Like me, Horace Walpole enjoyed art and writing. End of commonalities. For Horace lived in the 18th century, as son of Britain’s first Prime Minister, member of the House of Commons, writer and art collector. To visit Horace’s Strawberry Hill House, a snow-white Gothic style villa southwest of London, is like walking into a fairy tale. Indeed this was Horace’s intention. For he wanted the house to be a theatrical experience. He copied designs from cathedrals, castles and medieval tombs.
Inside, there are rooms in purple, blue, and red colors, with curved ornaments, conscious alternation of dark corridors and bright halls, glass, mosaic, and gold. If Horace’s entire collection of art, antiquities and curiosities had still been there, one day’s visit would not have sufficed. Unfortunately, most of his collection is dispersed worldwide. Some pieces remain and testify Horace’s eye for good stories and his ignorance towards historical correctness. For instance, the two crusaders in the library ceiling are Horace’s ancestors, but they lived centuries later than the Crusades, so there must be a historical mix up.
Strawberry Hill makes me think of the Beatles’ songs (although Strawberry Field was the name of a Salvation Army children’s home around the corner from Lennon’s childhood home near Liverpool) and imagine rolling landscapes. However, I didn’t spot any strawberry plantations. According to one a house guide, Horace came up with the name because cargo ships with strawberries came sailing on the River Thames and docked nearby. He built Strawberry Hill House as a summer residence with a landscape garden, meadows and views of the River Thames. Horace opened the villa as a tourist attraction, with strict rules for visitors: For instance, he allowed max 4 per visitors per day, and no children. Across the street, he had a modest cottage to retreat to whenever he needed peace and quiet, perhaps for writing his famous letters.
Village with train station
Strawberry Hill today has its own train station and is located in Twickenham, Surrey, with green riverfronts, golf courses, and the old St Mary’s University. For rugby fans the big attraction is no doubt Twickenham World Rugby Museum and Stadium. I jumped on the train, and about half an hour later I was back in bustling London.
Have a look at visitlondon.com for more London day trip ideas.