Friday, 24 September 2010
Strawberry Hill House
Yesterday morning I went on a press preview trip to Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham. The house was built by the Georgian aesthete and writer Horace Walpole between 1747 and his death in 1797 (think Stephen Fry plus britches). Its history until very recently has not been a happy one. In 1990s it was placed on the list of the world's most endangered buildings but a trust was established a few years ago and has raised £9m - mainly from the Lottery and the World Monuments Fund - to restore the house to how it looked at the end of the 18th century. It is still very much work in progress. Only part of the house will be reopened on 2 October, but what will be accessible will be stunning. Strawberry Hill was virtually the first building to be built in a Gothic style since medieval times and had a profound influence on 19th century architecture. There's quite a lot of references to his family's rather grand genealogy (his father had been Prime Minister) - indeed he once called it "The castle I am building for my ancestors". Unfortunately there is nothing about the servants who kept the place running. The house was designed in part at least a tourist attraction. Visitors - known to Walpole as his "customers" - would be shown around by the housekeeper who would expect a large tip for her troubles. This was not unusual at other country houses at the time. And it is nice to think that you do the same thing today. You join a group which departs at set times when the House is open. Details at www.strawberryhillhouse.org.uk.