Strawberry Hill: I am going to build a little Gothic Castle', declared Horace Walpole as he began work on Strawberry Hill. Marion Harney considers the history of the house and its garden, one of the greatest Picturesque ensembles.
Walpole's History was the first attempt to chronicle the evolution of gardens and played a significant vole in the development of landscape aesthetics. (2) In it he claims the 'natural style' of garden as indisputably English, a claim that has distorted perceptions of garden history down the centuries. (3) He attributes the beginning of the naturalistic style to John Milton's description of the Garden of Eden in Paradise I Mi (1667} as the first garden laid out in the English Landscape style and he heaps praise on William Kent as Milton's successor in his ability to envision pictorial qualities in landscape, declaring in what has become one of the most famous quotations in garden history, 'He leaped the fence, and saw that all nature was a garden' (4) Walpole's influential essay; based on the theories of Joseph Addison (1672-1719) and Alexander Pope (1688-1744), is contemporaneous with the construction and expansion of Strawberry Hill. (5)
Nature and informality-Addison, Pope, Vanbrugh, Kent
Pursuit of nature and rejection of formality became essential tenets of English garden style. Theory and practice of landscape painting played a significant role in development of garden aesthetics. Theories, expressed in Addison's Spectator essays, including 'The Pleasures of the Imagination' (1712) and Pope's Epistle IV To Richard Boy le, Earl of Burlington: Of the Use of Riches (1731), endorsed 'the simplicity of unadorned nature'. Pope, in his Guardian essay (1713) (6) severely criticised Baroque layouts as stylised, uniform and geometrical with planting severely manicured into architectural forms, with elaborate fountains, water features and very formal statuary Promoting irregular beauty through his poetry, Pope became one of the main proponents of respecting 'the. Genius of the place', advocating style in garden design that worked with nature rather than imposed geometrical patterns. John Vanbrugh (1664-1726) was an early promoter of informal landscape and the associative quality of ruins through their link to history connections with painting and their picturesque appeal to the senses. (7) At Blenheim, Vanbrugh prefigured the Picturesque in the fusion of landscape, architecture and the appeal of ruins. For the composition of a particular scene (towards Woodstock Manor) he advocated principles of landscape painting-the use of light and shade, perspective and the appropriate disposition of objects-as a focal point sympathetic to the natural contours. In an oft-quoted memorandum to the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough he petitioned for the retention of the old ruined manor, 'So that all the Buildings left, (which is only the Habitable Part and the Chapell) might Appear in two Risings amongst 'em, it wou'd make One of the Most Agreable Objects that the best of the Landskip Painters can invent'. (8)
Pope and Kent did much to promote the new taste for informal landscape, introducing eye-catcher buildings with scenographic qualities and iconographic meaning. The transition from Baroque to informal naturalistic landscape was complete by mid-century parallel to a similar progression in architecture with Classical Palladian replacing Baroque. However, the progression was not linear, and both large and small irregular landscape parks and gardens existed side-by-side with formal gardens throughout much of the period.
Strawberry Hill and Walpole's choice of Gothic
Not everyone followed prevailing fashion and Horace Walpole (flouted current taste creating a Gothic villa in a complementary landscape setting: As my castle is so diminutive, I give myself a Burlington-air, and say, that as Chiswick is a model of Grecian architecture, Strawberry Hill is to be so of Gothic'. (9) Strawberry Hill, however, was no forerunner of archaeologically correct nineteenth-century Gothic Revival. Rather, Walpole chose Gothic for its associative connotations, as a means of expressing an idealised past where the context evokes a Gothic 'cloistered' experience through a structured essay in associative thought (fig 1). Strawberry Hill is a prime example of an associative, autobiographical site, where the man, the 'little Gothic castle' and the landscape are inextricably linked. Expressing the views, ideas and opinions of the self-styled arbiter of taste on landscape aesthetics, taste and culture, the landscape is a personal story His statement in the History, with its implied criticism of contemporary professional landscape designers, sets out his ethos: 'In general it is probably true, that the possessor, if he has any taste, must be I he designer of his own improvements. He sees the situation in all seasons of the year, at all times of the day. He knows where beauty will not clash with convenience, and observes in his silent walks and accidental rides a thousand hints that might escape a person who in a few days sketches out a pretty picture, but had not the leisure to examine the details and relations of every part'. (10) Walpole's landscape would be in contrast to the building and would enhance 'the gay variety of scene' which he had singled out for praise in Pope's garden. He exclaims in a letter to Horace Mann, a diplomat at the court of Florence with whom he corresponded for 40 years, "'You suppose my garden is to be Gothic too!" That can't be; Gothic is merely architecture; and as one has a satisfaction in imprinting the gloomth of abbeys and cathedrals on one's house, so one's garden, on the contrary, is to be nothing but riant, and the gaiety of nature'. (11)
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It is first necessary to understand the cultural significance of the suburban villa in relation to Walpole's occupancy for part of the year. Far from dynastic seats of ostentatious display, the villa was a pleasurable retreat from the city and a place of retirement from public-life and of enjoyment and relaxation for the owner and his circle; at Twickenham, Walpole, like Pope before him, was at leisure to indulge his theories on garden design at his semi-rural retreat on the banks of the Thames. Walpole's own words best describe his delight on acquiring the small house at Strawberry Hill and it is interesting to note that from the outset he enhanced the pastoral scene of his 'little new farm' by purchasing sheep of a particular hue and he describes the picture in art historical terms as a 'study', with the prospect, not the building, as the most important feature.
