Text and photographs by Jacqueline Banerjee. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Left to right: The decor, with its original pale grey reinstated, and the edge of a replica couch at the right. (b) Close-up of the elaborate Gothic chimney-piece. (c) One of the black Gothic chairs.

The Refectory or Great Parlour in Horace Walpole's Grade I listed house at Strawberry Hill, Twickenham. Next to the entrance hall on the ground floor, this room is important because it was "one of the first spaces Walpole consciously built in the Gothic style" (Lombardy and Orama 43). The features recently restored or replicated in it, to give it something of its original character, are the elaborate Gothic chimney-piece on the north wall, designed by Richard Bentley (1708-82); the couch; and carved wooden chairs, also designed by Bentley — the present ones copied from an original dating from 1755 and preserved at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The chair design was specific to this room: "Walpole asked Bentley to design a chair with a back like the outline of a Gothic window, and which would be very lightweight, painted black, with a rush seat" ("The Strawberry Hill Chair"). The backs of the chairs do indeed match the pattern created at the top of the window-lights.

Left: The rectangular oriel window of the Refectory, on the east front. Right: Close-up of part of the left-hand pane.

This is the "[s]quare headed oriel to Parlour" mentioned in the listing text, and picked out by Walpole himself when describing the room. Of the details he describes, the easiest to identify is "Charles II riding uppermost on the wheel of Fortune, and Rebellion thrown down" (11), in the close-up shown here, above right. The window with its intense blue, old painted glass picturesquely reset, and verdant outlook, is a big part of the charm of the room, which was intended for entertaining guests — to establish Walpole's social status and facilitate his social life (see Lombardy and Orama 43).

Other architectural historians besides Charles Eastlake have criticised Walpole's play for effect as superficial. Clark calls it "frippery Gothic," putting much of its Rococo character down to Bentley's "fanciful invention" (45, 46), which he illustrates with a picture of the fireplace in this room. Clark also mentions disagreements over the black chairs here, which perhaps reflect Bentley's taste rather than Walpole's. As Clark points out, the way forward was actually through the pedants who adopted Gothic principles, rather than those who simply tried to recreate a flavour of the past. He quotes Walpole himself as saying, later in life when the taste for the Gothic had grown, "Every true Goth must perceive that they [my rooms] are more the works of fancy than imitation" (48). Yet, again like Eastlake, Clark gives the house at Strawberry Hill credit for inspiring this taste, and specifically for giving it "social standing" (49). So rooms like this were important precisely because their play for effect actually worked.

Related Material


Clark, Kenneth. The Gothic Revival: An Essay in the History of Taste. London: Penguin (Pelican), 1964.

Eastlake, Charles Locke. A History of the Gothic Revival. London: Longmans, Green, 1872. Internet Archive. Web. 23 August 2014.

Lombardo, Christy, and Sadally Orama. "Considerations for Strawberry Hill 40: The First Big Addition." University of Pennsylvania (Summer Conservation 2006). Web. 23 August 2014.

"The Strawberry Hill Chair." Victoria and Albert Musuem. Web. 23 August 2014.

Strawberry Hill List Entry. English Heritage. Web. 23 August 2014.

Walpole, Horace. A Description of the Villa of Mr Horace Walpole at Strawberry-Hill near Twickenham, Middlesex. Edited version in a booklet compiled and written by Carole Patey and published by the Strawberry Hill Trust, 2014. Available at the house.

Last modified 23 August 2014