Gothic Romance: Inside Strawberry Hill House

Imagine a castle bristling with crenellations, now paint it white and add some gilding. Welcome to a tour inside Strawberry Hill House, a gothic pleasure dome built by Horace Walpole overlooking the Thames at Twickenham.

Strawberry Hill House

INSIDE STRAWBERRY HILL HOUSE

Horace Walpole wanted his new summer residence to look as if it had always been there. It needed to look like a castle, it needed to feel as if it been added to over the years not built all in one go, last year. He wanted visitors to go from dark to light and back again, experiexperiencing gloomthas they went. Walking into each room was to produce gasps of amazement. You enter via a fairly gloomy hall dominated by a really really fancy and light filled staircase, gloomth as you step in.

Staircase Strawberry Hill House

Climb up those stairs to the Strawberry Hill House library. No Billy bookcases for Walpole. He adorned his shelves with ornate carving and crenellations. When I grow up, I would like a library like this.

Library Strawberry Hill House

Next to the library is the Turkish Smoking Room, in Walpole’s day it was the Blue room. Baron de Stern and his wife Julia, owned the house in the late nineteenth century and did a bit of redecorating …. maybe a plush velvet ceiling is what Cultural Wednesday Towers needs?

Smoking Room Ceiling Strawberry Hill House

Back to Walpole. In his quest for immediate history he dedicated one room to Holbein. Reproductions of Holbein’s drawings from the Royal Collection hung on deep blue walls. The ceiling was a papier mâché copy of the Queen’s Dressing Room at Windsor Castle, so accurate a copy was it that when the original was lost in the 1992 Windsor Castle fire the Strawberry Hill ceiling was used a template for the restoration.

Holbein Room Strawberry Hill House

The tour of Strawberry Hill House meanders around. Just as you think that you must have seen as many over the top interiors that it is possible to fit in one house and that that unassuming door is bound to lead to the tea room, then you walk into the most jaw dropping room of all. The Gallery takes its inspiration from Henry VII’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey and the tomb of Archbishop Bourchier (no, I don’t know who he is either) in Canterbury Cathedral. Gilded papier mâché imitates the Gothic stone and the walls are lined with crimson Norwich wool damask. Even Horace thought that he might have gone a little over the top in this room, writing to a friend:

“I begin to be ashamed of my own magnificence.”

Saloon Strawberry Hill House

Just off the Gallery is the tiny but ornate Tribune. Modelled on the Tribune in the Uffizi Palace this bijou room was where Walpole kept the very best treasures of his collection to show his friends and family.

Tribune Strawberry Hill House

Finally you see the round drawing room. Once again Walpole raided the architectural pattern book and this time selected Edward Confessor’s tomb at Westminster Abbey as the model for his fireplace and the rose window in the old St Paul’s Cathedral as the pattern for the ceiling.

Red Dining Room Strawberry Hill House

WHO WAS HORACE WALPOLE?

Horace Walpole was the son of Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. His given name was Horatio, but everybody called him Horace. He was also the 4th Earl of Oxford. For a time he was an MP but it is as an author and builder of an extravagant house that he is remembered. In 1764 he wrote The Castle of Otranto, A Gothic Story, which was the first Gothic novel. A nook at the top of the main staircase is dedicated to references to the book. Not too shabby to have invented both a new genre of literature and with Strawberry Hill Gothic, a new class of architecture.

Count of Ortranto Strawberry Hill House

WHO ELSE LIVED AT STRAWBERRY HILL?

Horace died childless and house was left to the sculptress Anne Seymour Damer and then to Elizabeth Waldegrave. Her grandson, the 7th Earl of Waldegrave eventually inherited the house with his wife Frances. He was dissolute, on one occasion he got drunk at the Derby, continued to Kingston with friends and drank more and ended up being imprisoned for ‘riotous behaviour’. Once he was out of gaol he was short of money and decided to sell the contents of Strawberry Hill House in what has been dubbed The Great Sale of 1842. Four years later he died leaving the house to his widow. Lady Frances was an interesting woman, she had first married the Earl’s brother and then the Earl, after his death she married the fabulously wealthy George Granville Harcourt and set about restoring Strawberry Hill House. She was pleased with her handiwork declaring

“Strawberry is more like a fairy palace than ever”

Stained Glass Strawberry Hill House

After her the house was owned by the Baron de Stern and then in 1923 put up for sale when it was bought by the Catholic Education Council who set up St Mary’s Catholic Teacher Training Centre in the house and grounds. For years the rooms were used as classrooms and accommodation for priests. St Mary’s College Strawberry Hill still occupies the grounds.

STRAWBERRY HILL HOUSE CAFE

Strawberry Hill House has a cafe, of course it does! Fine cakes and light lunches are on offer. You can either eat inside or outside overlooking the gardens. I was lucky enough on my visit to sit outside and enjoy my Strawberry Hill House Afternoon Tea.  For inspiration for other cultural watering holes check out my London Museum Cafés post.

