- Posted on 11th November 2010 by Nicola Holden
In the mid to late 1700’s, when most other architects were partaking in the Grand Tour of Europe, and bringing back Neo-Classical architecture to England, the politician, writer and collector Horace Walpole (1717-1797) was creating his summer villa in the Gothic revival style!
Strawberry Hill is indeed a ‘little Gothic castle’, created to provide a theatrical experience for visitors. And that it certainly does. Although Strawberry Hill has re-opened to the public, its restoration is not quite complete, and there are still rooms that are not yet open for exploring.
|My visit to Strawberry Hill started in the sm gloomy hall which is lit from above by two small windows, and by a Gothic lantern of tin japanned. On each corner of the balustrade is an antelope holding a shield.|
Going up two flights of stairs takes you into the Library – a large room whose walls are almost entirely covered in pierced work Gothic arch bookshelves. Unfortunately all of the books, along with most of Walpole’s other possessions, were sold in the great sale of 1842, and so one can only image this room full of books. Other than the bookshelves there is an ornate chimney piece, a large window displaying fine painted glass, and of course the door into this room. As you walk round Strawberry Hill it becomes apparent that Walpole ‘borrowed’ design from lots of different sources. The design of the bookshelves is taken from a side door case to the choir in Dugdale’s St Paul’s. The chimney piece design is a combination from the tomb of John of Eltham Earl of Cornwall, in Westminster Abbey, and the stonework from that of Thomas Duke of Clarence, at Canterbury. The Library is also home to a grandly painted ceiling reflecting Walpole’s coat of arms, his ancestors and his links to the crusaders.
Back on the first floor, one of my favourite rooms is the Holbein Chamber – so named because it used to display Walpole’s collection of copies of Holbein drawings. This room is painted a regal purple, and is first glimpsed through the pierced arches of a screen inspired by the gates of the choir at Rouen. The walls contrast beautifully with the magnificent white ceiling, taken from the Queen’s dressing-room at Windsor, and the chimney piece, inspired by the tomb of Archbishop Warham at Canterbury.
|From there you pass through the Trunk Ceiled Passage, known as ‘the dusky corridor’ as it is lit only by a sky-light window at the end of the passage. The light streaming through an open doorway on the left draws you forward through this space, and into the Gallery.|
The Gallery is a truly magnificent room 17m long, 4m wide and 5m high. The walls are hung with a bold crimson Norwich damask, and the room is lavishly gilded. This Gallery was the first of Walpole’s great state rooms, and at the time would have been filled with paintings and other works of art. Once again Walpole has taken inspiration for a variety of sources – the ceiling from one of the side aisles of Henry VIIth chapel at Westminster Abbey, the great door copied from the north door Saint Alban’s, and the side with the recesses from the tomb of Archbishop Bourchier at Canterbury.
From the Gallery you enter the Round Drawing Room, again hung with crimson Norwich damask. After the grandeur of the Gallery, this room is fairly simple, but still boasts painted glass windows, a beautiful chimney-piece of white marble inlaid with scagliuola and a ceiling inspired from a round window in old Saint Paul’s with frieze designed by Robert Adams (who I wrote about in a previous blog).
|The Great Parlour, the Tribune, the Great North Bedchamber and the Beauclerc Closet are still not open to the public, although I did manage to snatch a quick peek of the Tribune with its gilt-embellished ceiling leading up to a yellow glass star inspired by the chapter-house at York.|
Horace Walpole has certainly done a wonderful job at pulling together all of the different elements of design that he admired, and combining them to form this magnificent Gothic castle that is Strawberry Hill. His building evolved over time, with no fixed plan from the beginning, and features added as Walpole saw fit. As the man himself said, ‘I begin to be ashamed of my own magnificence.’!
I would definitely recommend a visit, although I would suggest that you wait until the summer of 2011 to ensure that you are not picking your way around the restoration works.
“Men are often capable of greater things than they perform – They are sent into the world with bills of credit, and seldom draw to their full extent.”