Horace Walpole 1717-1797 and Strawberry Hill

Strawberry Hill was builded in The Georgian Era, was the first gothic style house.

The library at Strawberry Hill.

Some talk of Gunnersbury,
For Sion some declare;
And some say, that with Chiswick House
No villa can compare;
But all the beaux of Middlesex,
Who know the country well,
Say, that Strawberry Hill, that Strawberry
Doth bear away the bell
Though Surry boasts its Oatlands,
And Claremont kept so grim
And though they talk of Southcote’s,
‘Tis but a dainty whim;
For ask the gallant Bristow,
Who does in taste excel
If Strawberry Hill, if Strawberry
Don’t bear away the bell.
The above verses, written by Lord Bath, indicate how Strawberry Hill was regarded in its
day. This note gives a brief biography of Horace Walpole and a short description of how he
transformed a small house in Twickenham into the magnificent house it had become by his
death in 1797.
Horace Walpole, fourth son of Sir Robert Walpole (Prime Minister
1721-1742) by his first wife, was born at Arlington Street in London
on 24th September 1717. Much of his boyhood was spent at his
father’s house in Chelsea. In 1725, when he was 8 years old,
Walpole spent a summer holiday at Cambridge House, Twickenham
and is reputed to have met Alexander Pope there. He received his
early education at Bexley in Kent, but in 1727 he entered Eton
College, where his friends included the future poet Thomas Gray. He
left Eton in 1734 and went up to King’s College, Cambridge in the
following year. His attendance at the college over the ensuing 4
years was somewhat intermittent and he does not appear to have
found university life particularly stimulating. In a letter written in 1735
he refers to both Cambridge and Oxford as “two barbarous towns
o’er-run with rusticity and mathematics”.
He left King’s in 1739 and, in the same year, embarked with his friend Gray on the
regulation ‘Grand Tour’ of the continent. He returned to England in September 1741 to find
that, during his absence, he had been elected (in May 1741) the Member of Parliament for
Callington, Cornwall and subsequently became MP for Castle Rising (Norfolk) in 1754 and
then, in 1757, MP for Lynn, also in Norfolk. He retired from Parliament in May 1767. During
the next few years, his time was spent partly with his father in London and partly at the
family seat at Houghton, Norfolk. The unique collection of paintings at Houghton was the
inspiration for his Aedes Walpolianae (1747), a volume which, besides containing a
descriptive catalogue of the paintings, also included his Sermon on Painting.
In 1747, Walpole moved to Twickenham, to a small house near the river. Built in 1698, it
was called ‘Strawberry Hill’
after the area of land on which it stood, known as ‘Strawberry
Hill Shot’, and in its time had been occupied by the actor and dramatist Colley Cibber and
by Dr. Talbot (1685-1737), Bishop of Durham. At the time that Walpole became interested
in the house it was the property of “three minors of the name of Mortimer”, and had as its
tenant Mrs. Elizabeth Chenevix. Mrs. Chenevix (nee Deard) was the wife of Paul Daniel
Horace Walpole by Rosalba Carriera 1741
Chenevix and the owner of a fashionable London toyshop which, in the Daily Advertiser of
1739, was described as being “on the corner of Warwick Street near Pall Mall”. She sub-let
Strawberry Hill to Walpole who purchased “a new little farm” for £1,356 10s in 1748 by
authority of a private Act of Parliament.

In 1765 Walpole embarked for Paris and there formed a close friendship with the blind but
brilliant Mme. Du Deffand (d. 1780), then nearing the age of 70. He revisited her in France
on a number of later occasions and corresponded regularly with her until her death.
Another significant and lasting relationship began in about 1787, when Walpole first
became acquainted with the sisters, Agnes and Mary Berry , then in their early 20s and he
was 70. He described them in a letter to Lady Ossory as “the best-informed and most
perfect creatures I ever saw at their age…entirely natural and unaffected, frank, and, being
qualified to talk on any subject, nothing is so easy and agreeable as their conversation”. In
1791, the sisters came to live at Little Strawberry Hill – once occupied by another friend of
Walpole, Kitty Clive the actress – near his own home. Walpole’s friendship with the two
sisters was an extremely close and affectionate one. Their company continued to delight
him until his death.
In 1791 Walpole succeeded to the title of Earl of Orford on the death of the third Earl, his
elder brother’s son. By his time of his death, 2nd March 1797 – at his house in Berkeley
Square, Walpole had spent £20,720 in turning Strawberry Hill into “the most celebrated
Gothic House in England”.

