A hand-colored engraving of the House, shown during the occupation of Lady Waldegrave, from "Neale's Beauties of England and Wales," circa 1830s.
A 1778 engraving of the house from "The Copper Plate Magazine"
A 1778 engraving of the house, with the Thames to the right, from "The Copper Plate Magazine"
The house in the 1990s (before restoration)
The house in 2018 (after restoration)
Stained glass window in the Round Drawing Room
Robert Adam's Round Drawing Room fireplace
Detail of stained glass window
Horace Walpole's 1st century AD marble Roman eagle, resting on an inscribed ancient Roman marble cinerary altar, at Gosford House.
The Darnley Jewel (circa 1571-78) from a circa 1905 photograph. Today in the Royal Collection and displayed at Holyrood Palace.
Horace Walpole from an 1807 engraving
Earlier Houses: Sir Horace Walpole converted an earlier house on the site into today's famous villa.
House & Family History: Strawberry Hill House was created, from 1749 onward, by Horace Walpole (1717-97), the youngest son of Sir Robert Walpole (later 1st Earl of Orford), Britain's first prime minister. Horace was an aesthete, amateur architect, and style trend-setter. His conversion of the earlier house at Strawberry Hill into the Gothick Revival villa extraordinaire we see today gave birth to Strawberry Hill Gothic style of architecture. At Strawberry Hill Walpole formed one of the most extensive and eclectic collections of art in England and set up a small private press, where he published works by Gray, Joseph Spence, Hannah More, and others. Walpole is best known as the author of the world's first Gothic novel, "The Castle of Otranto" (1765), which was written at Strawberry Hill. In 1846, at the death of her husband, the 7th Earl Waldegrave (grandson of Horace Walpole’s great niece, Elizabeth Waldegrave), Lady Frances Waldegrave (née Braham) inherited Strawberry Hill. The four-times-married Lady Frances was the daughter of John Braham, an internationally famous German Jewish opera singer. Speaking of Lady Waldegrave's Jewish heritage (something she was always proud of), Lady Dorothy Nevill, a descendant of Horace Walpole, wrote: “She [Frances] was a woman of very determined character, not a bit ashamed of her origin..." The 7th Earl had trouble with drink and debts; because of the latter, he famously sold the contents of Strawberry Hill in 1842, dispersing Walpole's great collection to the winds. After she inherited the house from her late husband, Lady Frances added a large wing and tried to reassemble as much of the collection as possible. In 1884 Strawberry Hill was sold to the Stern family (the second Jewish family to own the house), who owned Strawberry Hill House until 1923, when it was sold to St. Mary's University College. In 2004 the college made the house redundant and it is now under the care of the Strawberry Hill Trust, who raised £9 million to restore the house and establish an endowment for its future maintenance. On October 2, 2010 the newly-restored Strawberry Hill House was officially reopened to the public. From October 2018 until February 2019 "The Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill: Masterpieces from Horace Walpole’s Collection" was mounted in the house. For the first time since the great sale of 1842, over 150 objects from Walpole's famous collection, lent by institutions and individuals from around the world, were brought together in the historic house that was once their home.
Collections: The Waldegrave family held "The Great Sale" in the grounds of Strawberry Hill in 1842, which left the house denuded of virtually all its contents. One of the stars of the collection was the circa 1571-78 Darnley Jewel (see "Images" section), a gold and enamel pendant with rubies and a false cabochon sapphire, probably made for Lady Margaret Douglas (1515-78). Lady Margaret was the granddaughter of Henry VII of England, first cousin of Elizabeth I of England, and half-sister of James V of Scotland. The jewel is named after Lady Margaret's son, Lord Darnley, who married her niece, Mary, Queen of Scots. This piece was one of Horace Walpole's most prized possessions; so much so that he almost never left it out of his sight. It was acquired by Queen Victoria for 130 guineas at the sale, where she also purchased Anne Boleyn's clock (the Darnley Jewel and the clock are both today in the Royal Collection). Another of Walpole's prized possessions, a colossal 1st century AD marble Roman eagle, was also in the famous sale (see photo in "Images" section). The eagle was excavated in 1742 in the Boccapaduli family’s garden, within the precincts of the Baths of Caracalla, in Rome. Cardinal Alessandro Albani brought the discovery of the ancient eagle to the attention of the antiquarian and collector John Chute (of The Vyne, Hampshire), who convinced his friend Horace Walpole to purchase it in 1745. The bird was displayed in the Gallery of Strawberry Hill from 1747 until 1842, when it was sold at the famous auction (an engraving of the eagle appeared on the frontispiece of the sale catalog). Walpole was so taken with the large bird that it appears in his 1756–57 portrait by Joshua Reynolds (in the collection of Ragley Hall, Warwickshire); on the table next to Walpole's elbow in the portrait is a print, commissioned by him, that prominently shows the large bird. The eagle was documented by Adolf Michaelis in his 1882 publication, "Ancient Marbles in Great Britain" and it was one of the stars of "The Treasure Houses of Britain" exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in 1985. It is today in the collection of Gosford House, outside Edinburgh. A large 1561 painting of Catherine de’ Medici and four of her children returned to Strawberry Hill in early 2021 as part of the "in lieu of tax scheme," whereby important works of art are acquired for the nation. The portrait, attributed to the workshop of François Clouet, was acquired by Horace Walpole in 1774 for £25 (approximately £43,000 in 2019 values using the labour value commodity index) and hung in Strawberry Hill until the great sale of 1842.
Architect: John Chaloner ChuteDate: 18th century
Architect: James EssexDate: 18th century
Architect: Horace WalpoleDate: 18th century
Architect: Robert AdamDate: 1766-67
Country Life: LVI, 18 plan, 56 plan, 1924. CLIII, 1598, 1726, 1794, 1973.
Title: Treasure Houses of Britain, The - SOFTBACK
Author: Jackson-Stops, Gervase (Editor)
Year Published: 1985
Reference: pg. 319
Publisher: Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art (New Haven: Yale University Press)
Book Type: Softback
Title: Royal Treasures: A Golden Jubilee Celebration
Author: Roberts, Jane (Editor)
Year Published: 2002
Reference: pgs. 222-223
Publisher: London: The Royal Collection
Book Type: Hardback
Title: V&A Guide to Period Styles: 400 Years of British Art and Design, The
Author: Jackson, Anna; Hinton, Morna
Year Published: 2002
Reference: pg. 80
Publisher: London: V&A Publications
Book Type: Hardback
Title: Movie Locations: A Guide to Britain & Ireland
Author: Adams, Mark
Year Published: 2000
Publisher: London: Boxtree
Book Type: Softback
Title: Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, A - SOFTBACK
Author: Colvin, Howard
Year Published: 1995
Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press
Book Type: Softback
House Listed: Grade I
Park Listed: Grade II
Past Seat / Home of: Horatio (Horace) Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford, 1750-97. Anne Seymour Damer, 1797. Lieutenant-Colonel John James Waldegrave, 6th Earl Waldegrave, 1797-1835; George Edward Waldegrave, 7th Earl Waldegrave, 1835-46; Lady Frances Waldegrave, 1846-79. Chichester Fortescue, 1879-84. Baron Hermann de Stern, 1884-87; Herbert Stern, 1st Baron Michelham, 1897-1919.
Current Ownership Type: School
Primary Current Ownership Use: Visitor Attraction
Ownership Details: Strawberry Hill House is owned by St. Mary's University and leased to the Strawberry Hill Trust.