The history behind Horace Walpole’s unique 18th century home.
Without a doubt, Strawberry Hill is one of the most unique houses in the capital. I was first introduced to it when I saw an Instagram photo of the building’s stunning Gallery and wanted to find out more. Built as a private home, it stands in Twickenham, south-west London, a short walk from the Thames and is now open to the public as a museum.
Strawberry Hill was built in stages from 1749 to 1776 as a home for Horace Walpole (1717-1797), a politician and the son of the first British Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745). Horace was under pressure to find himself a country seat (18th century Twickenham was countryside) and found one of the last sites available in the very fashionable area. The original house on the site was called Chopp’d Straw Hall, which Horace wasn’t too impressed with and renamed his new build Strawberry Hill after finding the name on an old lease.
Work on the house started in 1749 with Horace conceiving a vision of a Gothic castle. His inspiration from Medieval architecture predated the Victorian architectural fashion for Gothic revival many decades later. Horace and his team of amateur architectures looked at the Henry VII chapel and tombs at Westminster Abbey, as well as tombs from Canterbury Cathedral for ideas. The resulting building looks like a cross between castles and Gothic cathedrals. The first stage of construction was complete by 1753, with a second stage of alterations taking place in 1760, a third in 1772, with work finally being completed in 1776, costing £20,720 – a rather hefty sum in the 18th century. Read the rest of this entry
Like many Londoners, and visitors to the capital too I’m sure, the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel and train station is one of my favourite buildings in the capital. Designed by Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, the Gothic Revival masterpiece was originally opened in 1873 as the Midland Grand Hotel. Although impressive when it first opened with its grand staircase, fireplaces in every room and striking architectural features, decades later it started falling out of favour due to the lack of ensuite bedrooms and closed to guests in 1935. After 76 years as railway offices, the building was finally restored to its original intended use and opened as the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in 2011.
Given how long I have loved the building, I’m surprised I haven’t visited one of the restaurants or bars inside the hotel sooner. So when I was eyeing possible venues for afternoon tea for my birthday last week, I was thrilled to see The Gilbert Scott featured it on their menu. Booking the afternoon tea option through their website, I opted for a 2pm slot on a Friday. We entered through the main St Pancras Renaissance Hotel entrance so walked through some of the stone Neo-Gothic arched doorways, passing by the red and gold leaf Medieval-style wallpapers and, the pièce de résistance, the grand staircase.
We were seated inside The Gilbert Scott bar – next to the adjoining restaurant of the same name. We entered from a hotel hallway through twin arches featuring golf leaf detailing and polished limestone columns. The bar was absolutely stunning, with equilateral arch windows letting in lots of light through its three exterior walls. On the ceiling was ornate, tapestry-like patterns of predominantly red, blue and green, with huge bells hanging from the ceiling as chandeliers. The bar used to the ‘coffee room’ in the former Midland Grand Hotel.
Seated at our table, we were greeted by an attentive and friendly waiter. After being presented with the menu, there are various afternoon tea options – the standard at £25 or with a glass of Moët & Chandon champagne for an extra £8 – which we opted for as we were celebrating my birthday. Alternatively, there is also a Ruinart afternoon tea with a glass of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV for £36.00.
We started with a flute of Moët each before we were presented with our three-tier cake stand. A selection of savoury treats – cucumber rolls, sausage rolls, egg mayonnaise and coronation chicken sandwiches on the lower tier. The middle featured a selection of mini desserts – Eton Mess, lemon cupcakes, Eccles cakes and praline mousse. Then finally on the top-tier were quite possibly two of the biggest scones – handmade of course – I have ever seen in my life with clotted cream and jam. The food was all delicious and despite forfeiting lunch or a decent sized breakfast, my sister and I struggled to finish all our food. We had the options of refilling the savoury platter, but honestly couldn’t eat any more. After finishing our bubbly, we were served individual pots of tea. As an extra, surprise treat, I was presented with two chef-made chocolate truffles with ‘happy birthday’ written in chocolate sauce and a candle, which was a lovely thought by the waiter.
