Wimbledon is always one of the hot spots of the British summer season. A very special house can be found there, full of charm, eccentricity and international connections, that is really worth discovering.
Our visit to the 17th century Southside House earlier this season was a total surprise. Hidden behind high walls near Wimbledon Common, this house, located at 3 Woodhayes Road, is still inhabited by the original owners’ family, the Pennington Mellor Munthe. Richard, the expert of the house who lives on the premises, has compiled amazing family stories linked to each room and to the extraordinary art collection that brings us to many European countries, particularly France and Sweden.
The Pennington Mellor family, whose wealth came from their business activities in the cotton and shipping industries, decided in 1879 to build a chateau near Biarritz, the Chateau Francon. In this grandiose house, they entertained the “rich and famous” of European society and accumulated many pieces of art. They travelled all over Europe. It is in Rome that the young and beautiful Hilda Pennington-Mellor fell in love with Dr Munthe, a charismatic Swedish psychiatrist who was the physician to the Swedish Royal Family and the author of The Story of San Michele (1929), a bestseller in the 1930s. They married in 1907 and had two sons: Peter, who became an artist, and Malcolm, a British army officer. Hilda raised their two sons largely on her own and in 1920, when her father died, she had to close the Chateau Francon due to financial problems following the crash. She brought many of the art pieces and objects originating from the French chateau back to the UK.
Southside House is full of family possessions accumulated for centuries. It contains an amazing collection of paintings including many from Van Dyck’s studio, works by French artists such as Roussel, Boucher and Derain, by Constable, and Hogarth as well as beautiful pre Raphaelite pieces. Other treasures include Waterford glass chandeliers, a Pleyel piano, a pearl necklace worn by Marie Antoinette and presents offered by Queen Natalie of Serbia.
A disaster hit the house in November 2010 when a fire swept through part of the building. A secret room was discovered under the dining-room floorboards containing a cache of arms. Hilda’s youngest son, Malcolm Munthe, was a British army officer very active during the Second World War, who worked for Britain behind enemy lines in occupied Norway and had an extraordinary military career.
One of the most eccentric rooms is probably the Powder Room, where 18th century wigs were freshened up through a hole in a wall through which the servants would powder them from the other side. Upstairs, there is an intimate chapel with a view of the exquisite garden.
Now run by the Pennington-Mellor-Munthe Charity Trust, the house remains partly residential but continues to host tours part of the year, as well as cultural events.
As city “curators”, we often get inspired by the unexpected and would love to give others the chance to be as excited as we are by these urban discoveries. All of our events are guided and animated by creative experts (writers, artists, musicians, etc.). For a private tour or any other art & culture events, contact us at www.frommycity.com.