Strawberry Hill : Horace Walpole &the Gothic Imagination with Dr Marion Harney

Lavishly illustrated talk on Strawberry Hill, the astonishing “Gothic Castle” Horace Walpole built at Twickenham on the banks of the Thames

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Walpole (son of the Prime Minister, Robert Walpole) was the hugely influential author of The Castle of Otranto, our first Gothic Novel, - precursor of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and all those spooky horror stories and films that still flow onto our shelves and screens. He was a celebrated man of letters, writing influential essays that, along with his novel and his Castle, defined the taste of 18th century Britain.

The “Castle” at Strawberry Hill was a confection, a work of the imagination no less than the “castle of Otranto”, a spectacular conjuring trick, as entertaining as its owner. It was a miniature medieval castle wrapped around a modest little country house, with papier-mache, wood and plaster moulded and painted to look like ancient carved stone. It became a tourist attraction in Walpole’s life-time where he delighted in entertaining foreign ambassadors and royalty as well as the English aristocracy. He also established the Strawberry Hill Press there, and his Anecdotes of Painting in England, published between 1762 and 1780, was the first history of English art. Walpole modelled it on Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists, and it still forms the basis of English art history. In its complete form the Anecdotes included sections on sculptors, architects and engravers, and an 'Essay on Modern Gardening'.

Drawing together landscape, architecture and literature, Strawberry Hill is an autobiographical site, where we can read the story of its creator. This ‘man of taste’ created private resonances, pleasure and entertainment – a collusion of the historic, the visual and the sensory. Above all, it expresses the inseparable integration of house and setting, and of the architecture with the great collection of pottery, enamels, miniatures & artefacts that Walpole displayed within, all specific to one individual, a unity that is relevant today to all architects, landscape designers and garden and historic house enthusiasts.

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Dr Marion Harney is a Senior Lecturer and Director of Studies for the MSc in the Conservation of Historic Gardens and Cultural Landscapes and Conservation of Historic Buildings programmes at the University of Bath. She devised and set-up the postgraduate gardens and landscapes course and was appointed Director of Studies in 2007.

In 2013 Marion Harney became a Trustee of the Garden History Society, the statutory consultee for all registered landscapes in the UK, and is Chair of the society’s Joint Conservation Committee. In 2015 Marion was appointed to the Council of the National Trust as the Garden History Society’s representative.

Marion is Chair of the Bathscape Project interim Partnership Board and a Member of the Bath World Heritage Site Steering Group.

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2015Martin Keeley