Cream Tea Strawberry Hill House

STRAWBERRY HILL HOUSE GARDENS

Horace Walpole started planning his garden at the same time as he started building the house, it was every bit as important to him. Today the grounds are much smaller, in his day they went right down to the banks of the Thames. They are however still very beautiful with large swathes of lawn and sweeping flower beds. It is easy to imagine Horace or Frances, Lady Waldegrave sitting in the shell seat surveying the house.

Shell seat Strawberry Hill House

LOST TREASURES OF STRAWBERRY HILL HOUSE

It wasn’t only a Gothic Castle that Horace Walpole was renowned for. His collection of paintings, sculptures, furnitures and curios in general was also famous. The collection was scattered to the four winds during the Great Sale of 1842.  Now a selection of his collection has come back to the house, paintings by Joshua Reynolds, Anthony van Dyck and Hans Holbein will once again hang on the gothic walls.  You can even see Cardinal Wolsey’s hat.  I confess that I spent a long time gazing at the hat and thinking about the tales it could tell.  The exhibition will run from 20 October 2018 to 24 February 2019.

Blue Bedroom Strawberry Hill House

VISITING STRAWBERRY HILL HOUSE

  • Open: March – September Sunday 11am-5pm, Monday – Wednesday 12noon-4.30pm
  • October – February Sunday 11am – 5pm, Monday 12noon – 4pm
  • Special 2018 Winter opening for Treasures of Strawberry Hill Exhibition Monday – Saturday 12noon – 6pm (10pm on Friday), Sunday 11am-6pm
  • Cost: Adult £12.50, children free, National Trust members half price.
  • Parking: there is a small car park
  • Trains run from London Waterloo to Strawberry Hill four times an hour on weekdays, the station is a ten minute walk from the house.

Strawberry Hill House is available for private hire, I must confess that I am sorely tempted to add it my list of Cultural London Wedding venues.

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Gothic Romance Inside Strawberry Hill House

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51 Comments

  1. Miriam @londonkitchendiaries
    July 12, 2018 / 8:59 am

    Walking into each room definitely produce gasps of amazement – the gallery was just incredible!

    • Catherine
      Author
      July 12, 2018 / 9:17 am

      Can’t wait to see the Treasures returned

  2. July 13, 2018 / 6:29 am

    No Billy Bookcases for Horace! I love it! I think this has to win the prize for London’s most eclectic interior. Now, if only we could travel back in time and meet the great man. What a fascinating friend he would make! #culturedkids

    • Catherine
      Author
      July 13, 2018 / 7:33 am

      We would have to brush up our letter writing skills!

  3. July 13, 2018 / 12:11 pm

    Just imagine the parties there (and now actually, as it’s available for hire)! It’s a house that obviously attracted strong minded owners after Horace too. Have to appreciate how lucky we are when places like this are restored in such a sympathetic way – and not just turned into hotels!

    • Catherine
      Author
      July 13, 2018 / 2:33 pm

      Definitely on my list of fantasy party venues!

  4. July 13, 2018 / 8:05 pm

    Looks like Lady Frances was quite the interior designer! What a quirky, gorgeous place, definitely worth a visit and the cream tea doesn’t look too bad either! #cluturedkids

    • Catherine
      Author
      July 13, 2018 / 8:53 pm

      The cream tea was delish!

  5. July 15, 2018 / 11:50 am

    What a wonderful tour! I’ll definitely visit when the Lost Treasures exhibition opens, I think that will be an extra special glimpse into its former glory days. I’ll definitely have to try their cream tea too! It sounds like it might be better to visit on my own or with my older daughter – is that right? #culturedkids

    • Catherine
      Author
      July 15, 2018 / 12:11 pm

      Yes, I think that Museum Teen would enjoy it, there are dressing up clothes but would say seven and up.

  6. July 15, 2018 / 7:38 pm

    What colourful photos and such an amazing collection.And the cream tea gives it an additional edge. #culturekids

    • Catherine
      Author
      July 15, 2018 / 10:29 pm

      Cream teas always give edge!

  7. July 16, 2018 / 9:19 am

    Would love to see this palace, Catherine. Another on my list. But would I like to live in it? No way. Like having a big shaggy dog slobbering all over you – or is that just me? x

    • Catherine
      Author
      July 16, 2018 / 10:04 am

      Maybe a more ornate dog or a very insistent Siamese?

      • July 16, 2018 / 10:23 am

        Oh yes! Exactly. Very insistent, very high maintenance Siamese.

        • Catherine
          Author
          July 16, 2018 / 10:39 am

          But we would have staff!

  8. July 19, 2018 / 10:59 am

    That is truly incredible! And another really great blog.

    • Catherine
      Author
      July 19, 2018 / 11:26 am

      Just stunning ….. I think somebody needs to use it as a party setting in a novel

  9. July 19, 2018 / 2:21 pm

    What a beautiful house! I love every detail! It’s so intricate and I love those Tudor style vaulted ceilings! Pinned! #FarawayFiles

    • Catherine
      Author
      July 20, 2018 / 8:24 am

      All done with papier mache!

