Horace Walpole, fourth Earl of Orford, was an English art historian, Whig MP, novelist and architect who famously created Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham. Surrey History Centre holds a number of items relating to Walpole in its archive collections.
Horace Walpole, youngest son of Whig Prime Minster Sir Robert Walpole, was born 24 September 1717 in London. He began his school life at Bexley, moved on to Eton and then to Kings College, Cambridge, although he left before completing his degree in 1738. The reason for this may have been the death of his mother in 1737, to whom he was very close.
After leaving Cambridge, Walpole embarked upon his Grand Tour in 1739-1741 with his close friend from Eton, Thomas Gray. Although the two fell out and parted ways for the last year of their trip, they later became friends again in 1745.
When Walpole returned in 1741, although having never visited the borough, Walpole was elected MP for Callington, Cornwall, where he held the seat for 13 years.
In 1745 Walpole’s father Sir Robert Walpole died, leaving him a large inheritance including Arlington House, London.
Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill House
In 1747 Horace Walpole took out a lease on a property called Strawberry Hill in Twickenham. He purchased it outright two years later and began to turn it into his own miniature Gothic castle. This went much against the chosen classical architecture of the time. The interior of the building was just as grand unique as the exterior, with Walpole taking personal care over all aspects of his castle and consulting his close trusted friends, such as his ‘Committee of Taste’ made up of John Chute and Richard Bentley and Walpole himself.
Horace’s building of Strawberry Hill House even inspired him to write his first Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto in 1764, after waking from a dream of an armoured fist on his staircase. Walpole printed his first novel on his own private printing press at Strawberry Hill.
Horace Walpole and Sexuality
Many historians debate the sexuality of Horace Walpole. Some, such as art historian Matthew Reeve, argue that there are links between the Gothic choice of architecture of Strawberry Hill House and homosexuality, linking a counter culture of art and sexuality. Others, such as architectural historian Timothy Mowl, also explore the idea of Walpole’s homosexuality. Mowl uses Walpole’s personal letters, such as a letter to Horace Mann, to suggest an affair between Horace and his close friend Henry Pelham Clinton, 9th Earl of Lincoln and later Duke of Newcastle. However, Walpole biographers Brian Fothergill and Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer interpret the evidence as showing that Horace Walpole wasn’t homosexual but instead asexual.Documents relating to Horace Walpole held at Surrey History Centre:
G173/3/19 – Letter from Hor [Horace] Walpole to [Arthur Onslow, Speaker] thanking Onslow for “anecdotes relating to J. Britton” and other assistance with Walpole’s work on art history, 31 March 1764.
4348/3/31/3 – engraving of Dunsfold, 1751, from collection of Conyers Middleton DD (Principal Librarian to the University of Cambridge). From an original in the collection of Horace Walpole
8263/2/7 – Deeds of Picton House. Cesar Picton was a Black merchant who as a boy was taken in by The Philipps family, he was referred to by Horace Walpole in a letter written in 1788: ‘They [the Philipps] have a favourite black, who has lived with them a great many years and is remarkably sensible’. Cesar apparently joined in the conversation between Walpole and Lady Philipps’ daughters (Letters of Horace Walpole ed. Mrs Paget Toynbee (1905), quoted in -/2/7).
Z/395/5 – Copy of sale catalogue dated 18 Nov 1929, of autographed letters, manuscripts and printed books from the collection of the late John Gough Nichols of Holmwood Park, including letters written by Horace Walpole.
1248/6/1-406 – Correspondence and papers relating to Alan Brodrick (d.1728), 1st Viscount Midleton, and his brother Thomas Brodrick (d.1730). St John Brodrick’s interview with Walpole about Brodrick’s ill-treatment by the Duke of Grafton and ministry, Mar 1724 (161).
For more information on Horace Walpole:
Sources exploring Horace Walpole and Sexuality:
Aldrich, Robert and Wotherspoon, Garry; Who’s who in Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II, Routledge, 2000.
Fothergill, Brian; The Strawberry Hill Set; Horace Walpole and His Circle, Faber and Faber, 2009.
Haggerty, George E; Horace Walpole’s Letters; Masculinity and Friendship in the 18th century, Bucknell University Press, 2011.
Haggerty, George E; Queering Horace Walpole, SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 Volume 46, Number 3, summer 2006.
Ketton Cremer, Robert Wyndham; Horace Walpole; a Biography, Cornell University Press; 3rd edition 1966.
Matthew, Reeve; Gothic Architecture, Sexuality and License at Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill, The Art Bulletin Volume 95, Issue 3, 2013.
Melville, Lewis; Horace Walpole 1717-1797; A Biographical Study, Hutchinson & Co, 1930.
Mowl, Timothy; Horace Walpole; The Great Outsider, Faber and Faber, 2011.
Find out about Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill on Historic England’s Pride of Place map http://www.historypin.org/en/prideofplace/geo/52.481403,-2.808347,5/bounds/40.762188,-2.808347,61.74086,-2.808347/search/keyword:horace%20walpole/sort/popular/paging/1/pin/1037311