Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A journey into the Gothic Revival

I have been waiting to visit Strawberry Hill and to see the Gothic influence ever since I learned about it during my sophomore year of high school.

Horace Walpole was born Horatio Walpole, the 4th Earl of Orford on September 24th 1717. He is partially responsible for the revival of gothic architecture that dominated Europe in the previous centuries. Horace Walpole was the first author to pen a text in what became known as the gothic style. His name is synonymous with Gothic literature thanks to his greatest work The Castle of Otranto. The Castle of Otranto laid the foundation of what the Gothic style should be for other authors that would follow. This would include famous authors such as Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. It was Walpole’s home “Strawberry Hill” which provided him with the inspiration to write his first Gothic novel. “One night Walpole awoke from a dream and imagined he saw a giant armoured fist on the staircase and it was this that inspired the first gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto.” Horace Walpole was also an art historian, a politician, and an architect. His greatest creation in my opinion was the house that he had built in the old Gothic style, which he named Strawberry Hill.

Walpole constructed Strawberry Hill in several stages throughout his lifetime. Walpole did not have a finished design for his property and instead decided to add to the building as he saw fit. This would make construction for all involved an absolute nightmare, but allowed Walpole to make his dream a reality. It all began in 1747 when Walpole leased a five-acre plot of land in Twickenham, London. In 1748 Walpole purchased the house, which had originally been named “Chopped Straw Hill”. He had purchased the home with the intent of constructing a family castle. Walpole eventually expanded his land to a sum of forty-six acres. Walpole’s friend and amateur architect, John Chute, was trusted with developing the design of the exterior of the home. The exterior of the house featured a style that mixed Gothic designs with the castles of the day. This meant that the home would feature turrets and battlements while also containing arched windows with stained glass, similar to the cathedrals of the original Gothic Age. The interior of the home gained most of its character from Walpole’s extensive collection of antiquarian objects. This would include beautiful pieces of art, artifacts, and objects used for the construction of the house such as Robert Adam’s fireplace. The construction process of Strawberry Hill wasn’t smooth sailing to say the least.

It is a nightmare for anyone tasked with constructing a building to have to build the building in stages. Typically there is a complete blueprint, which allows workers to have a simple plan to follow, which allows for quick and easy construction of a building. While Walpole did have sketches and an overall idea of what he hoped to turn his home into, he did not have an actual blueprint thus complicating the entire construction process. By the end of the first stage of construction Walpole was well on his way to having completed “His little Gothic castle”.

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