"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.
I visited England's elegant and eccentric Georgian Gothic revival house two years ago - before the latest restoration project 2012-2014. The Fine Art Society I belong to had secured a special opening for us. However, my photos have been languishing in 'iPhotos' until I saw a post on Walpole by Erika at the blog Parvum Opus, which motivated me into resurrecting them.
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.
It has been good revisiting Strawberry Hill, many thanks Erika for jogging my memory.
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."
"In truth my collection was too great already to be lodged humbly."
Horace Walpole (1719 - 1797) painted by Rosalba Carriera - a Venetian Rococo painter
It looks magnificent already Rosemary, well worth a repeat visit when the current restoration work is complete. It just goes to show, design is all about the detail.ReplyDelete
The restoration is painstaking work getting everything historically correct and as it was previously. Each layer of wallpaper is being researched and then specially printed. The building had not been maintained properly over the years, and water penetration along general deterioration and neglect had occurred.Delete
It's breathtaking, isn't it? I love the stained glass windows but I love even more the celing in the gallery. I would never guess it's made from papier mâché.ReplyDelete
The details in the house are quite unique, it was Walpole's fantasy, which is slowly coming back to life. The outside reminds me of a wedding cake.Delete
Wauw...what a beautiful building.ReplyDelete
The cellings are verry nice, what a work too paint it....
Have a nice day,
Inge, my choice
Dear Inge - you can imagine how difficult it was to apply the fine gold leaf to the ceiling - bit by bit - it must have seemed like a never ending task.Delete
Hello Rosemary, It looks like Strawberry Hill is being beautifully restored, and as usual your photos capture the light, color and delicacy of this house perfectly, although not exhibiting much of the "gloomth" that Erika discussed (I'm sure that all dimness has been dispelled by the modern lighting).ReplyDelete
The Castle of Otranto is a book that I have long loved. Although not a long book, most of the Gothic novel's well-known trappings are already in place--curses, misdeeds, supernatural events, mysterious passages, etc.
--Road to Parnassus
Hello Jim - I am pleased that Erika's post made me revisit Strawberry Hill.Delete
I suspect that it looks much brighter and lighter than in the 18th century because there are no curtains at the windows, and all of his collection is missing - the look is now minimal! The house was most probably lit by oil (fish oil, whale oil, nut oil etc) and by candles - kerosene did not arrive until the mid 19th century, and the house was pre the gas era.
I am ashamed to say that I have not read The castle of Otranto, but after your review I will make sure that I do.
What an amazing, over the top and gorgeous place is Strawberry Hill. The stained glass and that golden ceiling would make my day, and the highly decorative white exterior is indeed like a wedding cake. I had to smile at Walpole's quote - he knew he had something very special there! Thank you for showing us this special house, Rosemary.ReplyDelete
A few years ago Strawberry Hill was suffering from neglect mainly due to lack of money. A trust was formed in 2002 with the mission to restore it which they are now doing admirably.Delete
What a beautiful building inside and out, certainly not over done. I do love that fireplace & the place has a homely look to it. I adore the stained glass.ReplyDelete
Your photos are excellent.
Talking of Strawberries, we had some for sweets this evening, the first of for the season.
Thank you - so pleased that you enjoyed seeing Strawberry Hill - the first strawberries of the season always feel like a treat.Delete
Dear Rosemary, So glad you brought your Strawberry Hill photos out of "storage". What a beautiful house and what a treasure of design ideas for the ornamental painter. As always, your excellent photos tell the story well. ox, GinaReplyDelete
Dear Gina - I have been meaning to do a post on Strawberry Hill ever since my visit but I have been procrastinating. The longer I left it the more difficult in my mind it seemed to become. However, once I set about doing it with that prompt from Erika, I enjoyed revisiting it in my memory.Delete
Such amazing details! Thanks for sharing your photos.ReplyDelete
It is good that it is being restored in exactly the way it was in Walpole's day. Many properties emulated little bits strawberry Hill, and in fact we have one or two around where I live in the Cotswolds.Delete
Budynek wygląda wspaniałe z zewnątrz. W środku będzie też cudowny. Świetnie, że są pieniądze na jego renowację. Pozdrawiam.ReplyDelete
The building looks great from the outside. In the middle is also wonderful. It's great that the money for its restoration. Yours.
It is fortunate that the money is being found to fully restore the house, it is costing many millions of pounds as I am sure you can probably imagine.Delete
Even in his portrait, on can see his "daddy attire " and elegant stature. What a wonderful home is Strawberry Hill.ReplyDelete
I could never imagina a ceiling made of papier mache..incredible.. I love the Adam's fireplace.. my mother had an adams..of course they still make them..but not like the original ones.
I am pleased that his art work are now able to be seen by the puplic.
A great post.. and so informative of Walpole.. I knew nothing about him.
Your posts are always so full of great photos and interesting reading.. Thank you Rosemary.