'The house is so small, that I can send it to you in a letter to look at: the prospect is as delightful as possible, commanding the river, the town and Richmond Park; and being situated on a hill that descends to the Thames through two or three little meadows, where I have some Turkish sheep and two cows, all studied in their colours for becoming the view' (12) (fig 2).
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Documentary evidence points to elements being designed by Walpole as soon as he acquired the five acre site, taking advantage of the natural topography and exploiting its borrowed prospects. Chosen for its proximity to the River Thames, 'an open country is but a canvas on which the landscape might be designed'. By 1753 Walpole had acquired more than 14 acres, begun to Gothicise the house and to introduce structural planting to frame the villa: 'the living landscape was chastened or polished, not transformed' by screening unwanted views, concealing buildings and prospects that interfered with the larger picture and creating new vistas and borrowed views where desirable. (13)
Walpole wrote to Mann again in 1753 enclosing a plan of the site drawn by Bentley (now lost) when he had expanded the house and most of the designed landscape was in place. The later estate plan (c 1793) illustrates the completed garden and is useful for reconstructing what would have been a delightful picturesque fusion of naturalistic gardening and the informality associated with Gothic architecture (fig 3). The only significant work to the topography of the site was the construction of a natural terrace to take advantage of the borrowed prospect into the surrounding countryside.
[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]
'The enclosed enchanted little landscape, then is Strawberry Hill ... This view of the castle is what I have just finished, and is the only side that, will be regular. (14) Directly before it is an open grove through which you see a field which is bounded by a serpentine wood of all kind of trees and flowering shrubs and flowers. The lawn before the house is situated on the top of small hill, from whence to the left you see the town and church of Twickenham encircling a turn of the river, that looks exactly like a seaport in miniature. The opposite shore is a most delicious meadow, bounded by Richmond Hill which loses itself in the noble woods of the park to the end of the prospect on the right, where is another turn of the river and the suburbs of Kingston as luckily placed as Twickenham is on the left; and a natural terrace on the brow of my hill, with meadows of my own down to the river, commands both extremities. Is this not a tolerable prospect? You must figure that all this is perpetually enlivened by a navigation of boats and barges, and by a road below my terrace, with coaches, post-chaises, wagons, and horsemen constantly in motion, and the fields speckled with cows, horses, and sheep. Now yon shall walk into the house ...' (fig 4). (15) This commentary is interesting as it suggests Pope's influence in 'Consulting the Genius of the Place' to have been of primary importance and the building seems a secondary consideration. When Walpole insists in the History that the 'chief beauty of all gardens, prospect and fortunate points of view', and, 'animated prospect, is the theatre that will always be the most frequented', he obviously had Strawberry Hill in mind. All the ingredients of Pope and Addison's theories arc here, irregularity of natural landscape, borrowed views, spontaneity movement and constant variety in the scene.
