Thursday, 22 September 2011

Southside House: Fire and the aftermath

Southside House before the fire of November 2010
The success of our visit to Clandon Park had made me keen to take Reshna to see the 17th century Southside House by Wimbledon Common, a place the Brimstone Butterfly has written about at length in the past. I like to think of it as my neighbourhood stately home. It has the advantage of being comparatively close to Brimstone Butterfly Towers and within reasonable walking distance. Consequently, it did not require any planning from me other than to check the opening times. To my horror I discovered that the roof of the house had caught fire last November resulting in the mansion sustaining substantial damage.  The house is not scheduled to open for its usual tours until Easter 2012. However, it will be holding some special events, more details of which can be found on its website. I would encourage anyone who can go to these events to do so as the house needs public support now more than ever. The set of photographs immediately below are taken from the website for Southside House.
Entrance Hall

Clock Tower

Dining Room

Entrance Hall

Music Room

Music Room

House from the back gardens

Restoring wall chandeliers from the Music Room
 One curious fact about the house is that the fire revealed the existence of a secret room accessed by moving a hearthstone in the dining room fireplace. It seems a former resident, Malcom Munthe, knew all about the hidden chamber as he had stored his cache of World War Two weapons and live ammunition down there. They had most probably been issued to him as a British Officer serving in the Special Operations Executive. Given that Malcolm and his mother had bought the two adjoining 17th century houses and transformed them into the baroque mansion of their dreams and that Malcolm had done a lot of the work himself, he might even have designed the secret room as I don’t believe the dining room is original to the house. I have been told some pretty far fetched stories about Southside House in my time, whether it be Lord Byron strolling in the grounds and chatting to his publisher or Emma Hamilton striking winsome attitudes on the low lying stage in the Music Room. But this knocks all the other tales into a cocked hat if only because it is actually true.

A view towards the Entrance Hall

The garden room entrance to the house

A fireplace in an upper chamber

Stairs with bell rope for nursery

Rear of house from the pet cemetery

The Entrance Hall fireplace

The Upper Gallery in the Entrance Hall

The Entrance Hall from the Upper Gallery

The room with extant powder closet and canvas wall hangings

The Dining Room fireplace concealing the secret chamber

The ceiling of the Entrance Hall

The Dining Room

The exterior of the back of the house

Wall painting in gardens

Temple in gardens

Statue by house

Statue by house
Bed chamber with Prince of Wales insignia in silver thread

Southside House was originally two separate houses

The family pet owl
 There is a very good likelihood that careful restoration will restore the house to its former glory. It seems the fire service were able to rescue the principle works of art contained within. The irony is that the fire will lead to the house being spruced up. In the past, part of its appeal for me was its faded and somewhat down at heel charm. In the set of images directly above I have taken the opportunity to show my own photographic record of the house and grounds before November’s devastating fire. They will have to suffice as a reminder of past glories until the renovation of Southside House is completed in 2012. I am only thankful that the wonders of Southside House have not been reduced to a few memories captured within in a photograph album

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