Dear Val - I am so pleased that you found the photos and the story about the house interesting.Delete
I am feeling very guilty as I have not had time to visit many blogs. August for H and I is usually a quiet period when we take things easy, sit outside eating our meals, pull a few weeds etc. However, we have been up to eyes in a huge task. Our eldest son wants his library of books sent over to Paris. 70 boxes full, and guess where they are? in our attic. He said that we must not carry them down as they are incredibly heavy, and he has arrange for his brother-in-law to come to our house with a van to do the job. It is far too much for this chap to do so H and I have been trying as best we can to bring them down to the garage. I think we are on box 35 - we are feeling shattered.
What a beautiful place!!! I love the Gallery and all of its gilding. As usual, great photos. Thanks for resurrecting them and sharing them with us.ReplyDelete
I couldn't remember what photos I had taken, so it was good to go over them and recollect the visit. The gilding would have taken a lot of time and effort to do. Glad you enjoyed seeing them.Delete
He certainly had a nice house.ReplyDelete
Definitely not your everyday house Filip.Delete
Rosemary - thank you for another wonderful post. If I ever manage a trip back "home" to the U.K. I must go through your blog for places to visit.ReplyDelete
I do hope that you do have the opportunity to travel back to the UK again Susan - Strawberry Hill is definitely worth a visit, and should be even better now following even more restoration.Delete
Your description of Strawberry Hill makes it very enticing. The portrait of Walpole by
Rosalba Carriera is superb
Hello Helen - two more years worth of restoration have been completed since my visit, and I understand that the newly planted grounds are now taking shape to.Delete
The waistcoat Walpole is wearing in the painting is quite stunning.
What a grand and historical residence. The Gallery is magnificent with the gold leaf ceilings. Then the stained glass windows collection are amazing! Good thing you decided to post it now.ReplyDelete
Walpole was definitely a one off in his taste, but in fact many parts of Strawberry House have since been replicated in other properties.Delete
It looks a fascinating place. Much of it seems rather OTT, but that's part of the appeal.ReplyDelete
It is actually looking quite minimalist at the moment in comparison with Walpole's day!!! when you recall that it took 30 days to sell off the contents.Delete
I enjoyed reading about Walpole's house and seeing it through your lovely photos. It certainly looks a 'plaything' house; a complete fantasy and very extravagant. I'm pleased to read it's being cared for; it must be a fascinating project for the craftspeople to work on.ReplyDelete
It must be a dream come true for many of the experts working on the project, and I should imagine a very satisfying experience to see the building come back to life.Delete
I've always wanted to visit Strawberry Hill, and your posting has provided the best and closet look I've seen so far — thanks for that! I suppose it was inevitable that Walpole's collections were sold, but I'm so glad that nobody messed with the interior — it's more wonderful than I imagined. I especially enjoyed seeing that gorgeous fireplace!
Dear Mark - I am happy that you enjoyed seeing Strawberry Hill - I recall that I said I would show it many, many months ago - Erika's last post was the final push for me to do something about it.Delete
The interior fabric is totally intact, and is being restored sympathetically.
I understand that quite a few people have come forward with donations of pieces of furniture etc originally from the house, so hopefully when it is totally finished there will still be a sense of the things that he enjoyed collecting.
I have to admit that the ceiling of the gallery makes me want to attempt my own paper maché ceiling. But there are so many other projects ahead of it that I'm afraid I'll be 90 before I start a ceiling!Delete
I'm glad you had Erica reminded you about these photos. It looks a extraordinary home! What passion and imagination and money he must have had to create this masterpiece. It's nice to see that it is being restored back to it's former glory.ReplyDelete
Since I visited 2 years ago things have moved on rapidly. The garden is now developing well, and it has a wonderful replica Walpole garden seat which is like a large shell. Sadly the original was sold in the Great Sale, but some master craftsmen have recreated it.Delete
From mouth watering strawberry compote to breathtaking Strawberry Hill and everything beautiful in between (except for those pesky beetles and grubs), I have my MFVM fix. But even that little red beetle is quite pretty.
The little red beetles are really quite sweet, and funny when they gallop away from me, but the grubs they are another thing altogether!!!Delete
What a lovely building both inside and out. I just love it and your photos are stunning.ReplyDelete
The building is very unique, and it is good that it is being completely restored. It had been sadly neglected with weather penetration, but all safe and sound for the future now.Delete
Strawberry Hill was another house we studied on one of the art and architecture courses that I took several years ago. It's an exceptional house. We never got to see the real thing so thank you for your wonderful post when you were able to see so many of the rooms being restored when you visited with the Fine Art Society. As usual, the portrait by Rosalba Carriera caught my eye. An exquisite painting. Hope you're taking a rest in between packing up your son's library of books to send to Paris!ReplyDelete
I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing the photos of Strawberry Hill - I am sure that it is probably worth another visit as two more years of work have been completed. I think especially the grounds are looking more mature now.Delete
We waved goodbye to the van load of books this morning - what a relief it was for us to have the job done.
Increbible building!Never been there but your photos are excellent, it was absolutely enjoyable!Yes,we will do it with Scotland, thank you Rosemary for the advice, I really appreciate.I know just a little Scotland,I've spent my honeymoon there!It was only for a week 12 years ago!ReplyDelete
Glad I keep in touch with you, kisses!!!
