Horace Walpole's 18th century gothic pile in Strawberry Hill, near Twickenham, re-opens to the public this week after a £9 million renovation.
Considered to be the first Gothic Revival house, and a direct influence on buildings such as the Houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge, Strawberry Hill house was built between 1747 and 1792, as the summer cottage of Walpole, the son of the first Prime Minister and a quintessentially dandyish 18th century character. The house was, in Walpole's own words, a "plaything", and he ruled it with an impish imperiousness, dictating a series of rules for guests (a copy of which is given out to modern visitors) and strictly marshalling whom he would allow inside.
Upon his death, the house passed onto his niece, and thence onto the ancestors of former health minister Lord Waldegrave, who was present at Thursday's launch, and cheerfully admitted that his great-great—great-grandmother's ne'er-do-well husband essentially sold off almost everything within to service debts; the 'Great Sale' of 1842 saw nearly everything flogged. It was down to the same woman, Frances Braham, to restore the house (having found herself a better husband or two) and attempt to bring some of the goods back.
After falling into serious disrepair by the end of the 20th century, it received significant restoration grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage, and will now be re-opened to the public on October 2nd, although tours are booked solid for several months, so reserving in advance is essential. For more details see the Strawberry Hill house website.