A Gothic Sugar Confection

All the lifestyle magazines and TV programmes endlessly use that tired old phrase “put your own stamp on it” when talking about moving in to a new home.  This is not a new idea however as people have been “putting their stamp” on their homes for centuries, it’s just that some people make more of a mark than others.  This is certainly true of Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham, once the home of Sir Horace Walpole, son of Britain’s first Prime Minister, writer, collector and politician.  Walpole purchased the land and two small houses in the 1740’s and in 1748 began the task of creating the most incredible fairy-tale house in the Georgian Gothic Revival style. It was a task that was to take almost 50 years to complete and saw stunning examples of gilding, plaster work, carving complimented by extravagant soft furnishings, all to indulge his tastes and to impress both his friends and other “people of fashion and style”.  This is dandyism taken to another level completely!

house back

The back of Strawberry Hill House

house front

Front of Strawberry Hill House

blue plaque

Horace Walpole lived here!

On arrival and after purchase of your timed entry ticket you are admitted by way of the front door next to which is a copy of the original statement drafted by Walpole about the admittance of fee paying visitors – even back in the 18th century people paid to gawp at the homes of the rich!  Basically he became so tired of people knocking on his door that he decided that people needed to buy a ticket in advance and only 4 people a day could come in (a rule he sometimes relaxed to suit himself) and most definitely no children were allowed!  Today, visitors are greeted by a house guide who explains a little about the background of the house and Walpole and then you are released into the house itself.  On entry the first thing that strikes you is how very dark the entrance hall is.  It is dominated by a staircase which spirals upwards towards a cupola that lets the light in.

stairwell

Looking down to the entrance hall

newel post

Carved goats in gilded cages act as sentries on the stair newels

Visitors are allowed to roam at will freely through the house and the room stewards are very knowledgeable and willing to talk about their rooms.  I was a little bemused when one lady room steward shouted at me to turn round and look at a portrait of Horace Walpole on the wall behind me, I felt a bit disconcerted and left the room swiftly!

fireplace

One of the ornate fireplaces to be found throughout the house

mirro fire surround

Another highly decorative fireplace, with mirror above

Walpole was very fond of elaborate decoration and got his influences from his trips abroad with his friends Richard West, Thomas Gray and Thomas Ashton as well as John Chute (of The Vyne).  There is much of the Venetian and Islamic influence to be seen in the decorative detailing, the whole coming together to create a sort of sugar confection, a house which could have been made from icing sugar.  Walpole himself describes it thus “In truth, I did not mean to make my house so Gothic as to exclude convenience, and modern refinements in luxury.  the designs of the inside and outside are strictly ancient, but the decorations are modern…..But I do not mean to defend by argument a small capricious house.  It was built to my own taste, and in sole degree to realize my own vision.”

royal ceiling

Gilded ceiling in the ‘Royal’ Bedroom (this is original to the late 1700’s and is not restored).

royal door

Restored gilding around door surround and replica silk damask wall covering in the ‘Royal’ bedroom

Although there is very little furniture in the house (Walpole’s own belongings having been sold off in a sale by Lady Waldegrave and her second husband in the mid 1800’s) the standard and quality of the refurbished house is simply stunning and to add furniture would, I think detract from the visitors enjoyment of this.

great hall

The Gallery, a formerly a place of entertaining and dancing.  The floor was added in the 19th century by the new owner, Lady Waldegrave.

saracen 2

The Saracens head which is part of the coat of arms of the Walpole family

saracen 1

Another Saracens head, this time as a decoration on a fireplace

info room

Even the information room is ornate!

gilded window

window 1

Painted and stained glass is everywhere at Strawberry Hill and the quality is stunning

restrained window

A simpler coloured glass decoration treatment to a window

wallpaper

Fragments of the original hand painted wallpaper covering is located in a cupboard in what is now called The Discovery Room

knob

Attention to detail where even the smallest door knob is enamelled and gilded

This year there is an art installation throughout the house and in the grounds by the UK artist Laura Ford.  Her work has a fairy-tale quality which is both amusing and also disturbing, so fitting well in the house at Strawberry Hill.  The sculptures, anthropomorphic creatures which have been inspired by the history and atmosphere at Strawberry Hill, responding to a particular room or architectural detailing.

old nick

Old Nick sits on guard between the old part of the house and the new

weeping girl

One of two Weeping Girl statues in the Priors garden at the front of the house

small donkey

In Rememberence, a ceramic donkey in a jumper stands forlornly atop a fire place

days of judgement

Days of Judgement (Cats I -VII) a group of contemplative cats stride around the grounds

dancing clog girls

Dancing Clog Girls 

donkey

Headthinker VIII (my favourite sculpture) slumps over books at Walpole’s desk

Strawberry Hill is a quirky house built by a true one-off.  I can see it would not be to everyone’s taste and in fact could very easily be seen as being the height of poor taste in it’s obvious ostentation.  Still, it has an odd sort of charm and I could probably live in it!  (That’s not to say that I intend to set about remodelling my house in the same style, as I am most definitely not!)

Strawberry Hill House is open Saturday to Thursday March to November.  Admission is £12 (Gift Aid) or £6 for NT members.  There is a small car park on site, but ample free on-street parking on Sundays.  A small cafe serves light lunches and refreshments;  the menu is cosmopolitan and the food is good, although getting someone to actually take your order can be a lengthy process.  Still once this has happened the food follows quickly and is well presented.

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About paisleypedlar

Artist, Sewist, sometime Cyclist and Arm Chair Activist
This entry was posted in Fairy tale Houses, gothic revival, gothic style, Horace Walpole, interior decoration, ostentation, Strawberry Hill, Strawberry Hill House, Teddington, Twickenham and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to A Gothic Sugar Confection

  1. Two weeks ago I brought a Rose called Strawbrry Hill from David Austen, it was named after this house, so it’s great to read a bit more about it x

  2. Geen Geenie says:

    I first saw this place in a tv documentary about the history of gothic literature and thought it was funny how frothy and kinda non-gothy (in a dark and dingy way) the place really is. I’d love to see it some day. And i love the art installations you’ve pictured. I think they might be new. How cool. One to put on my bucket list I think! x

    • It’s definitely worth a visit as it’s a strange kind of place. The art installation is only there until the end of October unfortunately, but it’s probably more gothy than the house. It is apparently the first exhibition and they intend to be doing more work with artists in future years, a really cool one to watch for call outs for – loads of background for inspiration.

  3. Cedric de la Nougerede says:

    A wonderful tour. Something I would never have seen.Thank you very much

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