Strawberry Hill, the house in Twickenham named, enlarged and made famous by Horace Walpole from 1748 onwards, and latterly celebrated as a herald of both the Picturesque and the Gothic Revival, has been said to be ‘one of the best documented houses of all time’ and ‘studied at least as much as it deserves’. Accounts have placed great reliance on drawings, engraved and painted views, building accounts and, of course, Walpole’s irresistible writings, whether his correspondence or his Description of 1784, which included plans made in 1781 (Figs 1 and 2). As is to be expected virtually all the documentation on the house relates to Strawberry Hill as Walpole made it rather than as he found it. Little regard has been given to the practical circumstances of Walpole’s work, notably the fact that he was not building from new. There has been no clarity on the early development of the house, particularly with respect to its shape when it was acquired by Walpole in 1747. It is well-known that he was working to improve and enlarge a humble dwelling. However, this is not enough. The form of the house in 1747 matters because it set the parameters for Walpole’s architectural adventures. The early house is important simply because, despite its awkwardnesses and oddities, Walpole did not demolish it and start again. There are site-related reasons for this, discussed by Michael Snodin below, but it is clear that he was charmed by the building and that, with knowing conceit, he used it to root his new home in a bogus antiquity. The point of investigating the early form of Strawberry Hill is not perversely to glorify a pedestrian and makeshift vernacular house at the expense of what is truly wonderful about the later house; it is, rather, to arrive at a better understanding of what was the starting point and, in some measure, the inspiration for a great accretive architectural achievement.