There’s An Enchanting Gothic Castle Hidden Away In Twickenham • Strawberry Hill House & Garden
If you’re a fan of the Gothic and love nothing more than wandering around houses you’ll never actually be able to afford, South West London’s Strawberry Hill House & Garden needs to be your next destination.
It’s certainly not your average house. Dating back to 1747, the site (a Grade I listed building) was originally named ‘Chopp’d Straw Hall’ and consisted of a few simple cottages. Horace Walpole discovered it (one of the last remaining free locations on the banks of the Thames) and like any self-respecting visionary wishing to build their own castle, decided to purchase the land and create a Gothic masterpiece – battlements, towers and all.
The castle’s architecture was influenced by Gothic cathedrals around Europe. Drawing from their elaborate vaulted ceilings, intricate carvings, medieval tombs and rose windows, the level of detail is eye-watering. And it now stands as “one of the most important and influential examples of gothic revival architecture”.
Visitors to Strawberry Hill House
The castle drew so much attention from both locals and architectural enthusiasts that Walpole began conducting guided tours of his own residence. Led by his housekeeper, 4 visitors a day were permitted through its doors (strictly no children, naturally). Following that, Walpole also began entertaining ambassadors, English aristocracy and royalty alike. Fancy.
Walpole, it seems, also held a special interest in oddities. Compiling a collection of weird and wonderful historical items including James I’s gloves, Cardinal Wolsey’s hat and a lock of Edward IV’s hair (supposedly ‘cut from his corpse in St George’s Chapel at Windsor’), his taste can only be described as… eclectic.
The collection was dispersed following the Great Sale of 1842 but was later gifted to Yale University. So, if you fancy feasting your eyes on some strange antiquities and 18th Century artefacts, book yourself a plane ticket to the States and head to Connecticut’s Lewis Walpole Library. But there’s still plenty to see in the house – so don’t bypass it entirely for Yale!
The house underwent a £10 million restoration in 2010 assisted by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Countless original documents were used to restore the place to its former glory. And now, the riverside spot is a feast for the eyes (particularly when the English weather holds out).
The house was also recently awarded a grant from Arts Council England and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport as part of the Museum Estate and Development Fund (MEND). This grant will build on the 2010 restoration, with essential external repairs and upkeep of the iconic architectural elements. They will also update Strawberry Hill House’s infrastructure to improve the site’s energy efficiency and visitor accessibility.
Now, every gothic castle needs a complementary garden, doesn’t it? And Walpole had plenty of inspiration for the five acres that surround the property. He was influenced, in particular, by William Kent and the ideas behind the English Landscape Movement. Kent thought that landscape gardens should resemble classical paintings, and was well regarded for his ‘picturesque’ and ‘natural’ gardening style.
These ideas resulted in a garden where “[formal] borders mixed with groves of trees and shrubs crossed by winding paths, and flowers and fragrance were all important. There was also a fine lawn, an open terrace and meadows that led straight to the River Thames.” Over the years various modifications were made, pushing the garden away from Walpole’s vision. However, restoration works have brought the Grade II* listed garden back to an approximation of its original appearance.
What’s on at Strawberry Hill House?
Currently, the walls of Strawberry Hill House are festooned with an array of artwork. Over 50 Old Master paintings are currently on long term loan from Dulwich Picture Gallery to grace the walls. A further eight works from a private English collection join these. All together, the paintings help to recreate the atmosphere of Strawberry Hill House as it would have appeared over 250 years ago.
Strawberry Hill House also runs tours of the house and garden, live music performances, and evenings that explore the house’s history and collections. Rather more intriguingly, but very fittingly, Strawberry Hill House also runs a Gothic book club. It makes sense, even beyond the building’s architecture, as the place was the inspiration for the first ever Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, written by Horace Walpole (of course).
The question now is: when can we move in?
Strawberry Hill House
Standard Adult tickets cost £16, with a donation included, and under 16s go free. Various discounted tickets are also available. The garden is free to explore for all.