September 23, 2010

Strawberry Hill – The World’s First Gothic House - Reopens

Horace Walpole (1717 – 1797) discovered Chopp’d Straw Hall in 1747 when it was one of the last remaining sites available on the banks of the Thames in fashionable Twickenham. Gothic-Castle-Strawberry--006 He set about transforming what was then a couple of cottages into his ‘little gothic castle’ with pinnacles, battlements and a round tower set in meadows and gardens with ‘cows and sheep studied for becoming the view’.

The castle (or villa) became a tourist attraction in Walpole’s life-time.  He allowed four visitors a day and published rules for their guidance (no children allowed). His house-keeper frequently showed them round while Walpole retired to his cottage in the grounds.  It was also a place for parties and Walpole delighted in entertaining foreign ambassadors and royalty as well as the English aristocracy, several of whom were near neighbours.  ‘ Dowagers like flounders inhabit all around,’ he wrote.Strawberry-Hill-house-Hor-007

In creating Strawberry Hill, Walpole inspired a new fashion for gothic in both architecture and literature. While houses like nearby Marble Hill were based on classic traditions, order and symmetry, Walpole chose the architecture of gothic cathedrals as the inspiration for his villa. Chimney pieces, doors and ceilings are based on gothic vaulting, medieval tombs and rose windows. Strawberry-Hill-house-Hor-011Winding corridors and gloomy passageways open into the sudden splendour of rooms like the Gallery; ‘all Gothicism, gold and looking glass’ as the poet Thomas Gray described it.Strawberry-Hill-house-Hor-010One night Walpole awoke from a dream and imagined he saw a giant armoured fist on the staircase and it was this that inspired the first gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto. Printed on the first private printing press in the country at Strawberry Hill, it was the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and a literary tradition which lasts into our own time. 

The house had fallen into disrepair and is being re-opened after a £9 million restoration in early October. The website and house will re-launched in full colour at that time.

…Maev Kennedy, The Guardian


  1. Interesting place! I'm not a big fan of too much Gothic, but I like the rooms without furniture.

  2. gothic decor does tend to remind me of cher's "sanctuary home" line, but i would be a happy camper with one of the fireplaces...

  3. Stunning!! Thanks for sharing.
    I went to Mount Holyoke College and its Gothic buildings have made me a lifelong fan of that style.

  4. What an amazing fantasy. The detail is mind-boggling. Thanks so much for broadening my knowledge of the roots of neo-gothic.

  5. This is something to see! And of course, the Gothic revival Walpole helped start soon spread to France ("l'Anglomanie"), where the architect Viollet-le-Duc retrofitted famous cathedrals in faux-Gothic style.
    Walpole himself was party animal and social commentator as well as a man of letters and, apparently, architectural adventurer. His day's Truman Capote, perhaps, or Dominick Dunne?
    His letters provide a rich social history. I drew on them for my story of the decadent 18th-century London "disco" run by a courtesan:

  6. Wonderful photos. They bring to life the novel "Life Mask" by Emma Donoghue, that I read a few years ago. It was part fiction and a lovely read.

  7. Those tracery ceilings are amazing.

  8. Mad I am for anything Gothick...I wish I could get my customers to feel the same way.... :-)

  9. Complete and total swoonage, hope there's a fainting couch somewhere in there.


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