Strawberry Hill House


Hattie Lloyd 12/07/23

An Art Crawl in Twickenham

Itinerary Location: Twickenham | Duration: 6 Hours

There are a lot of fancy old buildings scattered across London…

…but Strawberry Hill has the pick of the bunch.

This little green patch parked at the south-west bend of the Thames, just across the river from Richmond, is full of impressive aristocratic piles, ancient forest and sprawling parkland. But it also has a more bohemian, artistic side – nowhere more than the mysterious island sitting in the Thames that’s inhabited mainly by painters and potters.

And today’s itinerary takes in all of it, from grandiose interiors to riverside cabins, stopping off at mysterious grottoes, majestic viewpoints, and a restaurant in a greenhouse along the way.

Start at Strawberry Hill station, and make a beeline for:


strawberry hill house

It’s hard to believe that a place with interiors that would make Liberace look underdressed can stay relatively under the radar, but thanks to its location off the tube map, Strawberry Hill House remains one of London’s hidden gems. It was built over the course of 30 years from 1749 by its owner, the author and antiquarian Horace Walpole. Lacking an 18th century Pinterest, Walpole drew his inspiration from castles, cathedrals, and Westminster Abbey to create his ‘little Gothic castle’, with gilded fan ceilings, crocketed spires, and fireplaces based on royal tombs. He was so pleased with it he even allowed the public to snoop round when he lived there, and you can easily spend an hour here wandering the halls and taking in a few spare masterpieces that Dulwich Picture Gallery had knocking about.

Once you’ve had your fill of gloriously excessive gilding, head right down Waldegrave Road, and left onto Cross Deep. After about 15 minutes, turn right onto the high street, right again at the old bank, and cross the bridge ahead of you…


Yes, it sounds like something from a Famous Five book. But Eel Pie Island is, somehow, a real place. Sitting in the middle of the Thames, it’s only accessible by this one bridge (or boat). It was legendary in the 60s, when the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and The Who all played gigs at the island’s hotel, before it became a hippie commune and then burnt down in a “mysterious fire” (just what could have started that, we may never know…). Nowadays, it’s pretty much a private island, home to about 120 people, mostly artists. Usually you can only cross the bridge, take a walk down one small street and pop your head into the island museum, but for a few weekends a year, the artists also throw open their doors for an open studio crawl (2024’s dates are 29 – 30th June and 6 – 7th July, 11am – 6pm).

eel pie island

Diamond Geezer/Flickr

Head over the bridge and you’ll be able to take in the island’s eccentric houses, variously decorated with old signs and vintage adverts, and their gardens, with plastic sharks bursting out the soil and mannequin legs propped up in flower pots. And you’ll also be able to peruse the fruits of the residents’ many creative endeavours, from sculptures and hand-thrown ceramics to wall prints and jewellery.

Loaded up with paintings that’ll probably be worth a fortune on Antiques Roadshow in 50 years, go back over the bridge and head right to walk along the river, passing through…


Marathon/Wikimedia Commons

…a particularly serene patch of greenery that once belonged to the Duke of Orleans and later Sir Ratan Tata, who had a taste for bombastic water features, before you reach…


orleans house gallery

You know how it is with stately homes once inhabited by the Duke of Orleans. They’re just like buses. This one, however, was mostly demolished in the 20s and only one main room survives. What it lacks in size, though, it more than makes up for in grandeur – it’s a grade I listed octagonal room built to entertain 18th century royalty. Since the 1970s, however, it’s made a palatial setting for contemporary art, with an impressive number of exhibitions staged each year in the old service wing. It’s free to visit, so pop your head in for a quick dose of additional culture before walking through the gardens down to the riverbank. Hop onto Hammerton’s Ferry (a pound a pop) to ride the waves to the other side.

Swing a left when you moor up to head to:


You’ve been meaning to go when you’re ‘next in the area’ for years, and now you’re finally in the area. This famously picturesque plant nursery expanded a few years ago to Covent Garden, but it’s the Richmond original which holds its most prized asset: a restaurant inside a flower-laden greenhouse.

Petersham Nurseries interior

The tables are functional, steel-topped numbers; the seating an eclectic collection of mismatched garden chairs and beaten-up vintage finds. And it’s nothing short of paradise. Candles flicker, a canopy of flowers shades you overhead, and the quality of cooking is always exceptional (recently winning a Green Michelin Star in recognition of the kitchen’s sustainability efforts). Broadly Italian in nature, the menu features dishes like pumpkin gnocchi with sage and guanciale; chargrilled monkfish with roasted tomatoes and agretti; and an irresistible tiramisu. But at this time of day, you could always book in for their glamorous afternoon tea, presented on a bespoke Venetian glass stand erupting with freshly cut flowers. Drink in your surroundings, then drink in a little English sparkling wine…


The Royal Parks

Then, as the sun starts to set, head along Petersham Road and work off a bit of that pasta with a short walk up King Henry’s Mound. This hilltop at the western edge of Richmond Park is apparently where Henry VIIIth watched for news of Anne Boleyn’s execution; nowadays it’s a less macabre viewpoint over the park, and the London skyline beyond. It’s got an uninterrupted view right down to St. Paul’s Cathedral, and it’s literally illegal to build anything in the way of it.

So if you can’t manage the walk up today, you can always come back in 2048.


The Itinerary:

➊ Strawberry Hill House | 268 Waldegrave Road, Twickenham, TW1 4ST

Eel Pie Island | The Thames

➌ York House Gardens | Sion Road, Twickenham TW1 3DD

➍ Orleans House Gallery | Orleans Road, Twickenham, TW1 3BL

➎ Petersham Nurseries | Off Petersham Road, Richmond TW10 7AB

King Henry’s Mound | Richmond Park, TW10 5HX

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