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Claire Leighton MPhil

MA work

One of the key figures in nineteenth-century history is the political hostess: a woman who operated in many related arenas including hosting house parties at weekends when parliament was in session. One such woman was Lady Waldegrave, who decorated and furnished Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill. She held famous parties at Strawberry Hill, known as ‘Saturday to Mondays’ in the 1860s and 70s, to which ‘people seem[ed] quite wild to come’. Reactions to such gatherings, supportive and hostile, indicate an acknowledgement of the influence that she held in addition to commenting on the appropriateness of her taste.

Using Waldegrave as a case study, this thesis explores the subject of the political hostess and the relationship between artefacts and social relations that she staged. I consider what she chose to save from Walpole’s collection, what she chose to buy and how she overcame her losses by embedding herself within the very fabric of the building, thereby promoting herself as part of the fabric of English society. She firmly attached herself to Walpole’s interest in antiquity with a liberal use of heraldry within the house. She included her own crest to sit beside Walpole’s in many of the eighteenth-century rooms. Photographs and illustrations of her furniture, and the few extant pieces in the house are invariably decorated with her coronet. Reactions to her interiors and furniture form part of a commentary on taste and class, both in relation to old and new money, and the relative value of inherited and bought objects.

Info

  • MA Degree

    School

    School of Humanities

    Programme

    MA History of Design, 2009

  • One of the key figures in nineteenth-century history is the political hostess: a woman who operated in many related arenas including hosting house parties at weekends when parliament was in session. One such woman was Lady Waldegrave, who decorated and furnished Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill. She held famous parties at Strawberry Hill, known as ‘Saturday to Mondays’ in the 1860s and 70s, to which ‘people seem[ed] quite wild to come’. Reactions to such gatherings, supportive and hostile, indicate an acknowledgement of the influence that she held in addition to commenting on the appropriateness of her taste.

    Using Waldegrave as a case study, this thesis explores the subject of the political hostess and the relationship between artefacts and social relations that she staged. I consider what she chose to save from Walpole’s collection, what she chose to buy and how she overcame her losses by embedding herself within the very fabric of the building, thereby promoting herself as part of the fabric of English society. She firmly attached herself to Walpole’s interest in antiquity with a liberal use of heraldry within the house. She included her own crest to sit beside Walpole’s in many of the eighteenth-century rooms. Photographs and illustrations of her furniture, and the few extant pieces in the house are invariably decorated with her coronet. Reactions to her interiors and furniture form part of a commentary on taste and class, both in relation to old and new money, and the relative value of inherited and bought objects.

  • Degrees

  • BA (Hons) Fine Art Valuation Studies (First class), Southampton Institute, 2002; BA (Hons) English, University of Hertfordshire, 1982
  • Experience

  • Education Consultant, Strawberry Hill Trust, Twickenham, Middlesex, 2009; Part-time Administrator/Housekeeper, Strawberry Hill Trust, Twickenham, Middlesex, 2008-9; Education Welfare Officer, Richmond Education Authority, Twickenham, Middlesex, 2003-7; English Teacher, Richmond Education Authority Social Inclusion Team, Twickenham, Middlesex, 2000-3Conferences'The Impact of the International Exhibitions on the Consumption of the Elite', CHORD, University of Wolverhampton, 2009; 'Designing a Political Space', London Metropolitan University, 2009; 'Women as the Custodian of the Cherished Object', Material Worlds, University of Leicester, 2008;