Welcome to the Strawberry Hill House blog! The history of Strawberry Hill is as fascinating as the man who built the castle. We’ll share these stories- the histories of the rooms, occupants, and decor; and also share current events and happenings in the house.
What is Strawberry Hill House…and why is it important?
Strawberry Hill House’s story begins in 1747, when Horace Walpole discovered and purchased ‘Chopp’d Straw Hall’, one of the last remaining sites available on the banks of the Thames in fashionable Twickenham. He set about transforming what was then a couple of cottages into his vision of a ‘little Gothic castle’ with pinnacles, battlements and a round tower. Thus Strawberry Hill House was born – the House became a tourist attraction in Walpole’s lifetime and beyond.
Built as Walpole’s summer residence, the castle (or villa) soon became of interest to local inhabitants, and he soon opened the house for guided tours (albeit exclusive ones!). Walpole also delighted in entertaining foreign ambassadors, royalty and English aristocracy, several of whom were near neighbours: ‘Dowagers like flounders inhabit all around,’ he wrote.
Following Walpole’s death in 1797, the House passed to his cousin’s daughter and renowned sculptor Anne Seymour Damer. In 1811, the House passed to Walpole’s great niece, Elizabeth Waldegrave, and then to her grandson, John Waldegrave. John died prematurely, passing the house to his brother, George, the Seventh Earl of Waldegrave. It was now that the House nearly met its demise. Having been imprisoned for ‘riotous behaviour’, George took against Twickenham and vowed to let the House fall into ruin. He arranged the ‘Great Sale’ in 1842, where most of Walpole’s collection was sold over the course of a week.
After George’s death in 1846, his widow, Lady Frances Waldegrave was left a substantial income and, ten years later, in 1856 after her third marriage to Granville Harcourt, she put her ambitions to secure Strawberry Hill’s future into action. She began her expansion and embellishment of Walpole’s gothic castle, remaining faithful to Walpole’s vision and ideals. The House became well known in the Liberal establishment for the parties hosted by Lady Waldegrave. After Lady Waldegrave’s death in 1879 the House was sold to the De Sterne family, and then sold again in 1923 to St Mary’s University College, which still owns the site.
With the founding of the Strawberry Hill Trust in 2002, the projects began. Strawberry Hill House’s restoration is at the heart of everything we do. Funded with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and other supporters, the £10 million repair and restoration of Walpole’s villa has made opening the House to the public possible. Our state rooms have been restored to their 1790s appearance, and Walpole originals (or authentic reproductions, as an alternative) are returning to their homes. Our gardens, galleries and rooms are open for public consumption, and we host a variety of events; including adult learning programmes, school-children tours, and many more.