4,000 of his letters still exist. He wrote a biographical study, a novel, a verse drama, a set
of tales, and a collection of verse and drama. In his poem Strawberry Hill he wrote:
‘On lofty hills like Windsor
Such heroes ought to dwell
Yet the little folk on Strawberry Hill
Like Strawberry-Hill as well.’
Strawberry Hill
‘You will perceive by the date of my letter that my love for
London is worn out; I have got an extreme pretty place just
by Twickenham, which I am likely to be pleased with for at
least some time, as I have many alterations to make. The
prospect is delightful, the house very small, and till I added
two or three rooms scarce habitable.’
So wrote Walpole in a letter to C. H. Williams on 27th June
1748. Three weeks earlier he had written to Horace Mann
– ‘I am now returning to my villa, where I have been
making some alterations: you shall hear from me from
Strawberry Hill, which I have found out in my lease, is the
old name of my house; so pray, never call it Twickenham again.’
Strawberry Hill
by J. H. Müntz 1758
After its purchase the development of Strawberry Hill became his overriding interest for
many years. To start with Walpole was only concerned with ‘planting and fowls and cows
and sheep.’ Then the rebuilding began. He gradually expanded the grounds of the estate
from its original 5 to 46 acres and the house was transformed into the celebrated Gothic
house at the cost of £21,000
. In a letter of 28th September 1749, Walpole refers to his
‘future battlements’ – an indication that Walpole was obsessed with his vision of the house
itself. He wrote in a letter of 10th January 1750 that ‘I am going to build a little Gothick
castle at Strawberry Hill
.’ He also referred to the house as a ‘small capricious house’ built to
please ‘my own taste.’ In order to make sure that the results of such a project would meet
his aesthetic requirements, he formed a Committee of Taste, consisting of himself, John
Chute and Richard Bentley. John Chute (1701-1776) was a connoisseur whom Walpole
had met on his Grand Tour – the elevation of the house and many of the interior details
were largely his work. When Chute died in 1776, Walpole wrote that he was ‘the genius
that presided over poor Strawberry’ and was ‘my oracle of taste.’ Richard Bentley (1708-
1782) was a skilled artist and draughtsman, but his attempts to put Walpole’s ideas into
visual terms were frequently to meet with the latter’s disapproval. He was unstable,
harassed by both marital and financial problems and his membership of the Committee
ended abruptly in 1761 after a quarrel with Walpole. He was replaced in 1762 by Thomas
Pitt – a neighbour with architectural leanings. A third person – not a member of the
Committee, but indispensable to them because he possessed both the practicality and
experience needed to realise their ideas – was William Robinson of the Board of Works. He
had already supervised the first alterations to Strawberry Hill in 1748. This was a small twostoreyed
wing to the north and although nothing is known of its external appearance, the
existing Kentian Gothic chimney-piece in the Breakfast Room gives us some idea. Walpole
later stated that it ‘was not truly Gothick.’ Johann Heinrich Muntz, ‘resident artist’ at the
house between 1755-59, also became a member of the Committee for a short time until he
was dismissed by Walpole ‘ for very pertinent behaviour.’
Walpole’s method was to take various details of Gothic buildings (either first-hand or from
illustrations in topographical books) and adapt them to his purposes. Neither his approach,
nor that of the other two members of his Committee, was particularly scholarly. As he
confessed in a letter to Mary Berry written on 17th October 1794, the rooms at Strawberry
Hill were ‘more the works of fancy than of imitation.’ It did not, for instance, seem
incongruous to him to scale-down certain details of ecclesiastical architecture and transfer
them to a domestic setting.

The first phase of the rebuilding was completed in 1753.

The original house had a Gothic
south front added, complete with battlements and wooden pinnacles and was covered in
white plaster. Behind this, the rooms had also been altered. On the ground floor these
included The Little Parlour (formerly the Supper Parlour), the Beauty Room (formerly the
Yellow Bedchamber), the Hall (or ‘Paraclete’) and a small staircase. The wallpaper in the
hall and on the staircase was painted to resemble part of Prince Arthur’s Chantry at
Worcester. On the principal floor, the additions at this time included the Armory, the Blue
and Red Bedchambers and probably the Star Chamber. All these rooms were smaller and
less elaborate than the later ones, their Gothic elements being limited to chimney-pieces,
doors and windows. The earlier 1748 wing and the east front were similarly treated and
completed with a library – the ceiling painted by the French painter Jean-Francois Clermont
who was paid £73 10s, the chimney-piece copied from tombs at Westminster and
Canterbury and the bookcases from Dugdale’s St. Pauls – and refectory (later the Great
Parlour) – with an inaccurate Gothic chimney-piece by Bentley – in 1754.
Walpole described Strawberry Hill and its environs in a letter to Sir Horace Mann dated
12th June 1753:

