If It Ain’t Baroque…For Gothic’s Sake, Don’t Fix It!   Leave a comment

Just a 30 min train ride from Waterloo is Strawberry Hill. Weaving through the streets to the house I’ve come to see, I pass a mix of middle and higher income homes and, as I slowly go around the bend (literally, that is), I see it. Amid this residential neighbourhood sits a stark white house with turrets and arched windows. It reminds me of a big, white cake, one perhaps destined for a princess-themed wedding. This is Strawberry Hill House, Horace Walpole’s gothic home in the 18th century. Horace was the son of Britain’s first Prime Minister, a cousin of Admiral Lord Nelson, a scholar of Eton and Cambridge and a friend to Charles Lyttelton and that’s where my family connection is…

Charles Lyttelton is an ancestor of Charles George Lyttelton who, in 1891,  employed my great-grandmother as a nurse in his home. Okay, so there is no real family connection but the coincidence was very cool to discover.

With my tour booked online the previous day, I was warmly welcomed on the grounds as their one and only 4pm visitor which meant I had the house all to myself (a perk of being able to go on an April weekday, not an indication that it isn’t a great place to visit).

My first thought as I wander through the entrance hallway is how dreary the trompe l’oeil grey Gothic wallpaper is with its arch pattern. Fortunately, Horace had the good sense to install beautiful stained glass windows on either side of the door to allow natural light to flow in and cast colour where there was none. Words that come to mind as I wander through the rooms are quirky, dramatic and ‘something, the likes of which, I’ve never seen before’ (okay, so that’s 9 words).

Gloomth is another word, one that I keep hearing from the resident guide in each room I enter and, meaning gloomy, it describes what I have seen so far to a tee. But as I progress into The Gallery, my mouth drops and I have to physically lift up my chin to close it. The room is striking in colour with its crimson silk Damask wall covering, and stunning in design with its fan shaped ceiling decor of gilded papier-mache.

I move into the Round Room and instantly decide I want one of these in my home, along with the very pretty fireplace mantel in front of me and the elegant round rug that I’m sure once lay here.

Horace loved to travel and each time he returned with a new idea for his whimsically gothic creation. Outside there is a blend of eclectic architecture with elements taken from both castles and cathedrals. The inside elements make you think that you’ve stepped into Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ with empty recessed alcoves that once held a candelabra and a mantel clock which are now hiding in the shadows of this great house. The sea shell garden bench, displaying the creamy scrolls and curves of the Rococo design, is a fun addition to an otherwise non-spectacular garden.

Just a few steps away is the River Thames which I stroll along briefly before catching a bus back into London. I pass Eel Pie Island, which at one time apparently housed the UK’s largest hippie commune and where during different eras, of course, you might run into Henry VIII, Charles Dickens and Mick Jagger. Gotta love the place names in England, don’t ya?


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