As the first true Gothic Revival structure in Europe, Strawberry Hill seamlessly blended landscape design, architecture, and decorative arts to forge a new direction in eightheenth-century design and culture. The grounds and buildings, with their uniquely designed interiors, were the visionary project of Horace Walpole, the youngest son of Britain’s first prime minister. Strawberry Hill was designed to house and display his collections of fine and decorative art amidst rooms decorated to reflect both his interest in Gothic aesthetics and his fascination with the manipulation with materials. One of the astonishing touches in the decorative scheme is the inventive, and often deceptive, use of papier-mâché to render flourishes that could be mistaken for stone or wood architectural details. Although much of Walpole’s extensive collection was auctioned by his descendents in 1842 and the property sold to St. Mary’s College in 1925, the architecture and landscape of Strawberry Hill remain largely intact. Deterioration from lack of regular maintenance and incompatible new uses caused problems that led to a significant conservation campaign undertaken by World Monuments Fund, World Monuments Fund Britain, the Strawberry Hill Trust, and other partners.
How We Helped
Strawberry Hill was placed the 2004 Watch and subsequently WMF became involved in research and planning at the site with support from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage. Emergency stabilization and repairs were addressed. The project also allowed diagnostic testing and documentation to be the basis for advanced training for students from the London Metropolitan University and the University of Pennsylvania. WMF Britain worked with the Strawberry Hill Trust to prepare a feasibility study to guide the restoration of the house, its accessibility, its interpretation to the public, and its long-term stewardship. The work has been completed and 2010 marks the return of the house to public enjoyment and access. In 2011, the Paul Mellon Estate supported the conservation of the groves at the estate.
Why It Matters
Thanks to Walpole’s personal records, which describe the works carried out at Strawberry Hill, and letters to friends about the evolution of this thinking about the rooms and their arrangement, Strawberry Hill is well documented. Similarly, after Walpole’s time at Strawberry Hill, Lady Waldegrave wrote extensively about her changes and modernization of the estate. One of the great challenges in presenting the house to the public is to showcase Walpole’s vision and show the evolution over time as the house adapted to new needs and owners.
Horace Walpole was a chronicler of his social milieu, a historian, antiquarian, and collector. While at Strawberry Hill, Walpole composed The Castle of Otranto, perhaps the work most identified with him today. The fame of the house, grounds, and collections were established by the Description of Strawberry Hill (1784), an illustrated account meant to encourage public curiosity about the estate, which endures into the twenty-first century.