George Andrews, one of the library volunteers, describes their recent trip to Strawberry Hill House – a treat organised in recognition of their sterling work in Richmond upon Thames libraries. Many thanks to the staff at Strawberry Hill House for supporting the excursion.  

On Tuesday, 2nd June, some 40 volunteers, myself included, responded to a delightful invitation from Camilla,  Library Services Volunteer Coordinator, to visit and be guided around the House. I wonder how many of us had perhaps passed by the place without investigating the hidden and sometimes quirky charms of a most beautiful building!

Copyright London Borough of Richmond upon Thames Local Studies Library & Archive
Copyright London Borough of Richmond upon Thames Local Studies Library & Archive

On arrival we were encouraged, as are all visitors, to first wander around the grounds, which originally covered some 9 acres. We were all handed a superbly detailed guide booklet – our “ticket” – before the tour. The house was built, lovingly, between 1748 and 1790, by Horace Walpole, the third and youngest son of Sir Robert Walpole. Horace was inspired to plan such a building during visits to European countries during the inevitable Grand Tour, enjoyed by the wealthy of the 18th and 19th centuries.

One of the many attractive features was the team of informed and informative guides who manned the entrance areas and the rooms to be visited. Our first encounter outside the main entrance was with a witty and highly knowledgeable gentleman who explained the cultural background which accounted for Walpole’s inspiration in Gothic France and Roman Italy. Walpole, surprisingly, shunned the contemporary fashion for Palladianism and wanted to build a neo-Gothic “castle” as he called his creation. After his grand tour, he returned to England to settle in Twickenham, a village some two hours distant from London, becoming a tenant of the previous house (once called “Chopp’d Straw Hall”) on the site, which he then purchased and used as a base to fashion his – perhaps in some eyes, but not mine – folly.

The visit covers some 19 rooms and areas, the main original features of which, to my mind, are the gorgeous windows, composed of stained and delicately painted glass, very little of which has been replaced; the dazzling colour schemes with predominant blues and reds; the obvious intention to create a family “pile”, even though it was clearly not so. We learned, as we walked around, just how much restoration has been undertaken by the Strawberry Hill Trust especially with regard to furnishings and wall-coverings.

One outstanding example is the green-based flock wallpaper, which makes use of angora wool! Another is the frequent use of woods, such as lime, to create the complex gothic ornamentation, which, once painted, clearly resembles stonework. Each room is a gem in some way, combining various unusual and frequently beautiful architectural features.

If we were not already dazzled, our treat included a visit to the cafe, where we were offered tea or coffee and a delicious scone with all the summer trimmings. It was a superb afternoon out and we were all surely very grateful to Camilla and the other staff who helped to arrange the event. Thank you!

George Andrews

There is plenty of information out there about the volunteering roles we offer and what you can do if you want to get involved  at www.richmond.gov.uk/volunteering_at_the_library

Visit our Community Information directory for information on upcoming events taking place at Strawberry Hill House.