Place-making for the Imagination: Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Strawberry Hill, the Gothic villa and associated landscape, seat of Horace Walpole (1717-97), is without doubt mandatory in any assessment of eighteenth-century British architecture, yet the reasons for its creation have never been adequately explained or fully understood. This thesis asserts, for the first time, that Walpole’s ideas which informed Strawberry Hill are inspired by theories that stimulate ‘The Pleasures of the Imagination’ as articulated in essays by Joseph Addison (1672-1719) published in the Spectator (1712). The thesis argues that Walpole’s reasons for choosing Gothic have been misunderstood and that he valued this ‘true’ style of British architecture for its associative and imaginative connotations and as a means of expressing historical interpretation through material objects. It affirms that Strawberry Hill expressed the idea that it was based on monastic foundations using architectural quotations from Gothic tombs, representing visual links to historical figures and events. The thesis, moreover, develops an argument as to how Walpole’s theories expressed in Anecdotes of Painting (1762-71) and The History of the Modern Taste in Gardening (1780) became manifest at Strawberry Hill.Avoiding the straightforward architectural description of previous texts, the thesis demonstrates Strawberry Hill to be a sequence of theatrical spaces playing with scale, colour and atmosphere, specifically designed to create surprise and wonder in order to stimulate the imagination. A series of sensory effects and moods, based on contemporary landscape theory, create a background to Walpole’s collection of cultural and historical artefacts – each ‘singular,’ ‘unique,’ or ‘rare’ - artfully displayed to produce their own narrative. Unlike previous studies, the villa and landscape are evaluated as an entity, a structured essay in associative, imaginative thought. Finally, the dissertation reconstructs Strawberry Hill as it existed in Horace Walpole’s time, leading the reader on an integrative virtual tour of buildings, gardens, emblematic models and associative inspirations.
Date of Award1 Sept 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorMark Wilson Jones (Supervisor)


  • Strawberry Hill Association
  • imagination

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