My upcoming stand alone novel, That Summer, is what I like to call a House Book– a book in which my heroine inherits an old house full of mysteries.
As all good house books should, That Summer has a house on the cover. But, just for fun– and a bit of compare and contrast– I wanted to share with you the house that I used as a model for the heroine’s home in That Summer.
The house in the picture on the right is the one in which John Ruskin lived in early childhood. (It seemed appropriate, in a book about the Preraphaelites, to co-opt a Ruskin residence.)
Here’s how Ruskin described the house in his autobiography, Praeterita:
“When I was about four years old my father found himself able to buy the lease of a house on Herne Hill, a rustic eminence four miles south of the “Standard in Cornhill”; of which the leafy seclusion remains, in all essential points of character, unchanged to this day: certain Gothic splendours, lately indulged in by our wealthier neighbours, being the only serious innovations; and these are so graciously concealed by the fine trees of their grounds, that the passing viator remains unappalled by them; and I can still walk up and down the piece of road between the Fox tavern and the Herne Hill station, imagining myself four years old.
Our house was the northernmost of a group which stand accurately on the top or dome of the hill, where the ground is for a small space level, as the snows are, (I understand,) on the dome of Mont Blanc; presently falling, however, in what may be, in the London clay formation, considered a precipitous slope, to our valley of Chamouni (or of Dulwich) on the east; and with a softer descent into Cold Harbour-lane on the west: on the south, no less beautifully declining to the dale of the Effra, (doubtless shortened from Effrena, signifying the “Unbridled” river; recently, I regret to say, bricked over for the convenience of Mr. Biffin, chemist, and others); while on the north, prolonged indeed with slight depression some half mile or so, and receiving, in the parish of Lambeth, the chivalric title of “Champion Hill,” it plunges down at last to efface itself in the plains of Peckham, and the rural barbarism of Goose Green.
The group, of which our house was the quarter, consisted of two precisely similar partner-couples of houses, gardens and all to match; still the two highest blocks of buildings seen from Norwood on the crest of the ridge; so that the house itself, three-storied, with garrets above, commanded, in those com- paratively smokeless days, a very notable view from its garret windows, of the Norwood hills on one side, and the winter sunrise over them; and of the valley of the Thames on the other, with Windsor telescopically clear in the distance, and Harrow, conspicuous always in fine weather to open vision against the summer sunset.”
Later, the Ruskins moved to a far grander house on Denmark Hill (which pops up in a scene in That Summer), but it was Ruskin’s earlier home that I had my eye on for my heroine, complete with the almond blossoms Ruskin remembers blooming in the garden.