‘This view of the castle is what I have just finished,

and is the only side that will at all
regular. Directly before it is an open grove, through which you see a field which is bounded
by a serpentine wood of all kinds of trees and flowering shrubs and flowers. The lawn
before the house is situated on the tope of a small hill, from whence to the left you see the
town and church of Twickenham encircling a turn in the river, that looks exactly like a
seaport in miniature. The opposite shore is a most delicious meadow, bounded by
Richmond Hill which loses itself in the noble woods of the park to the end of the prospect to
the right, where is another turn of the river and the suburbs of Kingston as luckily placed as
Twickenham is on the left; and a natural terrace on the brow of my hill, with meadows of my
own down to the river, commands both extremities. Is this not a tolerable prospect? You
must figure that all this is perpetually enlivened by a navigation of boats and barges, and by
a road below my terrace, with coaches, post-chaises, wagons and horsemen constantly in
motion, and the fields speckled with cows, horses and sheep. Now you shall walk into the
house. The bow-window below leads into a little parlour hung with a stone-coloured Gothic
paper and Jackson’s Venetian prints … From hence under two gloomy arches, you come to
the hall and staircase, which is impossible to describe to you, as it is the most particular
and chief beauty of the castle. Imagine the walls covered with (I call it paper, but it is really
paper painted in perspective to represent) Gothic fretwork: the Gothic balustrade to the
staircase, adorned with antelopes (our supporters) bearing shields; lean windows fattened
with rich saints in painted glass, and a vestibule [the Armoury] open with three arches on
the landing place, and niches full of trophies of old coats of mail, Indian shields made of
rhinoceros’s hides, broadswords, quivers, long bows, arrows and spears … The room on
the ground floor is a bedchamber [the Yellow Bedchamber, afterwards the Beauty Room]
hung with yellow paper and prints, framed in a new manner invented by Lord Cardigan, that
is, black and white borders printed. Over this is Mr Chute’s bedchamber [the Red
Bedchamber] hung with red in the same manner. The bow-window room [the Blue
Bedchamber] one pair of stairs is not yet finished; but in the tower beyond it is the charming
closet [ later the China or Green Closet] where I am now writing to you. It is hung with
green paper and water-colour pictures; has two windows; the one in the drawing looks to
the garden, the other to the beautiful prospect; and the top of each glutted with the richest
painted glass of the arms of England, crimson roses, and twenty other pieces of green,
purple, and historic bits. I must tell you by the way, that the castle, when finished, will have
two and thirty windows enriched with painted glass … Out of this closet is the room where
we always live [the Breakfast Room], hung with a blue and white paper in stripes adorned
with festoons, and a thousand plump chairs, couches and luxurious settees covered with
linen of the same pattern, and with a bow-window commanding the prospect, and gloomed
with limes that shade half each window, already darkened with painted glass in
chiaroscuro, set in deep blue glass. Under this room is a cool little hall [the Waiting room]
where we generally dine, hung with paper to imitate Dutch tiles … it is incredible how small
much of the rooms are. The only two good chambers I shall have, are not yet built; they will
be an eating-room [the Refectory or Great Parlour] and a library, each 20 by 30, and the
latter 15 feet high … The Chinese summer house which you may distinguish in the distant
landscape, belongs to my Lord Radnor.’

The ground floor room,

which had originally served as a kitchen was, in 1755, transformed
into a China Closet or China Room. The floor was laid with tiles bearing coats-of-arms and
the ceiling had paintings by Johnann Heinrich Muntz, Walpole’s ‘Swiss painter that I keep
in the house.’ The chimney-piece had a mixed pedigree, the upper part being taken from a
window of an ancient farmhouse in Essex and the lower part from a chimney at
Hurstmonceaux in Sussex. Also in 1755, the room on the principal floor situated over the
Breakfast Room was made into a bedroom ‘composed of seven lights’ filled with painted

The second building phase began in 1758.

