Friends of Strawberry Hill are a group of volunteers who help in preserving the cultural richness of Strawberry Hill House, which is also referred to as Strawberry Hill. To understand the concept better, you have to know more about this structure. Friendsofstrawberryhill.org is an independent website with the same mission.
Horace Walpole (1717 – 97) constructed Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham, London as a perfect example of the Gothic style of architecture.
It all began when Walpole discovered an ancient house called Chopp’d Straw Hall in 1747 and decided to transform it into a Gothic castle with battlements, pinnacles, and round towers amid gardens and meadows. The elaborate decoration of the interior created enough gloom for its owner’s collection of antiquarian objects. The garden had a large seat in the shape of a Rococo seashell. The ceilings, doors, and chimneys of Strawberry Hill House were strongly inspired by the Gothic. The house had gloomy passageways and winding corridors, which opened in splendid rooms such as the Gallery.
The structure began attracting tourists in the lifetime of Walpole, who permitted four of them at a time. It was also a great venue for parties. Walpole was fond of throwing parties for members of the royalty as well as foreign ambassadors.
Walpole once dreamed of a large armoured fist on the stairs, and this formed the basis of “The Castle of Otranto,” the first Gothic novel. This work, in turn, inspired Mary Shelley to write “Frankenstein.” Further, it led to the development of a literary tradition that continues even today.
St. Mary’s University College was founded by the Catholic Poor Schools Committee in 1850 to train teachers for its rising number of poor Catholic children. In 1899, the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians) took over its administration. In 1923, the Vincentians purchased Strawberry Hill for St. Mary’s University College, which then had 250 students.
The Vincentians expanded the structure over a while to include more classrooms and accommodation. Today, the college has more than 3,500 students.
You may wonder about the significance of Strawberry Hill House. The structure was not only of great Gothic beauty, but also populated with antiquities, art, and curiosities dating from ancient times to the modern. In 1774, Walpole wrote, “A Description of the Villa of Horace Walpole,” a catalogue, which he revised in 1784.
The collection of art at Strawberry Hill House comprised fine portraits of his close friends, relatives, and ancestors. One of these portraits was “The Ladies Waldegrave,” a painting of his cousins by Reynolds. This portrait is today preserved in the National Gallery of Scotland.
Walpole also had a collection of miniature art, including the works of Isaac Oliver, Hilliard, and Holbein. He considered this collection to be the finest and the biggest in any country. His collection of over 1200 ceramics comprised modern porcelain, masterpieces of the Renaissance Age, and ancient Greek pots.
Walpole also had an odd item or two in his collection. Some of these items were a pair of gloves that belonged to James I and spurs that belonged to King William, which he had worn in the Battle of Boyne. He also had a lock of King Edward IV’s hair, which was cut from the king’s corpse in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor.
The above-mentioned works of art are no longer at Strawberry Hill House. Instead, they were all sold in 1842 at an event called the Great Sale, which lasted for 30 days. An American collector called Wilmarth Lewis collected as many of the items as he could and later donated it to the Yale Centre for British Art. The collection is now displayed at the Lewis Walpole Library, located at Farmington, Newhaven, Connecticut.
Today, Strawberry Hill House has many friends. They have all gotten together to create a charity called The Friends of Strawberry Hill (FOSH). This charity aims to preserve the cultural richness of Strawberry Hill House.
The friends say that they associate with Strawberry Hill House in many ways, right from supporting events or making legacies or bequests for the benefit of others. They are also in the process of developing a new FOSH website.
The “friends” have also conducted several events such as annual charity shows, fashion shows, musical concerts, literary meets, and several other events of cultural significance. For example, on Oct 22, 2011, the friends organized an event of the Gothic Book Club in Horace Walpole’s library. Book lovers were invited to come in large numbers to talk about Dracula, a horror novel written by Bram Stoker.
Also, the same year, the FOSH Quiz was held at Strawberry Hill and proved to be a great cultural event, complete with socializing and a traditional, hot supper of Shepherd’s Pie and Peas.