I Lived in Julia's House by Joan Brading Grayer

In this charming little book Joan Grayer tells us of her childhood memories living at Dimbola, the former home of the pioneer Victorian photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron, in Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight. She describes in detail all the rooms, many with the original furniture and Julia's photographs, and the beautiful gardens.

We hear of Joan and her sister, Beryl, watching in horror from a window as a bomb drops yards from Dimbola destroying The Porch, built by Julia and the home for many years of Anne Thackeray Ritchie-immortalised in her last book From the Porch.

  • Paperback: 27 pages
  • Publisher: Julia Margaret Cameron Trust; 2nd Revised edition edition (March 1, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 0954523342
  • ISBN-13: 978-0954523343
Memories, like time, fly away and can be forgotten forever, and realising that our family was the last to occupy Dimbola during the twenty years before the military requisitioned it in 1942, I feel somewhat responsible to place on record a description of this much visited residence as it was in its former condition. 

Dear to me are the memories of the house and garden of Julia Margaret Cameron, that colourful and charming lady, who lived and practised the art of enlarged photography at Freshwater Bay, on the Isle of Wight in the mid nineteenth century. Such memories of the fragrance she left behind in her house and in her garden I gladly record, to add to the small store of knowledge of her personality, and her Victorian associates written before my time by those who actually knew her, and were acquainted with her friends and relatives.  (Brading Grayer, pg. 3)
The Drawing Room in 1924, showing a Cameron photograph above the oil lamp, gas had just been installed.

The picture of Julia Margaret's drawing room may have been almost as she left it, for I believe the previous owners had changed it but little. Note the archway to an alcove, with a small glass porch leading to the lawn where the studio or glass house once stood. A very fine kneehole desk stood in the alcove, with letter scales, paper weights, and letter openers, plus an enormous pencil, which I still keep on my desk, and sometimes wonder whose hands had written famous lines or messages with it. (Brading Grayer, pg.7)

 The Drawing Room a few years later with electric light installed, showing Julia's original rush matting and persian rugs.

Here in this room it is said the Mr. Cameron, who owned coffee estates in Ceylon, would walk up and down reciting Homer aloud, possibly on the same rush matting, with Persian rugs distributed around. Yes indeed, if only these walls could speak! What did Darwin, Ruskin, Herschel, Holman Hunt, Millais, Robert Browning, Carlyle, Jowett, Lecky, Sir Henry Taylor, Aubrey de Vere, Herr Jochim, the Emperor Frederick of Germany, Edward Lear or Thackeray say to each other, or to Julia and her husband on a still summer night after dinner? None have kept those secrets so well as the Dimbola walls, with their blue and white William Morris wallpaper.  (Brading Grayer, pg.7)

The only lighting when we went there was by candles and oil lamps. A fine example of the latter can be seen in this picture - this my mother lovingly refurbished with a peach silk lamp shade, and trimmed it with peach colour roses. It looked beautiful on its shining copper stand. My father had gas lighting put in, and about two years later, electricity was brought to the village. Some of Mrs. Cameron's photographs can clearly be seen above the oil lamp; an inlaid other-of-pearl table stands in the centre. (Brading Grayer, pg. 7)

 The Drawing Room today is now Dimbola Cafe located inside Dimbola Lodge.
Similarities abound structurally. You can notice the right cupboards today painted red
in 1924 and later painted white but still in the same place!

Julia's garden-a corner of the flower garden

The cabbage patch, which Julia hastily transformed into a nicely turfed lawn when expecting an honoured guest, later became the flower garden. Mrs. Brading restored this as near to Julia's pattern as possible. A long, high, red brick wall was the boundary line between this garden and the lane behind, along which Lord Tennyson would make this entrance through, of what later became known as "The Tennyson Door". (Brading Grayer, pg. 11)

We found traces of Julia's love of perfume. Honeysuckle and roses were trained along this rustic bridge, and every kind of spring flower was present. A tall fir tree which was used by little red squirrels. Beneath the bridge was the pathway leading from the flower garden to the tennis court, flanked by very high poplar trees, again banked up and planted with daffodils and primroses. Thence round the trees to the Tennyson Door, where a large red peony would greet all who entered there. (Brading Grayer, pg. 12) 

The Putting Lawn (what is that white house on the far right)?

The lawns to the west side, now built upon, and where her "Glass House" and studio once stood, provided us with an excellent putting lawn of nine holes, (or 18 round the house). The tall cupressus trees and sycamores cast fantastic shadows on the lawn and are beautifully captured by the camera. (Brading Grayer, pg. 13)

It was here, states Mrs. Cameron, "I turned my coal house into a dark-room, and a glazed fowl house, which I had given to my children, became my Glass House, and the society of hens and chickens was soon changed into that of poets, prophets, painters and lovely maidens". In a little cupboard behind the drawing room, were many little bottles and pans, almost obliterated by cobwebs, containing various dried up chemicals and glass slides. They remained there for many years until we decided to turn that part into staff rooms. If only we hadn't cleared them all away! (Brading Grayer, pg. 13)

These are just some excerpts from this charming booklet, I Lived in Julia's House now out of print. You might find a copy on Abebooks though!  The photographs can be found within the booklet as well except for the one of the drawing room today. 


Hi Kimberly,
I love the photos. Such a pretty house. I hope I can find a copy of this book.
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Francine,
I hope you enjoy reading the booklet.
Thanks for stopping by!
Kevin Marsh said…
Hello Kimberly,

It is interesting to see how the Drawing Room has changed over the years.
Great photographs and as always an interesting article.
Thank you for sharing.
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Kevin,
I love the drawing room photos as well. Thanks so much for stopping by!