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Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, Middlesex: designs for the round drawing room and a rustic cottage for Horace Walpole, 1766-68 (9)

Signed and dated

  • 1766-68


The Hon. Horatio (Horace) Walpole (1717-97) was the third son of Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford. He was a letter writer, novelist, patron and collector, and also served as MP (Whig) for Callington in 1741-54, Castle Rising in 1754-57 and King’s Lynn in 1757-68. From 1738 until his death, Walpole owed his income to his positions as Usher of the Exchequer, Clerk of the Estreats and Comptroller of the Pipe. In 1791 he succeeded his nephew as 4th Earl of Orford, but died unmarried and the title became extinct.

In 1747 Walpole leased the site of Strawberry Hill in Twickenham, purchasing the freehold a year later. He assembled his ‘Committee of Taste’ to build and decorate his new house. This included Walpole himself and his friend John Chute (1701-76) of The Vyne, Hampshire, as well as Richard Bentley (1708-82) who superintended the construction of the house, as well as designing several interiors and chimneypieces; Cornelius Dixon (d1823) who worked on the staircase; William Robertston (c1720-75) who made alterations to Bentley’s fabric; James Wyatt (1746-1813) who built the offices at Strawberry Hill; and Robert Adam, who was commissioned to make designs for an unexecuted rustic cottage, and for the ceiling and chimneypiece in the round drawing room, sometimes called the Beauclerk room.

In a letter to Robert Adam, Walpole wrote the following: ‘Mr Walpole has sent Mr Adam the two books, [Sir William Dugdale, History of St Paul’s Cathedral in London (1658) and John Dart, Westmonasterium, 2 vols (c1742)] and hopes at his leisure he will think of the ceiling and chimney-piece. The ceiling is to be taken from the plate 165 of St Paul’s, the circular window [the rose window at the east end]. The chimney from the shrine of Edward the Confessor, at Westminster [specifically the Cosmati work on the 1269 shrine]. The diameter of the room is 22 feet. The enclosed little end is for the bed, which Mr Walpole begs to have drawn out too. He is just going to Bath, and will call on Mr Adam as soon as he returns.’ The letter can be dated to c26 September 1766 by Walpole’s trip to Bath. It is worth noting that the round drawing room at Strawberry Hill never functioned as a bedroom, and there is no extant Adam drawing for a bed for the room. However, this letter provides importance evidence, both for the manner in which Walpole – unlike the majority of Adam’s patrons – dictated the form of the designs for the round drawing room to Adam, as well as the sources for those designs.

Walpole was clearly pleased with Adam’s design for the chimneypiece, as evidenced by his letter to Sir William Hamilton of 22 September 1768: ‘For this year past I have been projecting a chimney in imitation of the tomb of Edward the Confessor, and had partly given it up, on finding how enormously expensive it would be. Mr Adam had drawn me a design a little in that style, prettier it is true, and at half the price. I had actually agreed to have it executed in scagliola, but have just heard that the man complained he could not perform his compact for the money settled. Your obliging present is I am certain executed by the very person who made the Confessor’s monument; and if the scagliola-man wishes to be off his bargain, I shall be glad; if not, still these materials will make me a beautiful chimney-piece for another room.’ In the event ‘the man’ who produced Adam’s design for the chimneypiece in marble and scagliola was John Augustus Richter (c1730 – after 1809) at a total cost of £288.13.7½.

On Walpole’s death in 1797, Strawberry Hill was left to his cousin, Anne Seymour Damer, from whom it passed to Walpole’s great-great-nephew, the 7th Earl Waldegrave, who in 1842 sold the contents during a 32-day auction. The Earl never lived at Strawberry Hill, but following his death it became the home of Frances, the dowager countess, who built a new wing on the house. In 1923 the house was bought by the Society of St Vincent to be used as a Roman Catholic teacher training college, later to become a college of the University of Surrey. It was not until 2007 that the property was leased by the Strawberry Hill Preservation Trust, who restored the house and opened it to the public.

There are six Adam drawings for Strawberry Hill within American collections. Five of these give two alternative designs for the unexecuted cottage, being a two-storey rustic cottage dated 1766, and finished drawing versions of Adam volumes 10/205-206 dated 1768. These are illustrated in King (Volume II, pp. 248-249). The sixth Adam drawing within an American collection is for an unexecuted Gothic seat with a vaulted canopy, dated 1767.

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume I, pp. 88-89, Volume II, Index pp. 29, 90; W.S. Lewis, ‘The genesis of Strawberry Hill’, Metropolitan Museum Studies, Volume 5, Number 1 (August 1934), pp. 57-92; D. Stillman, The decorative work of Robert Adam, 1966, p. 111; J. Lees-Milne, The age of Adam, 1947, pp. 74-75; D. Yarwood, Robert Adam, 1970, p. 175; J. Harris, A catalogue of British drawings for Architecture, decoration, sculpture and landscape gardening 1550-1900 in American collections, 1971, pp. 6-7; G. Beard, The work of Robert Adam, 1978, p. 46; J. Ingamells, A dictionary of British and Irish travellers in Italy: 1701-1800, 1997, p. 974; E. Harris, The genius of Robert Adam: his interiors, 2001, pp. 8-9, 92; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume 1, pp. 225, 242, Volume II, pp. 247-248, 259; T. Knox, ‘Strawberry Hill, Twickenham’, Country Life, August 2004, pp. 35-39; I. Roscoe, A biographical dictionary of sculptors in Britain, 1660-1851, 2009, pp. 1036-37; J. Wilton Ely, ‘Style and serendipity: Adam, Walpole and Strawberry Hill’, The British Art Journal, Volume XI, No. 3, (Spring 2011), pp. 3-14; Yale Edition, Horace Walpole’s correspondence online, 2011, Volume 35, pp. 406-7, Volume 41, p. 39; W. Pryse, ‘True Gothic taste’, Country Life, 21 March 2012, pp. 50-55; ‘Walpole, Hon. Horatio (1717-97), of Strawberry Hill, Mdx.’, History of Parliament online; ‘Walpole, Horatio [Horace], fourth earl of Orford (1717-97)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography online

Frances Sands, 2015



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Contents of Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, Middlesex: designs for the round drawing room and a rustic cottage for Horace Walpole, 1766-68 (9)