[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]
Walking the circuit
The eighteenth-century visitor would have first viewed the picturesque Gothic castle from the road: 'the approach to the house through lofty trees, (he embattled walls overgrown with ivy, the spiry pinnacles, the grave air of the building, give it all the appearance of an old abbey'. (16) Monastic and religious medieval associations increased as the visitor approached the Oratory and the Abbot's or Prior's garden seen through a Gothic screen. For privacy and security Walpole screened the house from the Teddington Road with an embattled wall in keeping with the Gothic character of the building (fig 5). The wall also enclosed and sheltered the Prior's Garden taking the form of a Hortus Conclusus. an enclosed medieval garden with deep historical and biblical associations (fig 6). Imaginatively references to the 'Prior's' garden would have set the scene for the Gothic interior (fig 7). They also fulfilled Walpole's stated preference for an "old fashioned' formal garden near to the house for reasons of convenience, a methodology later adopted by the 'father of modern gardening' Humphry Repton (1752-1818). (17) Walpole believed isolating the house was a 'defect': 'Sheltered and even close walks in so very uncertain climate as ours, are comforts ill exchanged for the few picturesque days that we enjoy: and whenever a family can purloin a warm and even something of an old fashioned garden from the landscape designed for them by the undertaker in fashion, without interfering with the bigger picture, they will find satisfaction on those days that do not invite strangers to come and see their improvements'. (18)
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Visitors would have then participated in a guided tour by the housekeeper (or Walpole himself if they were important enough) of the antiquarian contents of the interior, eventually emerging, after experiencing a series of Gothic spaces, from the 'gloomth' of the monastic interior with an increasing sense of history, into the 'greenth' of the garden. Exiting through the Great Cloister, an open, arched outdoor room which functioned as the connection between the interior and exterior, the viewer would meet the expansive views of the sweeping Great Lawn, Open Grove, and Serpentine Wood.
Walpole created a series of character areas linking discrete but interrelated features by a sinuous path that wended its way around the southern and western extremities of the site, connecting the buildings to the furthermost features in the landscape. He frequently refers to walking his 'circuit' suggesting" that it was designed to be experienced in a particular sequence. Dense planting concealed each episode from the next and added the essential components of intricacy, variety and surprise. The serpentine path gave opportunities for framed pictorial compositions as well as giving the illusion of an unending journey, while the poetic incidents gave at the same time the opposite impression of small-scale, seclusion and intimacy and possibilities for reflection and contemplation. The gardens projected by Pope followed the classical literary tradition in using art, architecture and idealised landscape as a background for narrative which would set the scene, as in a theatre, against which to illustrate an episode from antiquity or narrate a moral story. Walpole also used associative, emblematic and iconographic elements to create pictorial effects that were carefully contrived to evoke 'moods' in landscape. The interior of Walpole's villa juxtaposed classical artefacts with Gothic and he used the same approach in the garden using elements which he appreciated for their poetic, metaphorical and philosophical associations. The visitor would have glimpses and alternating views of landscape outside the garden and various architectural elements, structures and planting. The Gothic gate was the first medieval incident encountered, 'Strawberry is in the most perfect beauty, the verdure exquisite, and the shades venerably extended. I have made a Gothic gateway to the garden, the piers of which arc of artificial stone and very respectable. (19) The round tower is finished and magnificent; and the state bedchamber proceeds fast-for as you must know the little villa is grown into a superb castle' (fig 8). (20)
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The Gothic style of the gate connecting the garden, through association, to the castle, embattled wall, Prior's Garden, and other structures, the Chapel in the Woods and the later collegiate Gothic of the New Offices. The chapel came next in the sequence and sat sombrely in woods in the south section of the circuit surrounded by weeping willows and other melancholic planting (fig 7). Classical artefacts encountered on the circuit included a 'large antique sarcophagus in marble, with bas-reliefs', and 'two ossuary' recalling, through associative meaning, episodes from the classics and Arcadian landscapes. (21) The allusion to classical antiquity and literature and themes of love and transformation are evident in placing 'the sleeping Morpheus in plaister'. and 'Bernini's Apollo and Daphne (22) in bronze', characters from Ovid's Metamorphoses, as the next scenes. (23) The 'extraordinary large brainstone', in contrast, provokes thoughts of rusticity and Walpole's interest in antiquarian studies. The next episode was the oak Shell bench designed by Bentley and based on Botticelli's Birth of Venus which was oriented to the River Thames and surrounding landscape. (24) The visitor emerged, after experiencing a series of contrasting scenes, moods and episodes, associative incidents and character areas, with an increasing sense of theatre, into the dramatic expanse of the spacious Open Grove where the walk terminated and where perspective views of the villa provided the closing sequence (fig 9).
[FIGURE 9 OMITTED]
Colour, scent and the creation of moods
The. creation of moods was particularly essential for evoking emotional response, and Addison refers specifically to the romance genre and its associational qualities. 'In short, our Souls are at present delightfully lost and bewildered in a pleasing Delusion, and we walk about like the Enchanted Hero of a Romance, who sees beautiful Castles, Woods and Meadows; and at the same time hears the warbling of Birds, and the purling of Streams; but upon the finishing of some secret Spell, the fantastick Scene breaks up, and the disconsolate Knight finds himself on a barren Heath, or in a solitary DesartV' (25)
This quotation encapsulates Horace Walpole's view of the world and his imagination in constructing Strawberry Hill as architecture of association where he could live out his fantasy while observers would reflect on the character of the man and his links to British history
Walpole employed visual effects and used spatial devices to give a series of differently framed views and picturesque episodes. As visitors made the winding walk they continually had parallactic visions of the Gothic castle, experiencing oblique glimpses and encountering multiple perspectives of the southern and eastern facades through sparsely planted trees and clumps grouped in the manner of Kent to add interest and break up the wide expanse of lawn. Walpole singles out the invention of the ha-ha for particular praise as the 'capital stroke' which enabled the garden designer to carry out Pope's poetical vision of 'calling in the country' and this device was employed on the southern perimeter boundary to separate unobtrusively the designed landscape from the fields and woods beyond. (26) Wherever Walpole had to erect fencing for practical purposes he used simple rustic materials and screened them with planting.
