Thank you to the knowledgeable guides and kind receptionists at Strawberry Hill who helped me on my visits there. Photographs by the author. You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly and educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the source and (2) link your document to this URL, or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]
Painted glass in the Library window of Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill.
The Library window is one of the most attractive and colourful windows of Walpole's Strawberry Hill, as if to balance the austere atmosphere of a space lined with Gothic bookshelves. In his "Prefatory Remarks" to the sale catalogue of 1842, George Robins refers to "a costly Library, extending to fifteen thousand volumes, abounding in splendid editions of the classics, illustrated, scarce and unique works" (vi). The figure might seem to be exaggerated, though it is repeated later. Certainly, when he first moved to Strawberry Hill, Walpole "only" had about a thousand volumes (see Lewis 4). However, these were precious to him, and important also to the image he wished to project. To house them, and however many more he might acquire, Walpole planned with John Chute (1701-1776) "the most seriously Gothic of all the rooms at Strawberry Hill" ("Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill"). Completed in the first phase of building, in 1754, the library is only lit by this one window, contributing to the "Gothic 'gloomth'" that Walpole prized (Lewis 6), but of course good light was vital in a library, so, as elsewhere, Walpole only filled the top part with coloured glass. The lower part was left plain. Another reason for this would have been that there was, in those years, a fine view of the Thames from here. The window, unusually, also has two quatrefoil lights above it, displaying the white rose of York on one side, and the red rose of Lancaster on the other.
A closer view of the central part of the window gives a better view of the two royal heads, of Charles I and II.
After its twenty-first century conservation, the windows were "glazed into layouts as faithful as possible to Walpole’s original schemes" (San Casciani), so what we see now is very much what Walpole intended. For example, the figures of Faith, Hope and Charity at the bottom are replacements for figures that were lost: Charity is seen here with two infants (on her left is Faith, with a chalice and cross, and on her right is Hope, with an anchor, looking distinctly pregnant). The head of Charles II, to the right of Charles I, though still clearly damaged, is considerably clearer now than it was previously, when the cracks were heavily overpainted. From the rather faint figures of the three virtues, to the two kings' portraits surrounded by the usual little Netherlandish vignettes, the colours grow progressively richer. Most colourful of all is the heraldic device at the top of the window, showing English lions quartered with fleurs-de-lys against a richly verdant background, beneath the English crown. This is all part of the antiquarian picture that the room presents: the focus on heraldry carries right through into the highly decorative ceiling, with Walpole's family shield painted in the middle, representations of knights on horseback, and and heraldic devices in each corner, including, to the right of the window, the ubiquitous Saracen's head through which Walpole liked to demonstrate his distant ancestors' connection with the Crusades. Portraits of ancestors adorn the upper parts of the walls as if to establish the link more clearly. Until the Gallery was complete and ready to be shown off, in 1763, the Library was the real showpiece of Strawberry Hill. Libraries would continue to be places where an antiquarian atmosphere might be expected: a good example is the John Rylands Library in Manchester, by Basil Champneys, with its own rich stained glass in the Reading Room, dating from 1890-99.
Horace Walpole by William Greatbach, after Johann Heinrich Muntz. Stipple and line engraving, published 1858. NPG D5424. © National Portrait Gallery, London, by kind permission. Walpole is seen here in his Library, by this window, with the river in the distance and his little dog beside him.
More Stained Glass at Strawberry Hill
- The Little Parlour and Adjacent Rooms
- The Great Parlour or Refectory
- The Blue Bedchamber
- The Star Chamber
- The Gallery
- The Round Drawing-Room
About the House: The Library." The Strawberry Hill Trust. Web. 3 September 2014.
Ford, Lisa. "Heraldry." Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill. Ed. Michael Snodin, assisted by Cynthia Roman. New Havenand London: The Lewis Walpole Library and others, in association with Yale University Press, 2009. 38-39.
Lewis, Wilmarth Sheldon. Horace Walpole's Library. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958.
Peover, Michael. Strawberry Hill: Renaissance Glass. London: Scala, 2010.
Robins, George. A Catalogue of the Classic Contents of Strawberry Hill Collected by Horace Walpole (auction catalogue). Internet Archive. Contributed by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library. Web. 3 September 2014.
San Casciani, Paula. "Walpole's Stained Glass Collection at Strawberry Hill." British Society of Master Glass Painters. February 2009. Web. 3 September 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 3 September 2014