Day Trips / London / Toronto

Two Men and Their Exquisite Houses

While flipping through the London Attractions: 2 for 1 pamphlet in July I noticed a house that I had never seen or heard of before.  It was called Strawberry Hill House and the blurb boasted that it was England’s finest example of Georgian Gothic Revival Architecture.

Stain gladd SHH

I quickly began asking friends if they had heard of this house.  No one had so I decided I must visit. The website introduces the prospective visitor to Horace Walpole, the man who created the house in the 18th century.  Currently the Strawberry Hill Trust, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, has recently undertaken a £9 million repair and restoration of Walpole’s villa.

Walpole called his castle a ‘plaything house’ and in choosing the gothic style for Strawberry Hill he deliberately avoided the fashionable classical idioms of his time: columns, pediments, order and symmetry.  While there were no columns I found a lot of symmetry in the beautiful detail throughout the house.  As seen in the Gold room below.

In collaboration with a group of amateur architect friends he based his designs on the architecture of the great gothic cathedrals and abbeys. Medieval tombs, arched doorways, rose windows and carved screens were models for his fireplaces, windows, doors and ceilings.

Books of prints rather than the buildings themselves were his reference point and, instead of carved stone, the rooms and ornament of Strawberry Hill are wood, plaster and papier mache.

The interesting thing about this ‘castle’ is that all the furniture and art was sold at auction years ago so it is practically empty.  I knew this before going and I wondered if it would feel too sparse.  I found that I actually preferred it that way.   When viewing old castles and stately homes (like Versailles) I often find it is a bit overkill.  Without the furniture you could really notice the details.

Let me now introduce you to the second man.

Sir Henry Pellatt was born to British parents in Kingston, Ontario on January 6, 1859.  He founded the Toronto Electric Light Company in 1883. By the time he was 30, the Toronto Electric Light Company enjoyed a monopoly on the supply of street lighting to the city of Toronto.

In 1911, with a fortune of $17 million, Sir Pellatt drew up plans with Canadian architect E.J. Lennox to build his dream castle. The land on which he planned to build had been given the name Casa Loma by its previous owner.

Seeing any similarities here?  Well David and I didn’t at first but when we were in Casa Loma a poster discussed the connection to Strawberry Hill House.  Houses of this type and scale are not and were not common for Canada and Casa Loma came under some harsh criticism at the time it was being built.

Some of the defense was to look at other houses, in similar style in Europe and SHH was one such comparison.  As it is built in a Gothic revival style as well I see those similarities on the outside but that is where it ends.

Casa Loma took three years and $3.5 million to build. Sir Henry Pellatt filled Casa Loma with artwork from Canada and around the world. Casa Loma stood as a monument to its creator – it surpassed any private home in North America. With soaring battlements and secret passageways, it paid homage to the castles and knights of days gone by.

While I enjoyed the sparseness in Strawberry Hill House I liked seeing this house and all the furniture in tact.  Houses or ‘castles’ of this nature just do not exist in Canada as they do in abundance in Europe.  It was also said that Sir Pellatt had hoped he would one day entertain royally from England but that never happened.

Unfortunately, Sir Henry Pellatt’s fortunes could not sustain Casa Loma.  Sir Henry Pellatt enjoyed Casa Loma for less than ten years before financial misfortune forced him to abandon his home.

Strawberry Hill House is a great day out costing only £8 (£4 if you can do 2 for 1 with your rail tickets) so if you are in London and looking for something that is not packed with tourists and not as well known then give this a try.

Likewise if you are in Toronto then I recommend seeing Casa Loma, tickets are $24.00.  Also, if you can handle it (it is a bit claustrophobic) then go to the very top to be rewarded with a stunning view of the city.


10 thoughts on “Two Men and Their Exquisite Houses

    • Mandy you would really like them both! Those deals are great, it is nice they do a lot of the really well known attractions but also lesser know ones so that people are more inclined to try them out.

  1. Hopefully Strawberry Hill House will STAY a hidden gem. I hate crowds & most tourists. 😐 Thanks for the heads up; never heard of this place until now.

  2. This is fascinating – so great to find these relatively unknown attractions!

    I think I prefer when castles are furnished — while I can really feel the vastness of the castle without the furniture, it’s harder for me to imagine it as a living space. I’m constantly trying to picture how it was set up as a home.

    • I do prefer it as well, which was why I was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy my visit to Strawberry Hill. In Casa Loma it was very easy to picture how they lived having all the furniture there.

      Most of the furniture was sold to Harvard and they have a very good online database apparently. I think in the restoration process they will eventually have recreated furniture. So would be nice to go see it again in a few years once restoration is complete.

  3. Pingback: The London List: Where to Beat the Crowds | Here There Everywhere

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