The selection of planting for evoking moods was an essential tool of eighteenth-century gardeners and Walpole would have used poetic-principles to make transitions from 'gloomth', with enclosed, dense evergreen, emerging into open spaces of contrasting light and shade. In a letter to Montagu in November 1755, Walpole describes how planting could be picturesque; 'above all cypresses which, I think, are my chief passion: there is nothing so picturesque when they stand two or three in a clump upon a little hillock or rising above low shrubs, and particularly near buildings. There is another bit of picture of which I am fond, and that is, a larch or a spruce fir planted behind a weeping willow, and shooting upwards as the willow depends. I think for courts about a house or winter gardens, almond trees mixed with evergreens, particularly with Scots firs have a pretty effect, before anything else comes out; whereas almond trees, being generally planted among other trees, and being in bloom before other trees have leaves, have no ground to show the beauty of their blossoms'. (27)
Walpole describes the feeling engendered by experiencing colour, inhaling scents and their capacity for triggering his imagination, T am just come from the garden in the most oriental of all evenings, and from breathing odours beyond those of Araby. The acacias, which the Arabians have the sense to worship, are covered with blossoms, the honeysuckles dangle from every tree in festoons, the syringas are thickets of sweets, and the newcut hay of the field in the garden tempers the balmy gales with simple freshness while a thousand skyrockets launched into the air at Ranelagh or Marylebone illuminate the scene and give it an air of Haroun Alraschid's paradise'. (28) Addison elucidates on this pleasure, 'Thus if there arises a Fragraney of Smells or Perfumes, they heighten the Pleasures of the Imagination, and make even the Colours and Verdure of the Landskip appear more agreeable; for the Ideas of both Senses recommend each other, and are pleasanter together, when they enter the Mind separately: as the different Colours of a Picture, when they are well disposed, set off one another, and receive an additional Beauty from the Advantage of their Situation'. (29) Walpole frequently mentions the 'pleasure of lilac, jonquil and hyacinth season' and lilacs are one of the most mentioned species in his correspondence (30) as one of his chief passions declaring, T came hither yesterday, and am transported, like you, with the beauty of the country; ay, and with its perfumed air too. The lilac-tide scents even the insides of the rooms'. (31) The River Thames plays a significant philosophical, emblematic and ideological role in Walpole's choice of site as it flowed through Twickenham, associated as it is with British history and culture, Parliament, the heart of London and Windsor Castle. (32)
Walpole was influential in the Picturesque movement; 'Every journey is made through a succession of pictures' and this applied to natural scenery and landscaped gardens alike. (33)'' Although some might argue that there was little coherence to his designed landscape, it is apparent Walpole consciously used the principles of landscape composition and associative theory to good effect in that each distinct element suggested a particular association. At Strawberry Hill he articulated the earlier theories of Vanbrugh, Addison and Pope, drawing them together in The History of the Modern Taste in Gardening, adhering to Pope's statement that, 'all gardening is landscape painting', composing picturesque scenes and episodes and applying painting techniques to naturalistic landscape design. The History influenced gardening internationally and the concept of designing for a particular place, mindful of topographical qualities, borrowed views, and inherent character of a site. Together, Pope's precept of 'genius of the place' and Walpole's 'spirit of the landscape,' led directly to the later Picturesque theories of William Gilpin (1724-1804), Uvedale Price (1747-1829), Richard Payne Knight (1751-1824) and Humphry Repton.
Marion Harney is Director of Studies MSc Conservation of Historic Gardens and Cultural Landscapes University of Bath, and she would like to thank Professor Vaughan Hart and Dr Michael Forsyth for their help in the preparation of this article.
(1.) All quotations are from The History of the Modern Taste in Gardening (1771), New York: Ursus. 1995.
(2.) In some respects. Walpole's book distorted perceptions of garden history through his insistence that the English garden style had reached its epitome at the time he was writing and that it was a purely English phenomenon, with no foreign influences-a perception that historians are still trying to rectify.
