, dozens of portraits lined the wall, featuring members of the family. Amongst these, there was also one painting that did not quite fit, and that was of Mary Boleyn. Things not quite fitting is a recurrent theme throughout. It is a bit like a fun house without the mirrors, as it reflects various periods of history all blended into one, creating an illusion of unity, where in fact it is a complete jumble.
Recreation of Edward Prince of Wales guest bedroom.
The man responsible for that is Malcolm Munthe. Malcolm was the son of Hilda Pennington-Mellor and the Swedish psychiatrist, Axel Munthe. The aristocratic family had once been rich, owning several properties. After the Wall Street crash, however, most of their fortune was lost, meaning many of their properties had to be sold off. Malcolm was worried that the loss of these homes would also mean the loss of his family history, so he brought all the items from these other homes, and recreated the scenes at Southside. The most interesting case of this is the recreation of Edward the Prince of Wales bedroom. Malcolm took the bed, fittings, and all the furniture, then put it back together again.
Malcolm's Fantasy Room
Sadly, Malcolm suffered from post-traumatic stress due to serving in the Second World War. As a result, he turned one of the rooms into a fantastical escape. A master up-cyclist on a budget, he scavenged for everything from classical pillars to corks from wine bottles to create an imaginary era of history.
Malcolm is also responsible for giving his descendants quite a scare. A few years ago, there was a fire at Southside House, and while restoration went underway, they discovered a wine cellar beneath the dinning room that had been sealed off. In this wine cellar were crates of weapons, ammunition, and sticks of dynamite. Malcolm had hidden these away, paranoid about being attacked in his home.
Other quirky rooms at Southside House include a prayer room with pulpit that has no stairs to get to it, and a reception room with Hobbit door.
Beware of garish furniture
While most of these rooms look like they could do with a bit of a touch up, the main room of the house is more impressive. The large Music Room is where they hold all their concerts. Here you will find embellished furniture, garish oil lamps, a piano, chandeliers chained to the wall, a feathery lampshade, and portrait of Emma Hamilton.
Southside House is by no means a pretty house, but it is a fascinatingly eccentric one, and has an amazing garden. It is well worth going to see.
If ever I lived in England, like my cousins who live there (all ten of them in Milton Keynes) I'd have to belong to the historical society or something like that, where you can go visit all the old mansions. I'd LOVE IT! Gr8 article Bryony and lovely pics to get a real 'feel' of it from over here. Cheers :) Jen x