Strawberry Hill House will be hosting a Gothic Romance Tour and LGBTQ+ Heritage Tours this month.
The historic building located in south Twickenham, was built in 1749 and was the home of writer and politician Horace Walpole, son of Britain’s first ever Prime Minister Robert Walpole.
To get a better understanding of what visitors can expect from the tours, SWL spoke to Claire Leighton and Mark Lambert who researched and wrote the tours.
The Gothic Romance Tour which takes place on the 14th February, will reveal how the unique architecture of the building inspired Walpole to write the very first Gothic romance novel, the Castle of Otranto.
Mark said: “We love to showcase the house as a piece of theatre really, it lends itself so well to these magical mystery tours because it is designed to look like a medieval castle.”
“When you’re walking through the house it does feel as though you are walking through a Gothic movie.”
“As it’s Valentine’s Day we wanted to take an alternative look at romance, and tell the stories of the other ladies who have lived there, as well as Horace’s love for the house.”
And the staff at Strawberry Hill House hope to offer a truly immersive experience.
Mark said: “We try to surprise visitors by bringing the characters in Horace’s book unexpectedly back to life.
“It inspired so many of the Gothic tropes, so there’s a damsel in distress, an aristocratic villain, the handsome romantic hero, visitors never quite know who is going to be around the next corner.
“We also control the lighting, we’ve got creaking floorboards and flickering candles which makes it all very theatrical.”
The LGBTQ+ tours which take place on 18 and 24 February are designed to commemorate LGBTQ+ History month.
Claire said: “The way we like to describe Walpole’s friends is that they were like homo social circles.
“They were all men, and some of the commentary at the time suggests that they were all gay men, but there was no actual evidence that Walpole himself was gay.
“So we decided that rather than make things up, we would actually look at the commentary surrounding him and his friends.”
The tour looks to highlight how difficult it was to be gay in the 18th century, as well as celebrating Walpole’s relationships and the unique people that have lived in Strawberry Hill House.
Claire said: “The buggery act was still in place, and 200 men were executed for homosexuality in the 18th century.
“Often people in wealthy families people who were accused of homosexuality would go into exile.
“Lots of his friends in his social circle even committed suicide because they were outed or accused of being gay, so it was very dangerous and scary time for them.
“There are other characters, there is Chevalier d’Éon de Beaumont who came to the house, who was born a man but lived as a woman.
“Horace’s own niece, Anne Seymour Conway seemed very very fond of one of Walpole’s female friends and there was a lot of malicious gossip about her liking other women.”
It promises to be a big year for Strawberry Hill House even after the two tours are finished.
Claire said: “We will have what we call infocus objects, which will be from 27 March – 8 July.
“We have acquired quite a lot of paintings, along with various other artworks from the grand tour in Florence.”
The Grand Tour was a customary trip undertaken by young upper class in which they would travel through Europe.
The trip, in particular his time in Florence, had a profound effect on the young Walpole and inspired his love for gothic architecture.
Strawberry Hill House will also host some tudor objects later in the year, as well as flower festival in the autumn and other events leading up to Halloween and Christmas.
Tickets are still available for the tours on Strawberry Hill House’s website, the house is also open to public even Sunday – Wednesday.