Things to see and do in Carlyle’s House
When you enter through the front door at 24 Cheyne Row to explore the home of Thomas and Jane Carlyle, you’re following in the footsteps of Dickens, Ruskin and Tennyson, who were among the 19th century literary greats to visit here. With many of the original fixtures and fittings still in place, including a decoupage screen made by Jane in 1849, this special home has a very authentic feel.
Robert Tait's painting A Chelsea Interior shows Thomas and Jane Carlyle in their front parlour in 1857. Jane wrote to a friend: 'My chief impediment has been a weary artist who took the bright idea last spring that he would make a picture of our sitting-room, to be amazingly interesting to posterity a hundred years hence!'
The artist was right, as this painting tells us so much about what the house was like when the Carlyles lived here. The original carpet from the parlour and dining room was lost to time, but thanks to Tait’s painting a hand-made recreation was produced and is in place today.
The basement kitchen
'...they had no water laid on' wrote Virginia Woolf in an article about Carlyle’s house for Good Housekeeping magazine in 1932. 'Every drop that the Carlyle's used – and they were Scots, fanatical in their cleanliness – had to be pumped by hand from a well in the kitchen...the wide and wasteful old grate upon which all kettles had to be boiled if they wanted a hot bath.'
A treasured necklace
Jane Carlyle was gifted a necklace from famous German writer and stateman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, made with a wrought iron chain and featuring a pendant engraved with a glass portrait of him. It was cherished by Jane and is one of the top items to look out for on your visit to Carlyle’s House.
The Carlyles married in 1826 and a letter dating from around 1827 makes mention of the necklace, suggesting that it was perhaps a wedding gift to Jane.
The necklace, alongside a bracelet and other personal effects, was gifted to the National Trust in 2019, in the memory of Thomas and Jane Carlyle by their great-great nieces Betty Mitchell and Mary Harland. Since the death of Thomas Carlyle the family had been dutifully caring for these objects.
The attic study
In August 1853 a builder was instructed to build an attic room for Carlyle to work from. The author wrote: 'After deep deliberation, I have decided to have a top storey put upon the house, with double walls, lighted from above and artfully ventilated, into which no sound may come!'
Jane’s dressing room
Few original textiles remain from the Carlyle’s time. A pair of original chintz curtains dating from the late 1840s, and made by Jane herself, went for conservation repair in 2016. Thanks to that specialist work they are now finally hanging back in Jane’s dressing room. The curtains show a repeating pattern of lily of the valley, a favourite flower of Jane’s, with a printed floral border on the leading edge.
Discover the past at Carlyle's House in Chelsea and find out who Thomas and Jane Carlyle were, and why their home was so important.
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