Where You Really Can Play The Princess
There is a lot I could tell you about the history of this place, most of it probably from Wikipedia because I’d had a couple of glasses of mulled wine by the time I finished the day and soooome (most) of it has kind of receded into the bleariness of lovely memories. But I think the pictures definitely speak for themselves… Strawberry Hill House is the most fairy tale London palace I have ever visited. The textures and sheer variety of interior design layered over the centuries is truly breath-taking. I’ve put a few interjections of description here, but I think you can really get a feel for the place from the pictures. Enjoy!
The outside of the palace is an architectural testament to the Gothic style tradition of the 18th century when its commissioner, Horace Walpole, had it built. Attributes of the striking Medieval building appearance that Horace sought to imitate can be seen immediately on many parts of the palace’s exterior, and lends it the princess-in-the-tower feel that I love so well.
December sunsets are the best time to see it.
This unpainted sandstone coloured extension in an L-shape alongside the white building is actually now inhabited by St Mary’s University, Twickenham. I really can’t believe how lucky the students are to study here! It’s one of many historic houses that have since been repurposed to house educational institutions – and why not?! I’d be inspired to study here.
Once inside, the first thing that strikes me is the stained glass windows. These extremely detailed stained glass tableaus are almost exact recreations of the original Dutch Baroque pieces that once stood here. The attendant in the Great Parlour explained that there was a mill not far from Strawberry Hill House that had several explosions during this house’s lifetime and the reverberations from these explosions frequently blew out and smashed these precious stained glass windows. Once the house passed into Trust, they were able to commission Canterbury Cathedral’s talented glaziers to restore them.
Incidentally, the attendants and guides in Strawberry Hill House are all very friendly and well-informed and they really want to talk to you about the house’s history – they are full of really interesting old stories that you won’t find in the guide books!
Onwards up the stairs to the two floors above… I love this view taken from the bottom all the way up!
The Library greeted me at the top of the stairs with this imposing suit of armour, a recreation designed by one of the costume students of Wimbledon College of Arts. There were a few of these dotted around my visit, as the college had just had an exhibition there.
The ceiling was incredible.
As I wandered through the rooms and corridors, I realised that a lot of the interior woodwork and detailing really reminded me of York Minster, a cathedral I know quite well due to my mother’s proximity to it up in Yorkshire. Sure enough, when I asked one of the attendants, York Minster was one of Horace Walpole’s inspirations when he designed Strawberry Hill House!
This wallpaper really fascinated me. The one on the left, the floral pattern, was what was found in this room when the house was passed into Trust. As they began to work on the rooms, they discovered that underneath this pretty, hand-painted Victorian wallpaper in the French style, was this raised turquoise and gold rococo design, the very one that Walpole had used in the house when he was living in it… So this fine blue wallpaper with gold flock patterns is over 250 years old!
Upstairs, a choir was singing, and their voices echoed around the almost empty house – before I stumbled upon them, you really could believe that you were wandering around the original lamp-lit mansion, and that Horace Walpole had invited you as a guest to one of his dinner parties, where the choir were brought in to provide light Christmas entertainment whilst you ate.
The ceiling in here was again just so striking.
Finally, the Round Room, which houses Horace Walpole’s most expensive addition to the house – the Robert Adam fireplace. Robert Adam was one of three Scottish brothers whose neo-classical, ornate interior designs, many of which were integrated mantlepieces like this one, were very popular in upper-class households during the 18th century.
And opposite is one of Horace’s favoured Gothic styles!
More stained glass…
The house simply shines from the outside as the kitchens prepare for the dinner party that evening…and the choir still practises in the upstairs rooms.
I really recommend you going at Christmas where you can see the choir too! Until next time, Strawberry Hill!