Another short wing was added to the west end
of the hall which contained the Holbein chamber (a bedroom on the first floor) and the Little
Cloister (on the ground floor), both designed by Chute and completed in 1761-63. These
two rooms formed a court in front of the north entrance. The walls of the Holbein Chamber
were hung with copied of Holbein drawings. The ceiling was copied from the Queen’s
dressing-room at Windsor and there was a chimney-piece by Bentley, copied mainly from
Archbishop Warham’s tomb at Canterbury. There was a gently curved papier mache ceiling
and Bentley also contributed the screen in this room, although the design of its ‘pierced
arches’ was taken from the gates of the Choir at Rouen.
The Great Cloister on the ground floor and the Round Tower at the west of the house were
built in 1761. The Great Cloister was based on Chute’s drawings. The ground floor of the
Round Tower was occupied by the kitchen. On the principal floor above was the Round
Tower – not completed until 1771. Its chimney-piece, inspired by the tomb of Edward the
Confessor in Westminster Abbey, was ‘improved by Mr [Robert] Adam and beautifully
executed in white marble inlaid with scagliola by [John Augustus] Richter.’ The ceiling was
also painted by Adam, taken from a round window in old St. Paul’s.
In 1763, the Gallery and Tribune were finished. The Gallery (situated above the Great
Cloister) was the most magnificent room in the house. The design was based initially on
Bentley’s drawings, but the final version was the work of Thomas Pitt (1737-1793) – later
Lord Camelford – who replaced Bentley on the Committee. Pitt ‘had taken a small house at
Twickenham – Palazzo Pitti’ from 1762-64 and he elaborated on the original plan. Of
particular note was the fan-vaulted ceiling, the design of which was taken from one of the
side aisles in Henry VII’s Chapel at Westminster Abbey ‘all Gothicism and gold, and
crimson and looking-glass’. Pitt also embellished the Tribune (previously called the Cabinet
and, earlier still, the Chapel). This room was ‘square with a semicircular recess in the
middle of each side, painted stone-colour with gilt ornaments, and with windows and
niches, the latter taken from these on the sides of the north door of the great church at St.
Albans’ and was partly lit by a glazed star in the roof.

For the third and final phase,

Walpole employed professional architects. In 1772, The Great
North Bedchamber – the only large bedroom in the house and built above the Servants’
Hall – on the principal floor was completed. This had a chimney-piece designed by Walpole
from the tomb of William Dudley, Bishop of Durham, at Westminster and carved by the
master mason at Westminster Abbey, Thomas Gayfare. It contained a bed ‘which would
have become Cleopatra on the Cyndus, or Venus if she was not past Cupid-bearing’. The
last main addition to the house was made in 1776. This was the Beauclerk Tower,
conceived by Chute and designed by James Essex and containing a hexagonal closet in
which were displayed 7 drawings executed by Lady Diana Beauclerk for Walpole’s
Mysterious Mother. The Beauclerk Tower adjoined the Round tower and had a pointed
circular roof.
Besides the rooms which formed the house itself, a number of buildings were added to the
grounds of Strawberry Hill. These included the Embattled Wall, which extended along the
north-west front of the house; 2 screens in the Prior’s Garden – possibly supplied by John
Carter and the iron Garden Gates – supported by Gothic piers. This pair of gates was
erected in 1769 and was designed by James Essex with the Gothic piers copied from
Bishop Luda’s tomb in Ely Cathedral. Essex also designed new Offices for the servants in
1777, but they were not built until 1790 by James Wyatt. Robert Adam made 4 designs for
the Cottage between 1766-68, but Walpole rejected them for a design by Chute in 1769.
Bentley’s Rococo shell bench dates from c.1759, but his Chinese Pavilion was never built.
The Chapel in the Wood was started in 1772 and completed in 1774. Designed by Chute,
the front was carved by Thomas Gayfare and was a replica of the tomb of Bishop Audley in
Salisbury Cathedral. Inside was a 13th century shrine from the Church of Santa Maria
Maggiore in Rome, which had been ‘bought for 47 guineas on behalf of Sidney Herbert who
utilised some of the pillars at Witton House’.
The Strawberry Hill Press

In 1757, Walpole built the Printing House in the grounds.

In September 1759 he wrote to
the Earl of Strafford ‘…I have begun to build a new printing-house, that the old one may
make room for the Gallery and Round Tower.’ It was finished at the end of October when
he wrote again to Strafford ‘My new printing-house is finished, in order to pull down the old
one, and lay the foundations next summer of my round tower.’ It was in use by the end of
the following May. Although it possessed no Gothic features, it was probably the most
important building as it was the headquarters of Walpole’s private press – ‘the Offinia
Arbuteana or the Strawberry Hill Press.’ The first book issued from the press was an edition
of the Odes of Thomas Gray (1757) – Walpole’s old schoolfriend. Amongst Walpole’s own
works printed here were the Mysterious Mother (1768) – a blank-verse drama – and the
Essay on Modern Gardening (1785). A work particularly important for its documentary
value was issued from the press in 1774. This was Walpole’s Description of the Villa of
Mr Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill near Twickenham, with an inventory of the
furniture, pictures, curiosities etc. The Description …was subsequently revised and
reprinted in 1784, accompanied by engravings.
In c.1758, Walpole wrote the somewhat facetious Parish Register of Twickenham – a list,
in octosyllables, of the local notables. The full text can be read in his Letters, volume 42,
pp. 488-90. At the end of the piece Walpole wrote:
‘…enough if I consign
To lasting type their notes divine:
Enough if Strawberry’s humble-hill
The title page of fame shall fill.’
In the celebrated ‘Gothick romance’ The Castle of Otranto (1764), the author
endeavoured to combine supernatural machinery and everyday characters in a work could
be described as the first example of a genre which still persists in various forms today.
Walpole printed just 6 copies of Hieroglyphic Tales in 1785 – a collection of nonsense
tales containing allusions to friends, their houses and families.

