This is part of a local history note on Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill. See the start of this local history note.
Walpole bequeathed Strawberry Hill to Mrs Anne Damer, daughter of his friend and cousin General Conroy, together with £2,000 a year to keep it in repair. Mrs. Damer eventually resigned the property to the Dowager Duchess of Waldegrave, in whom the remainder of the fee was vested. It later passed to George, 7th Earl Waldegrave who sold its contents by auction in 1842.
Frances, Lady Waldegrave inherited Strawberry Hill on the death of her husband in 1846. She was married 4 times: to 2 sons of the 6th Earl of Waldegrave and her 4th husband was Chichester Fortescue, (1823-1898) later Lord Carlingford and then Lord Clermont. The Countess was a leading figure in Victorian society whose passion for entertaining on a lavish scale was only equalled by her passion for building. In 1856 she began restoring the house, which had remained in a rather derelict state after the contents sale in 1842; she also tried to find many of the dispersed treasures.
The Library and Gallery were redecorated and the walls of the latter were hung with crimson silk. The Prior’s Garden was replaced by a large entrance hall and the Offices were converted into bedrooms. Probably the most ambition of Lady Waldegrave’s projects at Strawberry Hill was the building of a new suite connecting the western end of Walpole’s house with the new bedrooms. The suite included a large drawing-room and dining-room. The artist Henry Phillips was commissioned to paint a series of pictures for the drawing room.
When Lady Waldegrave had finished her building programme, the house had 58 rooms and acres of roof. She died suddenly in 1879 and, as Fortescue could not bear to live in the house with its memories, it was sold. In 1888, Strawberry Hill was put up for auction, but only attracted a top bid of £15,000 and was withdrawn from sale. It was owned by the Stern family for a time.
It was purchased in 1923 by the Catholic Education Council and in1927, Strawberry Hill was formally opened as St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Teachers’ Training College. It is now an integral part of Surrey University. In more recent years many of the cumbersome 19th century additions have been removed. In 1958-9, the 19th century entrance hall was demolished and the north front was rebuilt to Walpole’s original design under the direction of Sir Albert Richardson. As a result, Horace Walpole’s "little Gothick castle" now closely resembles its original appearance.
Updated: 22 June 2017