Overall, the whole experience was brilliant. The service was attentive and friendly, the food was delicious and incredibly filling – the mini desserts were a lovely alternative to the usual afternoon tea experience. Finally, the striking setting – along with the opportunity to check out some of the hotel’s halls and staircase – completed a perfect afternoon. I would highly recommend booking an afternoon tea at The Gilbert Scott. I can’t wait to come back and try the menu at the restaurant next door.
- The Gilbert Scott, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, NW1 2AR. Afternoon tea is served between 12-4pm. Nearest station: King’s Cross St Pancras. For more information and bookings, visit The Gilbert Scott website.
To read Metro Girl’s other restaurant and pub reviews, click here for the contents page.
For another Metro Girl blog posts on a George Gilbert Scott creation, read about the Albert Memorial, or his grandson Giles Gilbert Scott’s creations Battersea Power Station or the red London phonebox
A monument to the abolition of slavery.
Every year, tens of thousands of tourists flock to Parliament Square and Westminster Bridge to gaze upon Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. However, the pedestrian traffic flowing to the west of the iconic building shrinks considerably in comparison to the east. With the Elizabeth Tower containing Big Ben (actually the name of the bell, not the actual clock and tower as is often believed) being the main draw, the Victoria Tower and its adjacent eponymous gardens often get ignored.
Victoria Tower Gardens is a small area to the west of the Houses Of Parliament containing greenery, memorials and a good view of the River Thames. Having rode on a bus past the Gardens many times over the years, I have often found my eyes drawn to the Buxton Memorial Foundation in the gardens. After decades of not seeing it up close or knowing what it was about, in recent years I finally started walking through the Gardens and checked out the fountain up close.
Although the fountain is mid-19th century, it has only been in Victoria Tower Gardens since 1957 when it was relocated from nearby Parliament Square following a redesign. The colourful and ornate monument is to commemorate one of Westminster’s most important laws – the emancipation of slaves following the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act. Although Parliament had passed the 1807 Slave Trade Act, making slave trade illegal throughout the British Empire, some still held slaves that were traded before the act. The 1833 Act went a step further and gave all existing slaves emancipation.
It wasn’t until another 33 years later that the lawmakers and campaigners involved in making the 1833 act happen were commemorated for their efforts. MP Charles Buxton funded the fountain and dedicated it to his late father, the abolitionist and MP Sir Thomas Buxton, along with William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Henry Brougham and Stephen Lushington. Charles commissioned London architect Samuel Sanders Teulon to create the fountain in his Gothic revival style for the price of £1,200.
The fountain is covered with a timber-framed spire and clad in enamelled sheet steel. The entire structure is made with a wide range of materials, including limestone, grey and red sandstone, wrought iron, rosso marble enamelled metalwork, grey and pink granite, mosaic and terracotta. Originally unveiled in Parliament Square in 1865 – coincidentally the same year the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed, abolishing slavery.
The ornate memorial commemorating the end of a horrific part of human history remained in Parliament Square until 1949 when the area was given a post-war makeover. It was finally reinstated in Victoria Tower Gardens in 1957. However, by 1971 all eight of the decorative figures of British rulers, including Queen Victoria and William the Conqueror, on the pinnacles had been stolen. These were replaced with fibreglass ones in 1980. Over the years, the fountain fell into disrepair until it was restored in 2006-2007 – just in time for the 200th anniversary of the Slave Trade Act.
Along with the Buxton Memorial Fountain, there is also a monument to suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and a reproduction of the sculpture The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin. There is also a children’s play park, which is currently closed for refurbishment.
- Victoria Tower Gardens is accessed from Abingdon Street/Millbank on the north bank of the River Thames. Nearest station: Westminster.
To read Metro Girl’s blog on the memorial to Emmeline Pankhurt in Victoria Tower Gardens, click here.
Or to find out the history of nearby Parliament Square, click here.
For more of Metro Girl’s history blog posts, click here.