to watch the video from BBC

After Walpole’s death

Walpole bequeathed Strawberry Hill to Mrs. Anne Damer, daughter of his friend and cousin
General Conroy, together with £2,000 a year to keep it in repair. Mrs. Damer eventually
resigned the property to the Dowager Duchess of Waldegrave
, in whom the remainder of
the fee was vested. It later passed to George, 7th Earl Waldegrave who sold its contents by
auction in 1842.
Frances, Lady Waldegrave inherited Strawberry Hill on the death of her husband in 1846.
She was married 4 times
– to 2 sons of the 6th Earl of Waldegrave and her 4th husband
was Chichester Fortescue, (1823-1898) later Lord Carlingford and then Lord Clermont. The
Countess was a leading figure in Victorian society whose passion for entertaining on a
lavish scale was only equalled by her passion for building. In 1856 she began restoring the
house, which had remained in a rather derelict state after the contents sale in 1842 – she
also tried to find many of the dispersed treasures.
The Library and Gallery were redecorated and the walls of the latter were hung with
crimson silk. The Prior’s Garden was replaced by a large entrance hall and the Offices
were converted into bedrooms. Probably the most ambition of Lady Waldegrave’s projects
at Strawberry Hill was the building of a new suite connecting the western end of Walpole’s
house with the new bedrooms. The suite included a large drawing-room and dining-room.
The artist Henry Phillips was commissioned to paint a series of pictures for the drawingroom.
When Lady Waldegrave had finished her building programme, the house had 58 rooms and
acres of roof. She died suddenly in 1879 and, as Fortescue could not bear to live in the
house with its memories, it was sold. In 1888, Strawberry Hill was put up for auction, but
only attracted a top bid of £15,000 and was withdrawn from sale. It was owned by the Stern
family for a time.
It was purchased in 1923 by the Catholic Education Council and in1927, Strawberry Hill
was formally opened as St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Teachers’ Training College. It is now an
integral part of Surrey University. In more recent years many of the cumbersome 19th
century additions have been removed. In 1958-9, the 19th century entrance hall was
demolished and the north front was rebuilt to Walpole’s original design under the direction
of Sir Albert Richardson. As a result, Horace Walpole’s “little Gothick castle” now closely
resembles its original appearance.

Further Reading

Carroll, Kathleen Lady Frances Waldegrave: political hostess at Strawberry Hill 1856-
1879. 1998 (Borough of Twickenham Local History Society paper no 77)
Clark, Kenneth The Gothic Revival. 1962 (Chapter 3 deals with Strawberry Hill)
Fothergill, Brian The Strawberry Hill set: Horace Walpole and his circle. 1983
Gwynn, Stephen The life of Horace Walpole. 1932.
Hewett, Osbert
The Waldegrave Strawberry Hill in Architectural Review, September
1957, pp 157-61.
Honour, Hugh Horace Walpole. 1957 (Writers and their work)
Judd, Gerrit P. Horace Walpole’s memoirs. 1960
R.W. Horace Walpole: a biography. 1940
Lewis, Wilmouth
S. Horace Walpole. 1961 (A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, 1960)
The Genesis of Strawberry Hill in Metropolitan Museum Studies, Vol 5
Part 1, June 1934, pp 57-92
Mowl, Timothy Horace Walpole: the great outsider. 1966
Sabor, Peter Horace Walpole: a reference guide. 1984
editor Horace Walpole: the critical heritage. 1987
Donald Twickenham Past: a visual history of Twickenham and Whitton. 1993
Tribute to Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill House on the
occasion of the bicentenary of his death on 2nd March 1797. 1997
(Borough of Twickenham Local History Society Paper no 74)
Walpole, Horace
Works There are a number of editions of his works and letters in the
Local Studies Library. The most detailed and complete edition of his
letters is the Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence editied
by W.S. Lewis.
More information on Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill is available from the Local Studies

(From : Richmond Libraries’ Local Studies Collection)