Dear Olympia - you know Scotland after all, I was preaching to the already converted. I am definitely a mountain person - I love the sea, but the mountains just make it to the finishing line first for me.Delete
A beautiful post, Rosemary...ReplyDelete
I was thinking... Strawberry Hill... what a beautiful name for a place. So much beauty makes me want to sing: "Let me take you down,'cause I'm going to Strawberry Hill... Nothing is real..." Nothing is real. The place is fantastic, very eccentric and truly beautiful. I can imagine Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, and The Beast himself, dancing in there. I would love to do that, to "live" the atnmosphere of such a beautiful place! WOW!
I can tell Walpole loved colour and was an eccentric by looking at his wonderfully embroidered gilet! And I do love the beautiful stained glass. That lampshade is to die for!
Sorry my comment is a bit silly, but It's nice to be a bit happy, every now and then! And I just bit my tongue!
I love it when people are true to themselves, and Walpole knew what he liked and what he wanted regardless of what anyone else thought - I think that you would have liked him Anna and I am sure he would have been happy for you to dance.Delete
Perhaps singing about Strawberry Hill might have caused a little confusion, isn't it Strawberry Fields forever?
Lovely to hear from you and to know that all is well with you and that you have enjoyed the summer.
Hello! Me again! Yes, it is "Strawberry Fields Forever" but I changed the lyrics to suit your post, as I am sure my friend John Lennon wouldn't have minded! Nice song isn't it? "Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see. It's getting hard to be someone, but it all works out..."Delete
Thank you for this interesting post - hopefully we'll visit Strawberry Hill soon. I did my art degree dissertation on the Gothic Revival, but I'm sure I could do a better job now. My head was full of romance at 20. A bit like Walpole perhaps!ReplyDelete
I don't believe the romance in your head is no more Nilly, and I know you would do an excellent dissertation.Delete
Dear Rosemary ,another interesting post full of lovely photos and many informations !ReplyDelete
This special house is a sample of architecture which have ornate windows and it looks like a castle from fairies .Thank you that you gave me today the opportunity to learn more !
Dear Olympia - in his day Walpole had his own unique taste, but others did copy some of his ideas which became known as the Strawberry Hill style.Delete
Wow. Just - Wow. I love the stained glass, and that Gothic fireplace. Magnificent! But I was shocked - in a delightful way - to see the ceiling in the Gallery. Gorgeous! Papier machie? I would have never guessed! That makes me want to do a project on my own ceilings!ReplyDelete
If it has inspired you to create your own papier mâché ceiling then I am full of admiration for you. I have made a papier mâché bowl which I am quite proud of, but a ceiling that is something else!!!Delete
Oh! What a fantastic post-- I'm so glad to have helped nudge it into the world! Your photos are wonderful-- it must have been a truly fascinating tour... I think what I love most are the stained glass windows and the scagliola marble.... both stunning!!! I was only vaguely aware of Walpole, but am now completely inspired to read all I can of his work and life before our next visit to the UK...
Thank you Rosemary!
Dear Erika - I had intended to write about Strawberry Hill shortly after my visit, but for some reason it got put on the back burner. It has been niggling me from time to time but the final reminder was your post, so thanks for enthusing me to finally put a post together.Delete
I intend to read The Castle of Otranto now following a recommendation from Jim at Parnassus.
Dear Rosemary,what a lovely post!!!ReplyDelete
This is a very beautiful building!I like the glass on the windows and the ceiling too!Magnificent pictures as always Rosemary!Thank you for sharing all those information about the owner and the house!!
Have a lovely weekend!
Dear Dimi - I think that the medieval glass really adds to the character and charm of the house. In many ways it is a magical house and extremely unique. Glad that you enjoyed the post.Delete
Thanks for your visit - glad you enjoyed seeing Strawberry Hill.Delete
I have scrolled through several times. I especially like the stained glass. Thank you for a wonderful post!...JaneyReplyDelete
Thank you Janey - glad that you enjoyed seeing Strawberry Hill - since my visit the grounds are now becoming more established and copies of some of his eccentric garden furniture have been made and installed. He had a garden seat that was like sitting in a big sea shell.Delete
Lovely post about a wonderful house, Rosemary. Walkpole was such a flambuoyany character he quite won my heart with his committee of taste. I loved the tiny touches like the gorgeous painted galss and the saracens' heads which kept appearing everywhere. What a character.ReplyDelete
I remember that you have fond memories of the house from your student days Kate - I have just ordered the Castle of Otranto from Amazon as I was feeling rather ashamed that I had not read it.Delete
Superb photos and a most informative description of an extraordinary building, Rosemary. it's such a shame that the house was denuded of its contents like that, but it has been most beautifully restored. I wonder whether Augustus Pugin was influenced by the design and decoration of Strawberry Hill?ReplyDelete
That is an interesting thought Perpetua - Pugin as born 15 years after Walpole's death so I would suspect that he probably was influenced by Strawberry Hill.Delete
Un passionnant reportage ! MerciReplyDelete
Merci de votre visite et des commentaires - heureux que vous avez apprécié ce poste.Delete