The restoration of Strawberry Hill House has begun. In her lively, enthralling and entertaining talk to the Borough of Twickenham Local History Society, Anna Chalcroft of the Strawberry Hill Trust spelt out the findings, the unexpected and the things not found in the forensic exercise currently taking place as part of the painstaking restoration of Horace Walpole’s ‘paper castle’.

Items discovered span four centuries of development on the site. In fact, the early house bought by Walpole in 1747 turns out to have been a compilation of three buildings, dating back to 1610 and complete with wonderfully preserved examples of wood, brick, stairs and windows.

Nothing, it appears, from the 17th century through to the 20th had been removed, but layers added that have preserved the past. The dismantling of lavatories and a bathroom has uncovered plasterwork and original panelling dating as far back as the 1650s. Indeed, the removal of a plywood skin to one suite of these 20th century amenities revealed Walpole’s 1753 Green Closet, virtually intact. Over 60 examples of wallpaper down the ages abound, the earliest dating from the 17th century takes the form of a border just one and half inches wide. It is decorated with strawberries, each fruit and its leaves block printed and then hand painted – and on recycled paper. An 18th century example of blue chintz is adorned with flowers complete with butterflies that have been cut out and then stuck on. In some places there has been found to be as much as 17 layers of paper, each requiring painstaking separation and preservation. What’s known as ‘ghosting’, that is the imprinted impression by daylight of objects and furnishings onto the fabric of the walls, has provided invaluable clues as to what stood and what was placed where. Used together with inventories, these images mark precisely the positioning of each painting and architectural feature. Ornate chimney pinnacles, for so long missing, have been recovered from other parts of the house where they were repositioned by later occupants.

Workmen and craftsmen employed by Walpole signed their work, with dates, the name of the company they worked for and the time spent there. Even the weather is logged for posterity. These remarkable human artefacts are being photographed before they are once more hidden from view, perhaps for another 250 years.

The glass is being expertly removed from the windows and taken to workshops where conservators will restore the roundels and panels to their former glory. A complete staircase has been uncovered dating from 1698, which was moved in Walpole’s time from an earlier position. Two other staircases and numerous doors and doorways, some at different levels, demonstrate how Walpole’s house embraced the earlier buildings, and how it was made to work.

Then, the doors, the panelling and indeed much of the interior was painted a dull grey to give the impression of a stone building, a subtle touch of theatre to Walpole’s gothic vision, which is how the restored interior will be presented. The whole of the exterior is to be re-rendered in lime mortar and finished with a lime wash as it would originally have been.

Things not found include any garden features from Walpole’s day, which means that the garden restoration will have to rely solely on contemporary prints. The 2,050 floor tiles that Walpole ‘acquired’ from Gloucester cathedral are also missing The total budget for the work and setting up the house as a heritage attraction and education facility is £8.9 million. This will provide for the renovation of the Round Room, the Great North Bedchamber, the Long Gallery, the Tribune, the Library, the Great Parlour and the Staircase.

The Great Cloister will become the tea room, the Servants Hall a museum, the Red Bedchamber a conservation exhibit area and the Beauty Room a conservation case study area.

And all of this to be completed by Easter 2010 when the house will reopen to the public and coincide with the opening of the Horace Walpole exhibition to be mounted at the Victoria and Albert Museum. See Dates and Data, left, for details of the next meeting of BOTLHS on December 1.