London is so bursting with history it’s impossible to get a grip on it all. What this means is that new old things come to light all the time (if you know what I mean). One of these is Strawberry Hill House.
In 2002, a charitable trust was established to restore this at risk 18th century Gothic Revival house. Since then, the house has been undergoing a £9 million repair and restoration programme and recently reopened to visitors. The house is not huge but it is eccentric and fascinating.
It was the dream (folly perhaps) of Horace Walpole (1717-97), a wealthy English Gentleman, who decided to build a summer villa on the bank of the River Thames a little outside of London. He wanted a place that would be a theatrical experience to visit, a place that his friends and others would come to and be amazed. He filled the place with stained glass windows, fireplaces based on various church altars or tombs and a library that could be my favorite room anywhere in the world. Gothic bookshelves! – wonderful.
Walpole was also a writer and his most famous novel is the first Gothic horror novel, The Castle of Otranto, which is set within the house. At the moment, Strawberry Hill House is particularly interesting because parts of the restoration are still in progress so you can see how history changed it over the centuries. Although houses have been built between it and the river, and a university has grown up next door, you can still get a sense of this rarefied villa life and rich man’s ability to indulge a passion when building your holiday house. So much gilding, such detailing, such obsession! If you like history, literature, or architecture, it’s definitely worth the train trip to visit.