14 June 2015

Strawberry Hill House

The adjective ‘iconic’ is over-used, so much so that it probably ought to be avoided. Nonetheless, sometimes the subject is one which actually meets the definition of being “regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration”. For anyone interested in architecture, Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham, South West London, certainly is iconic, being the mid-eighteenth century birthplace of the style later known as Strawberry Hill Gothic. It is generally regarded as the starting point for the revival of Gothic architecture for new buildings in the following century.

The history of Strawberry Hill House’s ownership is complex. After Horace Walpole, its creator, died in 1797 it passed into the hands of his family, an arrangement which unfortunately led to the sale in 1842 of the contents, several thousand items of art and antiquities which he had chosen. After being used for educational purposes for most of the twentieth century, the building is now on a long lease to the Strawberry Hill Trust which has undertaken extensive restoration. Since March 2015 it has been possible to visit rooms which had never previously been open to the public. Anyone intending to visit should be aware that the rooms are to a large extent empty of contents, but are handsomely redecorated in the style Walpole chose. He coined the term ‘gloomth’ to describe the parts of the house which were intentionally poorly lit (even more so than the Hall, below) and redolent of The Castle of Otranto, the first Gothic novel, which he wrote at Strawberry Hill.

The handsome Library perhaps conveys more of the original character than most rooms:

The Gallery, although empty, is very striking:

and the House is full of photogenic features:

Where possible the Strawberry Hill Trust hopes to restore the contents of the House prior to 1842 and already has in place some loan and reproduction items. The Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University has a database of Walpole’s collection. The second floor Dressing Room currently has a display about the printing press set up by Walpole in 1757, one of the earliest private presses in England, on which The Castle of Otranto was printed. Curiously, in Richmond upon Thames, only a few kilometres away, Virginia and Leonard Woolf would set up the Hogarth Press in 1917.

Well worth visiting, the House's website should be consulted for opening times. National Art Pass holders and National Trust members are offered a 50% discount on the normal ticket price.

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