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Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill springs back to life

Blog | By Harry Mount | Oct 19, 2018


Tomorrow, a new show opens at Strawberry Hill, which reunites Britain's finest Gothic house with the original treasures collected by its builder, Horace Walpole.

In 1842, the treasures were sold off by the Waldegrave family. And now the Waldegraves themselves have returned, in the shape of this marvellous picture, The Ladies Waldegrave, by Joshua Reynolds. The Waldegrave girls, relations of Walpole, were all unmarried in 1781 and the picture was commissioned by their mother, Countess Waldegrave, born Maria Walpole, as a sort of dating advert. Don't worry – they all got married in the end to various members of the nobility.

The picture also represents the story of the three Greek Fates: Clotho, who spun the thread of life, Lachesis, who measured it, and Atropos, who cut it. In the picture, Charlotte Waldegrave spins the thread, Elizabeth measures it and, in a nice reverse, Anna beautifies the thread by sewing it into a piece of tulle on an ebony frame. In other words, we needn't all die; we can improve our lives as we live them. A lovely, optimistic thought.

Again and again, at Strawberry Hill, the great Gothic wedding cake of a house comes alive as its dazzling objects return after over 150 years away. Worth a visit.