  10. July 19, 2018 / 5:06 pm

    To think that at the start of the post I was marvelling at the ornateness of the library (I would swap my Billy bookcases) – I had no idea quite how opulent and extravagant the interiors were here. #farawayfiles

  11. July 19, 2018 / 5:56 pm

    What a magnificent place! I’d love to walk through those rooms, but unlike a palace or castle photos are actually allowed! #farawayfiles

  12. Clare Thomson
    July 19, 2018 / 9:08 pm

    My favourite room would be that green room with the gold filigree-looking patterns spiralling upwards. It’s all so over the top, isn’t it? That’s what must make it such a great place to visit although I confess I reckon I’d be guilty of muttering, “Oh for goodness sake!” each time I entered yet another of these extraordinary rooms! That afternoon tea looks delicious too. I do like a bit of tea and cake with my culture. #FarawayFiles

    • Catherine
      Author
      July 19, 2018 / 9:09 pm

      Cake and culture are essential companions!

  13. Ruth
    July 20, 2018 / 4:28 am

    Oh! I do not know why I haven’t heard of this place before. I love, love all your photos and commentary. It is true that The Gallery is breathtaking. However, the ceilings in the entire house are wonderful.. This place is going to mu bucket list for sure! #FarawayFiles

    • Catherine
      Author
      July 20, 2018 / 8:22 am

      Every room is jaw dropping!

  14. Beth
    July 20, 2018 / 5:36 pm

    Catherine, you must tell me when you return as I live around the corner… A 4 MINUTE WALK!!

    I only recently visited myself after learning about an evening event that included prosecco (I’m in!) and a guided tour. The guide was really great and the house fascinating. As are the people involved in its history. I too was impressed with the red gallery, but my favorite was probably that little room that features the first gothic novel. I was not familiar with the book so it is now in my Goodreads “to read”! haha – Anyway you have wonderful photos and your description of the tea sounds perfect. Thanks for sharing with the world this really quirky English home. #FarawayFiles

    • Catherine
      Author
      July 20, 2018 / 5:38 pm

      Noted, when I return we can take tea together!

  15. July 21, 2018 / 8:36 am

    Nice one! I’m getting some design ideas for my house. I’m thinking something like the Tribune – that looks very plush. #farawayfiles

    • Catherine
      Author
      July 21, 2018 / 9:31 am

      Tribune would work perfectly in most domestic settings!

  16. July 21, 2018 / 1:14 pm

    Wow, this mansion is incredible!! I’m going to have to check it out one weekend!

    • Catherine
      Author
      July 21, 2018 / 1:24 pm

      Isn’t it just amazing!

  17. annette @afrenchcollection
    July 22, 2018 / 1:11 am

    Oh, so glad to read your fab post. My friend Matthew lives just down the street from Strawberry Hill House and on our family’s last visit to him we walked all around this area, the parks and along the river banks but didn’t make it into the House. So glad to be able to view it through your post – love it! Annette #FarawayFiles

    • Catherine
      Author
      July 22, 2018 / 4:45 am

      Glad to be of service. Next time!

  18. July 23, 2018 / 3:47 pm

    Every time I drive past here, I say go myself that I must go. You’ve given me the extra push so really should – especially as it’s so local to me! #farawayfiles

  19. Lisanne
    July 28, 2018 / 7:37 am

    Great blog and fantastic photos! Thank you for sharing!!

  20. Anisa
    September 2, 2018 / 3:21 pm

    Wow! I had not heard of Strawberry Hill House but it looks so impressive. I love how it is all white inside and the ornate details inside. Going to add this to my list of places to see in England, which is getting quite long. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

  21. September 3, 2018 / 11:05 am

    My goodness! How did I manage to live in London for so many years and never visit? On my next trip down south I’m heading there with my sketchbook. Absolutely wonderful!

    • Catherine
      Author
      September 3, 2018 / 11:07 am

      She only reopened her doors 8 years ago, so not so terrible!

  22. September 3, 2018 / 1:19 pm

    Amazing ceilings and gorgeous interiors! I love art and gothic architecture: need to include the Strawberry Hill House onto my travel bucket list #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Catherine
      Author
      September 3, 2018 / 1:34 pm

      It is stunning and makes my Billy bookcases look inadequate!

  23. September 4, 2018 / 3:40 am

    The tastes of another era completely mystify me! That red room truly was over-the-top with its golden scrollwork. Still I would enjoy walking through and imagining what it was like to live there. Thanks for the introduction.

  24. September 6, 2018 / 5:53 am

    I’d thought the library was brilliant and then the Gallery is really something else! I was, literally, taken aback when I saw that photo – it’s incredible! I would have enjoyed that tour and afternoon tea at the cafe 🙂 #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Catherine
      Author
      September 6, 2018 / 7:32 am

      Every room you saw, you thought wow and then you saw the next and thought well THIS is wow that was just gosh!

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