Sunday - 21 December 2014

Visitors welcome at Walpole’s residence... but no children

19 August 2013Written by Ian McKay

A printed broadside from 1791 that gained visitors admission to Strawberry Hill in Twickenham, the home of Whig politician Horace Walpole, came up at auction this month and sold at £2000.

The broadside offered on August 13 by Thomson Roddick & Medcalf of Carlisle was a fascinating reminder that there were still opportunities for the curious - or at least for approved gentlefolk - to look round England's great houses and admire the treasures they held well before the National Trust and English Heritage came along.

Indeed, Strawberry Hill in Twickenham, the recently restored neo-Gothic house, attracted the interest of the great and good of the land, royalty included. This remarkable, fashion-setting house was built by Walpole, the 4th and last Earl of Oxford as well as the celebrated historian, collector, novelist and man of letters, after he acquired one of the last remaining sites available on the banks of the Thames in fashionable Twickenham in 1747.

While visitors were looking round, Walpole often "retreated to his cottage in the flower garden", while his housekeeper gave tours to the public.

In one letter to a friend, Horace Mann, he wrote: "I have but a minute's time in answering your letter, my house is full of people, and has been so from the instant I breakfasted, and more are coming; in short, I keep an inn; the sign 'The Gothic Castle' ...my whole time is passed in giving tickets for seeing it, and hiding myself when it is seen. Take my advice, never build a charming house for yourself between London and Hampton-court: everybody will live in it but you."

In the broadside that gained visitors admission, Walpole laid down the rules. Despite what is implied in the letter to Mann it states that only one party a day was admitted, and "…between the Hours of Twelve and Three before Dinner". Tickets, valid only on the day agreed, admitted a maximum of four and, if more than that number turned up, "the Housekeeper has positive Orders to admit none of them" - a decision Walpole justifies at some length.

Children Discouraged

Other admonitions and instructions follow, and he ends with a line that will resonate with some modern visitors to great houses - "They who have tickets are desired not to bring Children".

At the bottom of this example, in Walpole's hand, is a note, signed and dated August 19th, 1791, in which he informs his housekeeper that she may "...show my house on Thursday morning next to Mr Berwick & three more, on their delivering this to you".

The broadside, which came to auction from a local property that has provided some other good things in the past, was almost impossible to value but it attracted a lot of interest on the day before it was knocked down at £2000.

The buyer's premium was 16%.

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