We have had two accounts sent in about our Christmas trip to Strawberry Hill. This is the first – by Sue Houseago:
On Tuesday, December 11th, Stroud Civic Society left Stratford Park to travel to Twickenham. This was our Chairwoman, Juliet Shipman’s choice of the Society’s Christmas outing – to visit the ‘Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill.’
Our first glimpse of Horace Walpole’s Gothic Revival Villa with its gleaming white turrets, windows, steeples and Rapunzel’s tower was pure fairytale. The fantasy continued as we entered, the hall since walls and staircases are covered in carved limewood shapes appearing as if woven up two flights of limewood stairs.
Between 1749 and 1790 Walpole created his cascade of contrary effects; for example, glancing back from a shadowy room at the Crimson Gallery with its gilded filigree fan vault ceiling it appeared in the sunlight to be dripping gold. Splendidly hung paintings led us from Reynold’s portrayal of Walpole’s nieces seen as the three Graces ripe for marriage to Hillard’s Portrait Miniature of Sir Francis Drake.
Our super-informed guide explained that Walpole had chosen many of his treasures for their histories – an exquisite gilded lantern clock had belonging to Anne Boleyn before her beheading, when it made its way to Strawberry Hill, where Queen Victoria noticing it on a visit carried it off with her. “There it is again”, our guide rubbed her hands, “back where Walpole hung it”. Grinling Gibbon’s bizarre carved cravat, together with a locket wisp of Mary Tudor’s hair cut when her tomb was opened in 1784, show the sheer breadth and wonder of these extraordinary treasures. house.
After a jolly lunch we went our separate ways, my way, with a friend was to walk in the sun along the river to Twickenham, where after a visit to the Museum and Eel Pie Island, we came across a spectacle that had surely escaped from Strawberry Hill. A gleaming white Carrara marble cascade appeared – Venus, hair flowing, appeared riding a pair of prancing horses high above seven nubile naked women whose vigorous poses, all reflected in the fountain was a shock equal to a Strawberry Hill treasure.
This apparition, created by late 19th century sculptor Oscar Andreoni, provided, with a re-visit to Walpole’s house and gardens, a perfect and grand finale to a superb Civic Society Christmas outing.