Gothic genius: A look inside Strawberry Hill, Horace Walpole's restored 18th century villa

By Mel Jones | 19 November 2010
A photo of the lavish interior of a historic building
Strawberry Hill has reopened following a two-year, £9 million restoration
As a very rich son of the Britain's first Prime Minister, what is one to do aside from get involved in parliamentary business and travel? Horace Walpole solved this conundrum with a spot of interior design.

Snapping up the last villa with a river view (although sadly there is no longer a river to be seen through the modern buildings) in the late 1700s, Strawberry Hill in Twickenham was Horace Walpole's pet project, and has recently been restored to how it looked at the time of his death in 1797.

Walpole wanted to create a theatrical feel for visitors when they came to the house, and he certainly achieved this through his faux gothic theme.

Parts of the house and gardens are still under redevelopment, but the areas which are ready for public consumption are gloriously lavish.

In every nook and cranny of this delectable building there are intricate details to be marveled at, from the gothic paper on the walls to the creatures which sit on top of the banisters in the great entrance hall. It is a feast for the eyes.

At a time when the public can travel to remote parts of the world at a click of a button, the magnificence of this house lies in bringing so many influences from around the world to one place. One can only imagine the awe visitors in the 18th century felt when faced with all this splendour.

Each room has its own special characteristics – the library, for example, has a slanted doorway in order to keep the book shelves symmetrical.

The windows have all got recycled stained glass window pieces, and even the ceilings are works of art. It's amazing to think that until 1992 these grand rooms were used as school rooms by Venetian fathers.

From the round dining room there is also a doorway which was added during more modern times, which leads directly through to the teaching college next door. The sound of a student practicing at the piano felt like a fitting accompaniment to a memorable experience.

The Strawberry Hill Trust are working on gathering up Walpole's art collection, which was sold in the great sale of 1842, with the hope of one day revealing Strawberry Hill to the public as it was once intended. That should be quite a show.

See Culture24's picture special from Strawberry Hill.
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