Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Strawberry Hill; Gothic gem on the edge of London.

It always amazes me about London, I know it very well but it still throws up corners, nooks and places of interest I haven't visited . To be honest Strawberry Hill, HoraceWalpole's home in Twickenham had been on my radar for a while and its extensive renovations meant it had been closed for some time. I have to admit to a real passion for Gothic in any form, from its purist medieval origins right through to the flamboyant pastiche of the Victorians. Strawberry Hill falls somewhere between both extremes. A simple whitewashed stucco exterior hides a jewel box of a house.  I love art deco, modernism and Japanese organic minimalism but a large part of me hankers after stone pointed arches, blue stained glass and crenelated roof tops with spires.

Strawberry Hill is still very much a work in progress and it is sad that most of the building has ended up in the hands of some bunch of catholic churchy types. The voluntary trust who have worked to renovate the part of the building open to the public have done a fine job but it is not finished. Restoring wonderful buildings is a painstaking and expensive job. Complaints that the place looks a bit sparse are unfair as there is work still to be done and objects and furniture to be begged borrowed or clawed back to fill the rooms.

What the building does still have is that heady mixture of religious aestheticism, dandified exuberance and faintly louche sensuality that early gothic revival expresses in all its forms. I have always thought, contrary to a lot of observers that the only real impracticality of it is the cost. If you walk around you can see how well the rooms and their, to modern eyes, over-exuberant decoration work.  The Library makes you want to read even though it currently contains no books (any one with 18th century books to loan/donate please contact them), the entertaining rooms entertain, even before you wheel the drinks out and the bedrooms make you imagine lying in a huge bed with a novel. Perhaps it is the association with Walpole that makes me think of the house as literary or that I can imaging the house in a Wilkie Collins novel.

The photographs above are of the stair way and  you can see the walls in the process of being renovated, note the very cute doggy on the posts.  The use of colour is one of the things I appreciate about the past, the obsession with white walls and magnolia is the most lamentable thing about modern interiors.Outside Strawberry Hill  is a sparkling white however the architectural details as you can see below are far from minimal.

One thing I particularly enjoyed was the profusion of stained glass. Walpole collected glass and had it reframed in imaginative and witty juxtopositions. Not only does the coloured light add even more atmosphere to already delicious rooms but the windows frame the landscape outside.

Now this is what I call a fireplace...

Strawberry Hill is a train journey from Waterloo, the area is very close to the Thames and down hill from the station there is a small park over looking the river and conveniently across the road from a Majestic wine warehouse. Despite these advantages it was not full of people picnicking which means it is probably a very good place for one. The Alexander Pope gastro pub hotel is also close by and in fact this is where we started our afternoon, meeting members of the society for lunch. Lunch didn't preclude tea  of course. I have a pavlovian reaction to Heritage/National Trust locations and have to have tea. In this case the scone was huge, and came with clotted cream. Honestly it was almost the size of my hand!

The place also had a cat, a bit of a tart who insisted on closing it's eyes in front of the camera.  More details about visiting Strawberry Hill, Walpole and it's history and how to encounter both scone and cat can be found here.


LollyWillowes said...

It's making me drool, I read a big article about this in a paper recently, it's divine, I'd love to see it.
Stained glass is just the veriest thing, I would love to be able to do a course in it.

esme and the lane way said...

Wow, it looks beautiful. I used to go to college near Strawberry Hill – and now I am super homesick! ;p


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