Eighteenth Century Party House

Strawberry Hill 1Nicola here. Back in the mid-18th century there was only one fashionable place to be if you wanted a “villa” on the River Thames (a villa in these terms being something roughly the size of a large country house to the rest of us.) That place was Twickenham, a village half-way between the two royal palaces of Richmond and Hampton Court and with the improvements in both roads and carriages, a mere two hours’ drive from Central London. It was here in 1747 that Horace Walpole, the son of England’s first Prime Minister, bought a house that he referred to as a “plaything” and a “bauble” that was to be his summer residence, Strawberry Hill House. Even the name suggests hot summer days and fruit growing wild on the hillsides!

These days Twickenham is a busy suburb and it takes less than an hour to drive between the town and the centre of London. Gone are many of the imposing villas beside the Thames, although a few are still around, and the old houses are often surrounded by the new. Horace Walpole’s little Gothic Castle is still there, though, even if we didn’t see any wild strawberries growing on the hill during our visit.

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The “Polite Visitor.”

ChatsworthNicola here. I imagine that a lot of people are, like me, missing their visits to historical houses and heritage sites, and can’t wait for a time when we can all go out and enjoy them again. Country house visiting has, of course, been a hobby for tourists for hundreds of years. One of the best descriptions of it in fiction comes from Pride and Prejudice, when Lizzie Bennett, in company with her aunt and uncle, visits Pemberley on their trip to Derbyshire. They are shown round by the housekeeper, giving Lizzie the chance to reflect on the house she could have been mistress of if only she hadn’t turned down Mr Darcy. The fact that Lizzie thinks that Mr Darcy is from home only to discover he’s just arrived, adds a wonderful, romantic twist to the story.

It’s fun to think that in normal times we can gawp at grand houses in the manner of our ancestors although these days a lot of places provide more entertainment for the visitor than you might have got in the eighteenth century with shops, tea rooms, exhibitions, talks and lots of activities for children. Heritage sites compete for our business in contrast to the past when it was considered an honour to be allowed to visit the home of the Duke of Wherever.

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