We dreaded visits to my great-uncle Dilwyn’s.
His house was a gloomy pile overlooking Hampstead Heath, the walls wood panelled, the furniture solid and carved with grotesques. I remember the drawing room with its Greek masks, the watchful eyes and leering faces. There was a plastered ceiling in there – cracks as wide as my finger, sooty acanthus leaves twined with serpents – that I imagined would crumble one windy day, burying all of us alive.
As we shuffled round the old house stirring up dust, disturbing cobwebs, I envied other children their caravan holidays to the coast or camping trips to the Forest of Dean.
Seeing how bored and listless we were one rainy summer afternoon, Uncle Dilwyn handed me a bunch of keys. Some were dull brass, others rusty iron, all were thick and heavy and felt warm on my palm.
He waved a leathery hand. ‘Go. See what they open,’ he said.
Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Streetview. This week we are in London.
The photograph is not in Hampstead but one of the rooms in the Sir John Soane Museum in Holborn. Soane was a 19th century architect fascinated with art and sculpture, particularly that of the ancient world. His fascination turned into a collecting habit and through his life he gathered thousands of sculptures, architectural fragments, paintings, models … even the sarcophagus of Pharaoh Seti I.
On his death, he left the house and his collection to the nation and entry is free. See here for more details.