Adorned with medieval turrets, towers, and battlements, Strawberry Hill House is the Georgian Gothic (or Strawberry Hill Gothic) creation of Horatio Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford and famous antiquarian, politician, and man of letters. The house is located in leafy Strawberry Hill near Twickenham and is open to the general public.
Strawberry Hill House is considered to be the earliest influential forerunner of the Gothic Revival movement which saw the creation of Gothic-style buildings in England, the House of Parliament being the most notable example.
For more info on the many stunning historic buildings in the area, visit our page on historic houses.
Horace Walpole took a lease on the small 17th-century house then existing on the property from a Mrs. Chenevix in May 1747, eventually purchasing the house the following year. Gradually, Mr. Walpole remodeled the house according to his tastes and preference, mainly in the Gothic style and expanded the property to 46 acres. He was assisted by two of his closest friends -- John Chute, a connoisseur and amateur architect and Richard Bentley, a professional draughtsman -- in designing the house and by William Robinson of the Royal Office of Works in overseeing the construction project.
Mr. Walpole took his inspiration from such works as the chapel at Westminster Abbey built by Henry VII (for the fan vaulting of the gallery) and from the tombs at Westminster and Canterbury (for the chimney pieces). The final phase of his modification was completed in 1776 to the designs of James Essex, a professional architect.
The house was inherited by Mr. Walpole's cousin Anne Seymour Damer after his death and was subsequently acquired by the Waldegrave family. Unfortunately, after the family fortune was spent in the early 19th century, the owners were forced to sell off almost all of Mr. Walpole's collection in a 'great sale' in 1842. In 1923, the property was acquired by St. Mary's University College.
In 2007, the Strawberry Hill Trust took the lease of the property paving the way for a long-planned restoration project. Strawberry Hill House reopened to the public on October 2, 2010 after two years of restoration work worth £9 million. In 2013, it was awarded the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage in the Europa Nostra Awards.
Mr. Walpole's 'little play-thing house' is thoroughly Gothic both in its facades and in the interiors. Strawberry Hill House was intended in part to provide a gloomy backdrop to his extensive collection of unique and curious antiquarian objects. Interestingly, the interiors of the house stand out as a singular experience where one feels like being transported directly to the bowels of a medieval cathedral or mausoleum, even without the collection.
It was this forlorn atmosphere of great gothic cathedrals and abbeys, arched doorways, rose windows, and carved screens that inspired Horace Walpole to write his pioneering gothic novel 'The Castle of Otranto' in 1764.
There's an inherent fairy tale theatricality to the design that's quite noticeable when you enter the house. You can sense the oppressively heavy air passing through the gloomy hall and while going up a grey stony staircase before being relieved of the burden upon entering the opulent state apartment decorated in a striking combination of crimson and gold.
Horace Walpole was an admirer of William Kent, one of the pioneering masters of English landscape gardening. He was meticulous in designing the gardens at Strawberry Hill and this extraordinary attention to details is quite evident in his tree planting layout.
Following the simplicity of English landscaping design, Mr. Walpole completely eschewed garden ornamentations popular in his day such as the Palladian bridge, the Gothic ruin, or the Chinese pagoda. Apparently, his taste for Gothic was limited to architecture and he preferred his gardens to be 'riant' (smiling) and sunny in direct contrast to the gloomy atmosphere of the house.
Don't miss seeing the Shell Bench on the gardens, a seat carved to resemble a sea shell in the Rococo style. This was one of Mr. Walpole's favorite inventions inserted into an otherwise austere garden design. In its time, the shell was a source of 'wonder and admiration' among those who visited Strawberry Hill gardens.
The original shell was destroyed long ago but a new version has been recreated in 2012 according to Mr. Walpole's own description of the original.
You can get to Strawberry Hill by train from London Waterloo through Strawberry Hill station which is a mere 10-minute walk from the house. If you're traveling by underground, take the District Line to Richmond and ride the R68 bus towards Hampton Court, getting off at the Michelham Gardens bus stop.
Find out more about the house at the official website