(3.) His polemic linked the development of the 'English Taste in Gardening' with the British constitution and the notion of political liberty enshrined within that constitution. Walpole's patriotism is politically motivated and he discounts foreign influences, disparages the notion of antecedents and classical precedents, insisting on English national Whig credentials.
(4.) Kent was the most prolific and well known garden designer of the early eighteenth century.
(5.) Walpole docs not develop his own theory: instead he expands and reinterprets earlier theories and is responsible for disseminating them to a wider audience. As with Antecdotes of painting, his History relies on research carried out by George Venue whose notebooks Walpole purchased from his widow.
(6.) 'On Gardens', The Guardian, No 173. 29 September 1713. published in The those Works of Alexander Pope. Ault, N. (Editor), Oxford (1936). pp 145-51.
(7.) For a full explanation of Vanbrugh's interest in association in landscape see Han. V. Sir John Vanbrugh: Storyteller in Stone. New Haven: Vale University Press, 2008.
(8.) 'REASONS OFFER-D FOR PRESERVING SOME PART OF THE OLD MANOUR' of 11 JUNE 1709' sent to the Duchess of Marlborough. Transcribed from British Library Additional MS (51353, nos (52-63, Appendix 1, p252, Hart. V, Sir John Vanbrugh: Storyteller in Stow (2008).
(9.) Walpole consistently used the term Grecian to denote Classical architecture.
(10.) History. p58.
(11.) Correspondence. H. W. to Mann. 27 April 1753. Vol 20, p372.
(12.) Correspondence. II. W. to Mann. 5 June 1747, Vol 19, p414.
(13.) History. p45;
(14.) The view, also lost, was of the south side towards the north-east with the picturesque villa and the River Thames juxtaposed lo demonstrate [heir proximity.
(15.) Correspondence. H. W to Mann. 12 June 1753, Vol 20. p380.
(16.) Ferrar.J., Tour from Dublin to London in 1795 through the Isle of Anglsea, Bangor, Convay ... and Kensington, Dublin, 1796.
(17.) Humphry Repton was defeated by Strawberry Hill and admired Walpole's Ike History of the modern Taste in Gardening, remarking that although Walpole claimed to be writing a history, 'in his lively and ingenious manner", Walpole had given, "both the history and the rules of art better limn any oilier theorists'. Observations on the Theory and Parctice of Landscape Gardening. London, 1803. p 160. Repton also advocated 'specialised gardens' which he referred to as 'episodes'.
(18.) History p50.
(19.) The piers, designer by James Essex, were copied from the Tomb of Bishop Luda.
(20.) Correspondence, H. W. to Mann. 11 June 1771. Vol 23, p311.
(21.) A description of the Villa of Mr Horace Walpole, 1784. p84.
(22.) Walpole would have seen ibis in the Gallcria Borghese. Rome, during his Grand Tour with the poet Thomas Gray 1739-41.
(23.) The placement of the Bernini sculpture as an incident in the mute surrounded by laurel undoubtedly reminded visitors of the (ate of Daphne who metamorphosed into laurel to escape her pursuer Apollo.
(24.) Aphrodite in Greek mythology, linked lo the themes in Ovid's Metamorphoses for she too was similarly 'transformed' on the shore at Paphos, Cyprus.
(25.) Addison & Steele. The Spectator. Vol 3, No 412.24 June 1712, Smith, G. (Ed), London: Dent. 1963, pp283-4.
(26.) History, p42. The haha is a sunken ditch forming an invisible boundary so as nol lo interrupt the view. Despite Walpole claims that it was an English innovation, it originated in France and the technical aspects were described in Dezallier d'Argenville's La theorie el la pratique du jardinage (1709).
(27.) Correspondence, H. W. to Montagu, 8 November 1755, Vol 9, pp 177-178.
(28.) Correspondence, H. W. in Montagu, 10 June 1765, Vol ID, pl 56.
(29.) Addison & Steele, The Spectator, Volume 3, No 412, Monday 23 June, 1712, Smith, G. (Ed), London: Dent, 1963. p282.
(30.) Correspondence, Cole to FT. W., 16 May 1782, Vol 2, p318.
(31.) Correspondence, H. W. to Conway, 21 May 1784, Vol 39. p411.
(32.) Although beyond the scope of this article, Windsor Castle (where Walpole lodged prior to purchasing Strawberry I Hill) and the River Thames are significant to the development and design of his own Gothic Castle and landscape.
(33.) History, p56.
Illustrations courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University
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|Publication:||The Architectural Review|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2008|
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