When I was staying with the Italian couple that I mentioned in my previous blog, Sammy and Annielo in Twickenham, (They had let me stay in their house one weekend while they went to Italy. They were so generous and left me their house key so I can enter freely without worry. That same weekend, I believe) I had gone out to see a film, and somehow had to take the last train from Waterloo to London.I remember the night as if it was yesterday, I was very late taking the train. I ended up having to take a bus part of the way, which dropped me off not in Twickenham, but Strawberry Hill, which is an affluent London area in the London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames.
House in the Gothic Style Strawberry Hill
I had to walk about 5 blocks around 2 a.m in the morning in the dark all by myself. It was in the middle of winter,and I was freezing. I steadfastedly focused on getting home and got home in a hurry. I remember walking behind a couple just so I can be partly safe and assuredly told them I was not stalking them. But, what was most fascinating about this walk in the middle of the night, was that it felt like I was not in London at all. Well, I was in Greater London,but the elegant houses that were high on this hill, Strawberry Hill with the River Thames right below made me feel like I was a heroine in an English novel that had just missed her barouche and had to walk hurriedly home under the light of the moon.It was a bit scarey,(in a good kind of England romantic spooky way, if that makes any sense,) because as I was approximating their home where the entrance was the back porch, I had to take this back street which past a children’s park that had many tombstones (like many English parks do ). Mr. Twining of Twinings Tea happens to be buried there.
During my sojourn in Twickenham,at the Twickenham station there is a map and information about Orleans House. Orleans House today now is a gallery, but back in the 18th and 19th century was the home to many a Noble French men. I discovered that many French exiled to both Twickenham and Strawberry Hill during the the French Revolution. It just goes to show how interconnected we are and how History tend to overlap.(The English go to France, the French go to England, and call each other names, use each other in times of war ).The fact that the French lived in this part of London which is a famous home for Rugby intrigued me and lends a bit of glamour and nostalgic mystery. Not to mention, the 18th Century is one of my favorite parts of World History. The grandeur and yet tulmultous lives of Queen Deficit, Queen Marie Antoinette ( Queen Deficit), and Georgiana Cavendish,Duchess of Devonshire respectively intrigue me.
At the turn of the 19th century, Twickenham became fashionable as a refuge for royalists fleeing the French Revolution and the exiled Duke of Orleans, who was later King Louis Philippe, set up home in the house, between 1800 – 1817. He occupied the house, (1773-1850), from whom the present gallery derives it’s name. Forced into exile from France in the period leading up to Napoleon’s Defeat at Waterloo, Louis Philippe made this house his home between 1815 and 1817. Attracted to the tranquility of the area he wrote to a friend: “I bless heaven, noon and night that I am in my peaceful house in old Twick”. In 1844 he returned to England as King of the French, and visited his former residence accompanied by Queen Victoria.
Orleans House- The Octagon Gallery
When the main building was demolished in 1926 the only feature to survive was Octagon, an eight-sided turret that had formed part of the west wing. Designed by James Gibbs in 1720, this neo-classical room has plasterwork and a black and white checked floor, now used as a giant chessboard. A gallery was later built on the site of the original house and today both this and the Octagon are used for changing exhibitions. These include local and London art, contemporary crafts and local history displays.