Jan 27, 2017

We Interrupt this Dystopian Nightmare for a Visit to Rippon Lea

It's time for some #AlternativeFacts. Trump is not President, Obama is allowed to have a third term, and that Simpsons episode from 20 years ago remains a funny satirical portrait of an alternative future America.

And in this lovely, lovely world, we can safely ignore politics and take our children to visit one of Melbourne's historic houses.

Our original intention was to visit Como House, and then take the little punt across to Herring Island. And after I talked up both to the kids and got them all excited* about going, I did the very basic internet research I should have done first and found that Como House wasn't open.  (It seems to be open on weekends again now, so we will go another time).

So, on this particular day (last Saturday), we visited Rippon Lea instead.

I had very vague memories from my childhood of both houses, and in my memory Como was more austere and beautiful and Rippon Lea less beautiful but warmer. Also I have some weird and I believe mostly false memory of a children's nursery at Como filled with those creepy Victorian china dolls, which spooked us as kids.

The inspiration behind me suggesting a visit to Como to the kids was the episode of Brooklyn Nine Nine we had just watched where Jake and Sophia stay in the room of a thousand dolls.

Anyway, as we know, memory is a famously unreliable beast, and when we arrived at Rippon Lea I was not too surprised to discover that:
  1. the house looked completely unfamiliar to me and triggered no memories at all
  2. the gardens were lovely, as I remembered they were, but I had no memories of them at all other than that they were lovely
The only room I remembered was the old kitchen and scullery, and even that was only vaguely as I remembered it. The layout was different and the rooms much smaller and darker than I remembered.

The house itself, while impressive in features and no doubt stunning in its heyday, I did not find that beautiful. I think what lends it its warmth is its family history.  According to our tour guide, both of the famous families that lived there were close-knit and loving and the house was apparently always full of running, playing, happy children, whose parents did not at all conform to the way we imagine Victorians and Edwardians raising their children.  The first owner, Frederick Sargood, used to apparently let his little daughters crawl all over him and put ribbons in his beard.  

The last owner, Louisa Jones, had the house from the 1920s until she left it to the National Trust in the 1970s. One of her daughters kept a diary which tells of the wonderful childhood she and her brothers and sisters had playing in the grounds, riding bikes, growing vegetables, etc:
"We had our rabbits, pigeons and gardens, from the gardens we sold our poor little vegetables to Mother who always gave us praise for our labours."
(Though at this point I am imagining a patient but secretly irked gardener, in charge of a huge estate, and forced to spend some of his day teaching children how to cultivate vegetables).

Anyway, it was nice to wander the house and gardens and imagine such wonderful childhoods and what sounds like successive families of very nice people all round.

You are allowed to take photos inside, but are not allowed to touch anything except the staircase bannister, which is allowed for purposes of safety and polishing (apparently the oils in our hands do wonders for polishing bannisters).

Here are some photos of the house and gardens.

Visit to Rippon Lea

The entrance and front of the house:

I think this detail clearly shows the Italian influence on the design:

There's not much to love in the front entrance, which is quite dark and covered in frankly hideous Victorian wallpaper.

But the living room is lovely:

...and has an enviable drinks cabinet:

And I loved the furniture in the master bedroom. It is absolutely beautiful and I covet it - as long as I have a bedroom like this in which to keep it, of course. None of it would fit in ours.

Regrettably I missed getting photos of the bathrooms, both of which were very nice. The ensuite to the master bedroom is big, has a toilet with an old-fashioned high cistern and a chain flush, and a very pretty marble washstand.  Also upstairs is a very pretty little green-tiled bathroom which wouldn't look out of place in an older suburban house today.

I was one of the few in the tour who love this painting. I always have - whether it is this one I remember or another like it:

I think Louisa Jones looks like a lovely lady in this portrait:

The back of the house and swimming pool are very nice:

During the 1930s and 40s Louisa held 'Hollywood style' pool parties here. There are some great photos here.

The gardens are beautiful, and include a fernery and lake:

And the cafe garden is lovely as well.

* well, as excited as kids can get about a visit to an historic house/museum


  1. How the other half (ten percent?) live.
    It is beautiful but keeping it clean would require a small army. I suspect you are right about the gardener too.

    1. And isn't memory a tricky beast? Things you thought you remembered, things which have escaped...

    2. There were of course lots of servants, who moved through hidden corridors so they needn't be seen until they reached the required room! Two very different lifestyles under the one roof.
      And yes, memory is fascinating and mysterious.

  2. I much prefer Ripponlea to Como, especially the gardens and exterior. While I saw the gardens a couple of years ago it is a long time since I have been inside. I do remember the bathroom you mention and the high cistern. The photos look good and I will look at them properly on the big
    screen once home.



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