The Berry Sisters
Sojourns in Twickenham and Teddington
Horace Walpole first met Mary and Agnes Berry in 1788, fell for these itinerant ladies and prevailed upon them to take up residence in Twickenham. It has been suggested that, even at the age of 70, he might soon have contemplated marriage to Mary. Whatever the truth of that, he befriended them with considerable persistence in a way that, although complaisant, they might sometimes have found rather oppressive.
At a house on Twickenham Common
Mary (1763-1852) and Agnes (1764-1852) Berry came to Twickenham with their father, Robert, that year, renting a house apparently partly thatched, on Twickenham Common for a short period. In 1789 Walpole described this house as an expensive mansion, having a “round summer house” and subsequently occupied by Lord Cathcart (William Schaw, 10th Baron, later General and Earl) who had brought his wife there to give birth possibly, according to the mischievous Walpole, in the summerhouse itself. A contemporary print of Colne Lodge in 1786 shows what appears to be a domed (round?) garden building to the right of the picture. This house had belonged to Paul Whitehead, though whether it was partly thatched is open to question. There were other houses in the area, along today’s Staines Road: Brinsworth House, Burton Lodge and Captain Davies’s (Alpha House), any of which might have been let to the Berry family.
A short stay in Teddington
Following this short stay they departed for an extended tour of the north of England, intending to return to the neighbourhood. Walpole devoted himself to finding another house for them to rent. He was mortified not to obtain a lease of Teddington Manor (Palazzo Dudley, as he described it) from Countess Dudley: it was let without his knowledge, she widowed in November after only four months of her second of four marriages. However, another house became available, as he noted in a letter to Agnes on 13 August 1789. The house was “at the entrance of Teddington”, adjacent to the residence of Mr and Mrs Pepys (William Weller Pepys was a Master in Chancery), currently tenanted by a Mrs Armstrong and owned by a Mr Wickes. Walpole conducted negotiations on the sisters' behalf. These were fairly protracted but they did move in early in October, remaining until the middle of December when they returned to their house in London. The house, known as Teddington House, stood in the High Street, adjacent to Percy House beside Elmfield House. Percy House had been the residence of Dr Stephen Hales but only Elmfield House has survived.
At a house in Montpelier Row, Twickenham
!790 found the Berrys at Lymington for the sea air, and preparing for a further extended visit to Italy. However, that summer Walpole, somewhat fractious, coaxed them back to Twickenham where they took a house in Montpelier Row for some weeks. Departing for France and Italy on 10 October, they returned to England after 11 months on 11 November 1791. Walpole wrote at least 56 letters to the sisters during this period.
At Little Strawberry Hill
At the end of the year Walpole installed the family at his house, Cliveden, later named Little Strawberry Hill which had been leased to Sir Robert Goodyere since the death of Kitty Clive in 1785. The installation was attended by some discord, even recrimination: Walpole had inherited the Earldom of Orford by the death of his indigent nephew and with it the Houghton Estate. Malicious gossip suggested that the Berrys were now exploiting the friendship for self interest. In fact, for Walpole the Houghton estate, in considerable disrepair was an incubus; a responsibility that he felt himself too old and ill equipped to discharge.
Little Strawberry Hill was made over to the Berrys for them to use for their lifetime but it was Walpole's life that came to and end first. He died, five years later, in 1797, leaving the property to the sisters in his will. Robert Berry died in 1817, at Genoa while they were on one of their tours and, on returning to England they disposed of the property to Alderman Sir Matthew Wood, Lord Mayor of London in 1815 and 1816.
The sisters did not leave the area; they visited Petersham from time to time and when they died, within months of each other, in 1852 they were buried in the same grave in Petersham Churchyard.
F C Hodgson, Thames Side in the past, George Allen, 1913
R S Cobbett, Memorials of Twickenham, Smith Elder, 1872
Virginia Surtees (ed), The Grace of Friendship - Horace Walpole and the Misses Berry, Michael Russell, 1995
Lord Houghton, Monographs – personal and social, John Murray, 1873
W S Lewis (ed), Horace Walpole's Correspondence, Yale, 1937-1983