OUTING to STRAWBERRY HILL

Our imaginations had already been fired by the recent publicity over the re-opening and restoration of Horace Walpole's fantasy dream house built in the mid eighteenth century in the Gothic Style. The house has proved as influential in setting the fashion for Gothic revival architecture as his novel 'The Castle of Otranto' written by him at the same time set the style for subsequent Gothic fantasy novels. These presented frightening and supernatural events, and set the style for writers such as Edgar Allen Poe and our currently popular Harry Potter novels. We had also been fortunate to hear a talk at our September monthly meeting presented by an enthusiastic house guide who also volunteered to assist us on our visit. The Strawberry Hill Trust supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund used a nine million pound Lottery Fund grant to restore the property to its previous grandeur after years of painstaking research and conservation.  It is not the easiest place to reach to visit independently so we were fortunate to have the opportunity to go there directly by coach. We were not disappointed. On our arrival the spring sunshine shone on the dazzling white building showing in its full resplendent glory. We were divided into three smaller groups and were expertly guided around all 25 rooms by superb guides, quite a challenge to manage a large group in such a relatively small building! We visited Walpole's private quarters, his bedroom and the room where he died, as well as his "eccentric rooms", including a royal bedchamber where nobody slept! We passed through deliberately darkened passages and hallways designed to create an atmosphere of medieval " gloomth", complete with bristling battlements, spires and gargoyles. We were particularly impressed by the displays of stained glass collected from all across Europe. We could easily imagine how it must have looked in Walpole's time when it was fully furnished and hung with its rich paintings and tapestries. Its promise of a "truly theatrical experience" was fully realised. The afternoon was spent on a more mundane level, finding our own lunch and exploring the shops, parks and open spaces in the pleasant borough of Richmond.