great places to visit off the beaten path.
Born in 1717, Horace Walpole’s father was the politician Sir Robert Walpole. Robert Walpole is widely accepted to be Britain’s first Prime Minister (though not under than official title). Horace Walpole also entered a career in politics, but is perhaps most well known for his creation – Strawberry Hill – which he began two years after his father died. Created in phases during the 18th century, Strawberry Hill is unquestionably the finest example of Georgian Gothic revival architecture in Britain, if not the world.
The House: In 1747 he acquired a small home with 5 acres and began remodeling and expanding the property. The property grew to 47 acres, and he rebuilt the existing house in stages starting in 1749, then in 1760, 1772, and finally in 1776. He added gothic features such as towers and battlements outside. One way of describing his design is a blend of castle and cathedral. He studied the architecture of both and integrated elements from them throughout his house.
Inside he created elaborate decorations to house his collection of antiquarian objects. Strawberry Hill was filled with art, antiquities and curiosities of every period from the ancient to the modern. Walpole wrote and printed his own catalogue of his collection, A Description of the Villa of Horace Walpole in 1774, which he revised and enlarged in 1784. He had his own printing press at the house to support his writings, though it was not used for the anonymous publication of his book – The Castle of Otranto (1764). This book is considered the first gothic romance novel and was inspired by his house.
Walpole died in 1797. The property then passed to his cousin’s daughter, and continued to stay in the family until acquired by St. Mary’s College in 1923. In 2007, it was acquired by a Trust with the purpose of restoring it and opening it to the public. Now open to the public, restoration continues both on the home and more recently the gardens.
The Gardens: Originally his landscaped gardens contained a lawn with a meadow beyond, flanked by trees and an open terrace with views of the River Thames. While the views have been lost to housing and the growth of woodlands, the grassed areas and the layout of his tree plantings survive. As much as possible the gardens are being restored to their original appearance, including a recreation of his famous Shell Bench.
Visiting: A wide variety of special events happen throughout the year, including gothic film screenings, twilight tours, fashion shows, book clubs and lectures. Visiting Strawberry Hill is a truly theatrical experience – something Walpole intended in his day. It is magically lit by a unique collection of renaissance glass and its gloomy castle-like hall and grey gothic staircase lead dramatically to the magnificence of the gallery. The house is generally open April – October (closed Thu/Fri). Admission fees / special activity fees apply. Booking tickets in advance is strongly recommended. There is also a shop and cafe on site.
See their website for more details: www.strawberryhillhouse.org.uk
Located at: 268 Waldegrave Road Twickenham TW1 4ST
Closest Rail: Strawberry Hill (from Waterloo / Zone 5 / Oyster Card accepted)