Strawberry Hill – Horace Walpole

Announcement, from the Spring 2014 Newsletter :

“Horace Walpole (1717-1797) was the youngest son of Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first Prime Minister (Houghton Hall). His fascination with history and art led him to compile an eclectic collection encompassing renaissance maiolica, Holbein drawings, armour, glass and more, housed in the 17th century house in Twickenham which he turned into a “little Gothic castle”. Strawberry Hill is a wonderful setting for his collection, and is considered Britain’s finest example of Georgian Gothic revival architecture.

The Strawberry Hill Trust has recently undertaken a repair and restoration of Horace Walpole’s villa, including restoration of the renaissance glass, at a total cost of some nine million pound Sterling. Horace Walpole intended a tour of Strawberry Hill to be a theatrical experience, and it is! Our guided tour of the house lasts 90 minutes, and you are free to walk around the landscaped garden at your leisure as well.
For further information, please visit www.strawberryhillhouse.org.uk
Strawberry Hill House, 268 Waldegrave Road, Twickenham TW1 4ST ”

Report by Carine Williams on our visit to Strawberry Hill House on 20 May

photo shows the leaded bow window at Horace Walpole's Strawberryhill HouseHorace Walpole intended a tour of his summer house ‘Strawberry Hill’ to be a theatrical experience and our tour guide, Sheree Bellingham, certainly succeeded in giving us an insight to this amazing gothic style (not so small) house.

In 1747 Horace, a confirmed bachelor, built a small house and added a round tower and long gallery onto it over the years so that it became a small castle. It was his country home with a fine collection of paintings and there are over 3000 letters in the archive. It was the place to be at that time. With its 9 acres of land he landscaped the garden and bought lots of trees, especially the lime trees that were placed in a line so that the vista would be continuous. There was a vegetable and herb garden across the road, the produce of which was used for entertaining.

We entered the house through a Venetian style front door with cloister. Walpole had strict rules for visitors when entering the house. The Baronial style Hall with its beautiful staircase has been restored and the glass stained windows have the classic Catholic figures of St John and St Francis. The Great Parlour used to be Walpole’s dining room and has an ebonised mirror with gold and gothic style chairs. There are not many paintings on the walls in the house as the restoration has not been completed and a lot of the original furniture and paintings are in the V&A museum. All the glass windows in the house have been restored from the original 450 pieces of Flemish glass and put back into place.

The small bedroom overlooking the lime tree and aecia tree garden is painted a vivid blue, as colours and shade were very important to Walpole and the decoration in his house. The hallway on the 1st floor features family arms and shields on the walls including Henry V. photo shows the impressive gothic bookcasesThe impressive library has wonderful Gothic book presses that open up and the ceiling is wooden with Walpole’s shields and two knights painted which are also in the glass windows. The original stone chimney piece has ghosting in wood.

A Star Chamber connects the old to the new house and a walk through to the State Rooms and the Gallery. These rooms, particularly the Gallery were used for entertaining and are ostentatious spaces with Gothic windows and silk walls. The papier mache ceiling is based on Henry VII canopies which are situated in Westminster Abbey.

All the paintings in the rooms are reproduction apart from the seascape. In 1842 the whole collection was sold. Lady Frances who kept the title Countess Waldegrave, married four times and during her various marriages restored Strawberry Hill House and added more buildings and rooms including the round Tower and Tudor chimney pots.

The Tribune, which Walpole saw as his private chapel, houses the most valuable treasures in the house through iron bars. The skylight remained as per the original and has been restored beautifully.   photo shows the state rather opulent bedroom at Strawberryhill HouseWe entered the State Bedroom which was added in 1770. It has the original gilding on the ceiling and original glass windows. Again the opulence was amazing and we finally ended up in the Round Tower, which has a view along the long Gallery and has a fantastic scagliola fireplace.

A wooden round staircase brought us down into the Great Cloister which amongst the Gothic arches houses the Cafe for a well deserved lunch. This is a house and garden you can certainly come back to over and over again because it is small, full of history and unusual architecture and well organised. A big thank you to Marietta Freeman who spotted the house and introduced it to the members of the Society; it was a lovely visit.

photo shows members of the Society in the garden, with Horace Walpole's house in the background