From a Gothic Villa to a Gothic Pineapple?
by Peter N. Lindfield, Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Stirling
Horace Walpole (1717–97), son of Sir Robert Walpole, first Earl of Orford and Britain’s first ‘Prime Minister’, was a prolific Georgian letter writer, art historian, aesthetician and wholehearted supporter of what he termed ‘venerable barbarism’ (HW Corr. 20, 372)—Gothic design. Creating his own ancestral seat in the Gothic style from 1748, Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, Walpole was at the forefront of a select antiquarian subset of the broader mid-Georgian movement to domesticate medieval architecture and architectural forms and to make them fit for polite Georgian society. The Lewis Walpole Library (LWL), given its peerless collection of Walpole’s printed and manuscript material, together with objects and furniture from Strawberry Hill, is a fundamental research library for anyone working upon Walpole, his villa, the Gothic Revival, and almost any aspect of eighteenth-century life that Walpole engaged with.
The LWL has numerous other cognate gems, not least the Pomfret Pedigree (Quarto 498 P77 MS) —a pedigree tracing the lineage of Henrietta Maria, Countess of Pomfret, and her husband, the Earl of Pomfret, back to the two wives of Edward I. Made in 1750 in the style of a richly illuminated manuscript, with a pineapple plant—a derivative of the family name—supporting their ancestors’ arms, the document illustrates how Gothic design was
interpreted and harnessed by competing Gothicists. Courtesy of this manuscript, which Walpole knew and wrote about to Sir Horace Mann on 1 September 1750 (HW Corr. 20, 180–81), the Countess emerges as an even more connoisseurial supporter of the medieval beyond the creation of a Gothic cabinet (c.1752–53) for the family seat at Easton Neston, Northamptonshire, and her London town house, Pomfret Castle, Arlington Street, London (1755–61) (Lindfield, 2014). The LWL collection is quite remarkable and replete with equally important manuscripts that propel our understanding and examination of Britain’s Georgian architectural, intellectual, social, and material past.
Farmington, Lewis Walpole Library, Quarto 498 P77 MS.
Lindfield, Peter N. ‘The Countess of Pomfret’s Gothic Revival Furniture’. The Georgian Group Journal XXII, 2014: 77–94.
Walpole, Horace. The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, edited by W.S. Lewis et al. 48 vols. London: Oxford University Press, 1937–83.