Joseph ‘Sunshine’ Todd: the man who bought Turner’s house
In 1826, the celebrated painter, JMW Turner, decided to sell Sandycombe Lodge, his country retreat in Twickenham, and move his father William (‘Old Dad’), who had lived there since 1813, back to the house and gallery in Queen Anne Street, Marylebone. The man who bought Sandycombe Lodge was Joseph Todd.
Joseph Todd was born in 1767 near Hawkshead in the Lake District and he attended the local grammar school, where one of his fellow pupils was the poet William Wordsworth. After he left school, Joseph worked for a short time in Penrith. Richard Gatty, who researched Todd’s family, believed he was a clerk, but Caroline Dakers has suggested that he was perhaps an apprentice in the textiles trade. About 1784 he left to go to London, where he thought his prospects would be better. Little is known about the next few years but in January 1792 he married Lucy Plowes, whose family came from Wakefield. She had some money in her own right, and it is possible that this is what enabled Joseph to take his next big step.
Porcelain plate decorated with the arms of Todd, quartered with those of Plowes. Image courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum
On 30 March 1793, Joseph opened a haberdashery in a former tavern at 105 Fore Street, in Cripplegate. He and Lucy lived in rooms above the shop. However, Fore Street was not a good location for a retail business and Joseph was forced to cut his profit margins to the bone. One effect of this was that his low prices attracted hawkers and other small retailers, who began to buy in wholesale quantities. By 1801 his turnover had doubled and he took on two young women to help with the business. In 1805 he opened a shop in a better location in Cheapside and turned over the Fore Street premises entirely to the wholesale trade.
Joseph was described as stout, rosy, smiling and easy-going and was nicknamed ‘Old Sunshine’ by the warehouse staff, apparently without irony. He was also popular with his neighbours and known as ‘Sunshine Todd’ around Cripplegate. His life, however, was not without tragedy; his wife, Lucy, died in childbirth in March 1798, leaving two children, John Edward born 1792, and Mary Ann born 1795. In January 1801, Joseph took on Letitia Dann to work in the shop. A relationship developed and they married in February 1803. They had four children: Thomas born 1804; Eliza born 1806, who died aged fifteen months in 1807; Joseph born 1809; and Lucy born 1812. Sadly, Letitia died on 3 September 1819 after a lingering illness of nearly two years.
Sale of Twickenham Park – Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser 12 June 1817 British Newspaper Archive
Joseph’s business flourished and he was able to buy a great deal of property. In 1817 he purchased the extensive Twickenham Park estate, which was situated just across the road from Turner’s house. He demolished the seventeenth-century mansion that was on the site and built a new house, using local architect LW Lloyd.
Twickenham Park Mansion - image courtesy of Twickenham Park Residents Association website
By the time he retired in 1822, Todd was a millionaire, and when Turner’s house came on the market in 1826, he snapped it up for £500. Shortly after buying it, he made significant alterations to the house, again using LW Lloyd. These included an additional storey on each of the two distinctive curved wings and an extension to the dining room. The house remained in this configuration until its restoration in 2016.
London Courier and Evening Gazette 19 June 1835 British Newspaper Archive
Joseph Todd died in 1835, the cause of death given as dropsy, and he is buried in the family vault beneath St Giles without Cripplegate. No memorial remains, following the extensive damage to the church during WWII. Todd’s Twickenham Park mansion was demolished in 1923 and only Victoria Lodge survives from his estate.
Sandycombe Lodge was inherited by Todd’s sons, Joseph and Thomas, and his son-in-law, James Morrison, who was a great collector of Turner’s paintings and the second owner of Pope's Villa at Twickenham, which he purchased at Christie’s for 205 guineas in July 1827. In 2016, Sandycombe Lodge was restored to Turner’s original design and is open to the public.
Richard Gatty, Portrait of a Merchant Prince – James Morrison 1789-1857 British Library X.520/11769.
Caroline Dakers, A Genius for Money – Business, Art and the Morrisons British Library YC.2011.a.15683.
Twickenham Park Residents Association website.
Registers of the parish of St Giles Cripplegate – London Metropolitan Archives, available via Ancestry.
British Newspaper Archive e.g. sale of Twickenham Park – Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser 12 June 1817; death of Letitia Todd – British Press 6 September 1819.
Turner’s restored house in Twickenham is open to visitors.