Living in London I’m completely spoilt for choice when it comes to feeding my architecture geek tendencies. The Gothic Revival period is one of my favourites, partly due to the intricate and detailed characteristics. Think fairytale castles and knights in shining armour. What do you visualise? Pointed arches, ribbed vaults, spires, flying buttresses, stained glass windows, perhaps? So not surprising that the movement in the late 1700s and onwards was inspired by a literary obsession with medieval times.
Some of London’s iconic landmarks are its finest examples, such as the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge and St. Pancras Railway Station to name a few.
Recently I was invited to explore Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham. The name itself is enticing enough, never mind the fact it’s the earliest known example of the Gothic Revival period.
A quick train ride led me to suburban south-west London and a stroll down a tree-lined street opening out to a magnificent gleaming white petite castle. The grandeur of the building highlighted further by its residential surroundings. Almost like time has stood still in this enclave of Twickenham.
Horace Walpole the son of the first Prime Minister Robert Walpole was the owner of this extraordinary Gothic creation in the late 18th century. His folly is the first known gothic domestic dwelling. The end result being somewhat eccentric, curious but above all spectacular.
Built in stages Walpole drew inspiration from St Paul’s Cathedral, Henry VII’s Chapel at Westminster Abbey and Uffizi in Florence. The writer and collector filled his extraordinary summer abode with his extensive 6,000 piece collection consisting of books, paintings, furniture and antiquities amassed from his four years of travel across Europe.
Walpole was extremely proud of his masterpiece. Even in those days Strawberry Hill soon became a tourist attraction. Strict rules were applied, one of which being no children and only four people were allowed entry at a time. No surprises, once the initial excitement wore off Walpole handed over the guided tour duties to his housekeeper
Our tour just like the one back in the day began in the entrance hall with its grand staircase, described by Walpole as ‘the most particular and chief beauty of the castle’. The hall rises through three storeys and is lit by a large stained glass lantern. Introducing you to the main design concept of the house ‘gloomth’, a theatrical effect of light and darkness creating a mysterious and gothic atmosphere.
Not all the rooms embody the ‘gloomth’ theme, each one has a different look and character dependant on the pieces showcased. Here are a few which caught my eye!
The Great Parlour charmed me with its flamboyant gothic fireplace and the three bay Gothic window which looks out to the beautifully landscaped grounds.
And this ladies and gents is the first Gothic style library in England. It’s a breathtaking room with shelves lined with 18th century literature.
A book lovers dream, the bookcases were modelled on the choir stalls of St Paul’s Cathedral.
I immediately fell in love with the colour of the walls in this bedroom. Painted in an exquisite blue made from cobalt and lapis lazuli. The walls themselves making a huge statement as these were very expensive materials to use at this time.
The bed apparently is one of the first pieces of furniture Walpole moved into the house and also a replica of the one in which Sir Robert Walpole died in 1785.
The quilt is hand-knotted and took 620 hours to make by the members of the Strawberry Hill Sewing Bee.
The purple coloured Holbein Chambers, named as it originally housed a number of Holbein copies. Copies of the portraits of members of the Court of Henry VIII now hang on walls.
The ceiling is the first one you see made of papier-maché (wait till you see the second one!). A copy of the Queen’s Dressing Room in Windsor Castle. And a good job too as Walpole’s ceiling was used as a blueprint reproduce the Windsor ceiling after the fire in 1992.
Inspiration for the beautiful fireplace came from the Archbishops tomb at Canterbury Cathedral. The place really is a patchwork of some great Neo-Gothic pieces.
The interiors of the Round Room boasts a ceiling based on the rose window in St Paul’s Cathedral. In the 19th century Lady Waldegrave made her own additions including this fabulous stained-glass bay window.
Lastly to the pièce de résistance, the stunning Gallery home to Walpole’s cherished paintings. The impressive embellished fan-vaulted ceiling made from 24-carat papier-maché is a glorious contrast against the rich crimson walls.
Based on Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster Abbey, I challenge anyone not to be dazzled by the brilliance of this room. Nowadays the sumptuous surroundings is a popular venue for weddings.
Strawberry Hill House Afternoon Tea
Once the tour is over you can treat yourself in Walpole’s Tea Rooms to a delicious cream tea with views of the delightful five-acre garden.
Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill Exhibition
I can’t believe I didn’t know about this unique architectural gem, if you’re a historical house fan I highly recommend a visit. There is also no better time as from 20th October 2018 – 24th February 2019 the Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill exhibition brings together some of the most important masterpieces in Walpole’s collection. This was one of the most significant collections of the 18th century which was dispersed in the great sale of 1842. We now have the opportunity to see Walpole’s pieces in the interiors as he designed in their original setting. A once-in-a-lifetime exhibition, not to be missed.
Strawberry Hill House also runs a lot of family friendly events. They’re always worth checking out, as it’s a beautiful place to spend time with the family. For more information on Strawberry Hill House or for future events, please visit their website.
Have you been to Strawberry Hill House, if not have I convinced you to visit? Let me know in the comments box below.
Strawberry Hill House | 268 Waldegrave Rd | Twickenham | TW1 4ST
Disclaimer: My tour and afternoon tea were complimentary, however, all views, opinions and photos unless otherwise stated are my own and remain a trademark of the Curious Pixie.
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