“It is a plaything house…….and it is the prettiest bauble you ever saw.” Horace Walpole, June 1747
Walpole was the dilettante son of Britain’s first Prime Minister and author of the first horror novel, The Castle of Otranto.
Horace Walpole took a lease on a small 17th century cottage with 5 acres in Twickenham a short distance from the River Thames. The following year he decided to purchase the cottage with the intention of rebuilding it to his own specification. It is claimed that Strawberry Hill was the starting point of Gothic Revival as the house was the first to be built from scratch without any existing medieval fabric.
This is the window to Walpole’s “Waiting Room” which now houses a small gift shop
Sadly Walpole’s eccentric and unique style on the inside of Strawberry Hill was stripped of virtually all its contents in the first half of the 19th century. This became known as the “Great Sale” and was held within the grounds of the house.
For over 30 years Walpole assembled what was the first collection of stained glass in Britain – English medieval and Tudor pieces, 16th and 17th century roundels from the Low Countries – all of his collection was installed in the windows at Strawberry Hill.
roundels of 16/17th century glass from the Low Countries
Robert Adam fireplace in Walpole’s Round Room – the Round Room was inspired by the tomb of Edward the Confessor at Westminster Abbey.
“improved by Mr Adam”
showing spectacular scagliola marble which has been cleaned and re-gilded
Adam’s ceiling for the Round Room
Walpole wanted visitors to Strawberry Hill to have a theatrical experience, but there is one constant – his love of and fascination with medievalism. Here heraldic beasts masquerade as a newel posts all the way up the stairs.
Looking up the stair well – a light made from fragments of Walpole’s stained glass collection, and his eccentric newel posts.
Beautifully restored the delicacy of this Gothic fireplace looks as if would be at home in a fairytale castle
The Gallery is a total knockout when you first enter. The ceiling design, made of papier mâché, was taken from a side aisle in Westminster Abbey, and it has been restored using gold leaf. Wool and silk damask wall coverings were specially made to match the original. The wood inlaid parquetry flooring had just been restored and was awaiting its final polish when I visited.
“the solemn air of a rich chapel”
Horace Walpole’s description of his Tribune room which was built to house his most valuable treasures. Only the most privileged of visitors were allowed to witness the priceless collection upon entering through these locked bars.
Yes, I entered.
The Great Sale held in 1842 saw Walpole’s collections dispersed world wide. The sale lasted 30 days.
In the early part of the 20th century Wilmarth Lewis an American collector, gathered together as much Walpoliana as he could find and later bequeathed it to Yale University to form the Lewis Walpole Library at Farmington, near Newhaven, Connecticut.
Let the man of letters have the last word.
“In truth my collection was too great already to be lodged humbly.”
Horace Walpole (1719 – 1797) painted by Rosalba Carriera – a Venetian Rococo painter
Adam fireplace & portrait via wikipedia