London is full of amazing buildings and one of my favourite is Strawberry Hill House. It was the former home of Horace Walpole, a writer, collector and the son of Robert Walpole, the first British Prime Minister. What makes the house so special is that it is one of the earliest and finest example of the Gothic Revival, a style beloved by the Victorians when they tried to emulate the medieval architecture of the great cathedrals and created their own interpretation of the Middle Ages. Many years ago when I first moved to London I visited the house when it functioned as St Mary's University so it was wonderful to make a return visit with twitter friend following it's magnificent restoration.
Between 1748 and 1790 Horace Walpole transformed the original house, known as Chopp'd Straw Hall, into a fairy tale castle complete with battlements and a tower. He opened his home to the public and visitors today when purchasing their tickets are given a small booklet which contains an edited version of the guide book written by Walpole. He was proud of his castle and it inspired him to write The Castle of Otranto, which is considered to be the first novel in the gothic tradition.
The house was later owned by Lady Waldegrave who expanded and further embellished the house. The contents of the house was sold in the great sale of 1842 and the Strawberry Hill Trust have as part of the restoration of the house managed to get some of the original objects returned or reproductions made.
The Prior's Garden
The entrance to the house has a monastic theme and the Prior's Garden has a gothic screen with tracery.
Visiting the house is very theatrical, visitors enter through a dark and gloomy hallway. The main source of natural light is from the skylight, with its four quatrefoil windows, shaped like a four-petaled flower.
The ornate balustrade is decorated with antelopes holding shields.
In the well of the staircase hangs a copy of the original gothic lanthorn decorated with painted glass.
Arched bookcases in the Library
The Round Drawing Room
The stained glass is richly decorated with coats of arms and dates from Lady Waldegrave's time.
The stunning re-gilded ceiling in the Round Drawing Room
The 56 foot long gallery is the most impressive room in the house and was designed for entertaining. The walls are hung with a rich crimson damask.
Paintings in the gothic tracery recesses in the Gallery
The magnificent fan vaulted ceiling is designed in the style of the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey.
The View from the Garden
The gothic revival was part of a larger movement known as the Picturesque which also included landscaped gardening. The garden from Walpole's time are being re-created and the layout of his original tree planting has survived.
A reproduction of Walpole's Shell Bench
Our visit coincided with one of their excellent free 45 minute Garden Tours which I'd highly recommend as they point out the gardens key features and its history.
Address: Strawberry Hill, 268 Waldegrave Rd, Twickenham TW1 4ST
Nearest Train Station: Strawberry Hill Station (Train from Waterloo or Vauxhall). The station is in Travelcard Zone 5. Strawberry Hill is signposted from the Station and is then 5 – 10 minute easy walk.
Opening Hours: Please check website for up to date details before travelling.
Prices: Please check website for details.
If you enjoyed this you might like reading my blog about Red House, the former home of William Morris.
The author of this blog is a qualified City of London and City of Westminster Tour Guide who leads guided walks combining world famous landmarks with hidden treasures often missed by the crowds.