Horace Walpole described Osterley as ‘the palace of palaces’. His own house, not far away at Strawberry Hill, was an extravaganza of Gothick Revival, full of art and other treasures that were dispersed in a great auction in 1842. Many of the most important pieces are currently on show in the house, having been returned for an unlikely-to-be-repeated exhibition ‘Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill’ with the art in its original location, as detailed by Walpole himself.
The original house at Osterley was built in the 1570s for Sir Thomas Gresham. In the 18th century, as the result of a mortgage default, the house and estate came into the ownership of Sir Francis Child, the founder of Child’s Bank and, in 1761, Sir Francis’s grandsons, Francis and Robert, employed the Scottish architect Robert Adam, who was just emerging as one of the most fashionable architects in Britain, to remodel the house, which he did while retaining the Elizabethan corner towers from the old building.
Instead of putting the house to sleep over the winter, the National Trust and the Goldsmiths’ Company have collaborated on a beautiful exhibition of four centuries of silverware for dining, including contemporary designs from the Goldsmith’s Company and historic design from the collection of Osterley House itself with the main display in Adam’s neoclassical entrance hall complimented by newly-commissioned silver laid out on a beautiful contemporary dining room table in the Eating Room, which is undergoing refurbishment.
An excellent partnership between the two organisations bringing new audiences into the interiors of Osterley, showing the best of historic and contemporary design, including a wall-hanging by Ptolemy Mann. Hopefully such partnerships are something the National Trust will continue to explore, for example at Trelissick in Cornwall with its links to Spode porcelain as part of its developing masterplan for that property.