Saving Walpole's Wonder
The future of Strawberry Hill, the “little Gothic castle” created by Horace Walpole in the eighteenth century, is looking decidedly brighter thanks to a £4.6 million grant which has been earmarked by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The award to the Strawberry Hill Trust along with £370,000 development funding will help to finance an eagerly awaited £8.8 million ($15 million) restoration project. Horace Walpole, son of Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first Prime Minister, was a politician, collector, author. and style “guru.” He acquired the building, which he christened Strawberry Hill, in 1749 and set about transforming it over the next 20 years into a fashionable villa along the stretch of the Thames between Chiswick and Hampton.
The Grade One-listed house is now regarded as the most important and influential building of the early Gothic revival, inspiring designs for the Palace of Westminster 100 years later. Its vulnerability and uncertain future were highlighted in 2003, when the World Monuments Fund included it on their list of 100 Most Endangered Sites and, then again, when it featured in the second series of BBC2’s Restoration. It is also on English Heritage’s Buildings at Risk Register. Walpole said of his creation: “My buildings are paper, like my writings, and both will blow away in ten years after I am dead.” Although outliving Walpole’s prediction by 200 years, Strawberry Hill’s pinnacles and traceries, constructed of wood, stucco, and papier mâché (unlik