Horatio Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (24 September 1717 – 2 March 1797) — also known as Horace Walpole — was an English art historian, man of letters, antiquarian and Whig politician. His literary reputation rests on his Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto (1764) and his Letters, which are of significant social and political interest. He was the son of the first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. In May 1747 Horace Walpole took a lease on a small 17th-century house that was "little more than a cottage", with 5 acres (20,000 m2) of land from a Mrs. Chenevix. Horace was under familial and political pressure to establish a country seat, especially a family castle, which was a fashionable practice during the period. The following year he purchased the house which the original owner, a coachman, had named "Chopped Straw Hall". This was intolerable to Walpole, "his residence ought, he thought, to possess some distinctive appellation; of a very different character..." Finding an old lease that described his land as "Strawberry Hill Shot", Walpole adopted this new name for his soon to be "elegant villa". In stages, Walpole rebuilt the house to his own specifications, giving it a Gothic style and expanding the property to 46 acres (190,000 m2) over the years. As Rosemary Hill notes, "Strawberry Hill was the first house without any existing medieval fabric to be [re]built from scratch in the Gothic style and the first to be based on actual historic examples, rather than an extrapolation of the Gothic vocabulary first developed by William Kent. As such it has a claim to be the starting point of the Gothic Revival."
William Robinson of the Royal Office of Works contributed professional experience in overseeing construction. They looked at many examples of architecture in England and in other countries, adapting such works as the chapel at Westminster Abbey built by Henry VII for inspiration for the fan vaulting of the gallery, without any pretence at scholarship. Chimney-pieces were improvised from engravings of tombs at Westminster and Canterbury and Gothic stone fretwork blind details were reproduced by painted wallpapers, while in the Round Tower added in 1771, the chimney-piece was based on the tomb of Edward the Confessor "improved by Mr. Adam". He incorporated many of the exterior details of cathedrals into the interior of the house. Externally there seemed to be two predominant styles 'mixed'; a style based on castles with turrets and battlements, and a style based on Gothic cathedrals with arched windows and stained glass. The building evolved similarly to how a medieval cathedral often evolved over time, with no fixed plan from the beginning. Indeed, Michael Snodin argues, "the most striking external feature of Strawberry Hill was its irregular plan and broken picturesque silhouette". Walpole added new features over a thirty-year period, as he saw fit. The first stage to make, in Walpole's words, a 'little Gothic castle' began in 1749 and was complete by 1753, a second stage began in 1760, and there were other modifications such as work on the great north bedchamber in 1772, and the "Beauclerk Tower" of the third phase of alterations, completed to designs of a professional architect, James Essex, in 1776. The total cost came to about £20,720. Walpole's 'little Gothic castle' has significance as one of the most influential individual buildings of such Rococo "Gothick" architecture which prefigured the later developments of the nineteenth century Gothic revival, and for increasing the use of Gothic designs for houses. This style has variously been described as Georgian Gothic, Strawberry Hill Gothic, or Georgian Rococo.
Walpole's eccentric and unique style on the inside rooms of Strawberry Hill complemented the Gothic exterior. The house is described by Walpole as "the scene that inspired, the author of The Castle of Otranto". The interiors of Walpole's "little play-thing house" were intended to be "settings of Gothic 'gloomth' for Walpole's collection". His collection of curious, singular, antiquarian objects was well publicized; Walpole himself published two editions of A Description of the Villa of Mr. Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill to make the "world aware of the extent of his collection". Speaking on Walpole's collection, Clive Wainwright states that Walpole's collection "constituted an essential part of the interiors of his house". The character of the rooms at Strawberry Hill was "created and dictated" by Walpole's taste for antiquarianism. Though even without the collection present, the house "retains a fairy-tale quality". Walpole was as meticulous in designing and developing his gardens as he was improving his house, though "his ignorance of horticulture at first embarrassed him a little". Improvements on the grounds were started even before work on the house. In an essay titled "On Modern Gardening", Walpole expresses his own ideas as reflected in his Strawberry Hill grounds. Walpole's taste in landscape and gardening moved away from the traditional, formal layout of "parterre, terraces, marble urns, statued fountains and ‘canals measured by the line'". The French or Italian taste seemed, to Walpole, alien to the English climate "resulting in symmetrical and unnatural gardens". Trees and shrubs were planted in "natural groupings" on the lawn. Walpole preferred to see all nature as a garden. He did not however appreciate the extravagant "romantic grotto and that favorite eighteenth-century conceit, the hermitage". One particular attraction of Walpole's gardens was a garden seat carved to resemble a large Rococo style sea shell (picture above). "This shell was one of Mr. Walpole's favourite inventions – for Strawberry Hill was crammed with inventions and contrivances. It was a seat in the form of a huge bivalve of a species not easily recognized, which generally elicited a vast amount of wonder and admiration from his visitors". This bench, a rustic cottage, and a chapel in the woods were not follies like a ruin or hermitage, but including these items in his otherwise natural gardens shows Walpole's charmingly eccentric taste. Early Bird Guided Tours are every Wednesday at 10:00 and Sunday at 10:30 (2 hours). A lift provides access to the first floor with only one room inaccessible to wheelchair users. Compliant toilets and hearing loops are also available. Specialised guided tours are available for the visually impaired unfortunately this is currently for those booking as a group (minimum 4 people plus carers) These are given by specifically trained guides who give audio descriptive tours of the house. Individual tours can be organised by prior arrangement depending on the availability of our specialist guides. They welcome assistance dogs working with their owners. Strawberry Hill is a dementia friendly destination. Staff and a large number of volunteers have been trained in meeting the needs of those living with dementia and their carers.
Location : 268 Waldegrave Road, Twickenham, TW1 4ST
Transport: Richmond (District Line) - take R68 to the house. Strawberry Hill (National Rail). London Buses route R68 stops nearby, 33 stops at the house.
Opening Times: Monday to Wednesday 13:40 to 17:30.
Saturday / Sunday 12:00 to 17:30.
Tickets : Adults £10.80. Concessions £5.40
Carers and Under 16 are Free.
Early Bird Tour : Adults £11.70. Children £5.85
Tel: 020 8744 1241