The weather this last week has been pretty torturous for working at a computer in a room without air-conditioning. Since I was owed an afternoon off, I asked to have Friday afternoon off, to escape computers and get some fresh air.
With plans to visit Wales on Saturday, I decided it would be a good idea to go explore the National Trust property down the road in Wellington; Sunnycroft, and then after, walk up The Wrekin, the other iconic Telford landmark.
Returning home, having taken many photographs on my camera, I inserted the memory card into my laptop and found all of my photos gone. Whilst devastated, I refuse to allow it to prevent my writing a blog post about my experience of Sunnycroft, as a result, all photographs on this post have been taken from the National Trust Images website. I will at a later date revisit Sunnycroft, take more photos and write a follow-up post.
A Little History
Like Wightwick Manor, Sunnycroft was built in two parts. The first part was completed in 1880 for John Wackrill who founded a brewery in Shropshire, the rooms from the original part of the house are relatively modest in size.
When the Wackrill family moved to Essex following the death of John Wackrill, Sunnycroft was put on the market and bought by Mary Jane Slaney, the widow of a wine and spirit merchant. With a passion for entertaining, she extended the house in 1899, adding the Billiard Room, Dining Room, Staircase Hall and the new entrance.
Mary died in 1910 and Sunnycroft was owned by her son Jack, who later died in World War One, before John Lander (Mary’s brother-in-law) took ownership in 1912. John Lander founded a solicitors firm in Wellington and lived in the house with his wife Mary Hammersley Slaney (sister-in-law of Mary Jane Slaney) and their children Thomas, Dorothy and Gwendoline.
Thomas bought the house following his father’s death in 1942 and lived there with his wife Muriel and their two daughters; Rachel and Joan. Thomas started his own iron works business in Coalbrookdale called the Sinclair Iron Works (later Allied Iron Foundry) and lived at Sunnycroft until his death in 1973. His daughter Rachel had married a wealthy man and on her father’s death, inherited the family holiday home on the island of Anglesey, where she lives to this day. Joan inherited Sunnycroft and led a much more interesting life.
During the Second World War, Joan became a Red Cross Nurse (nursing being the only respectable job for an upper-middle class female), later working as a radiographer. After the end of the war, in 1947 Joan enrolled at the Royal School of Needlework, a two-year course she completed in 1949. Due to her great talent for needlework, Joan was one of twelve women chosen to embroider the gold thread work on Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation robe.
Joan later held embroidery classes in the Dining Room at Sunnycroft, using the billiard table in the Billiard Room as a place to store materials. I was informed by the room steward that when the National Trust took ownership of Sunnycroft, it took them a considerable amount of time to clear the materials from the billiard table. In her later years, Joan became aware of the importance of keeping the house in its current state, for the nation, and so she bequeathed the house to the National Trust in 1997 following her death at the age of 80.
The House & Garden
Sunnycroft is a large Victorian suburban villa located on the Holyhead Road in Wellington, Telford. Having lived in Telford for eighteen or so years, and visited many more before then, I am baffled as to how I have never seen the house or entrance at least, before. Driving down the Holyhead Road, you soon come across a sign to Sunnycroft pointing straight to the entrance. Driving through the gates and parking the car, you are greeted with this wonderful driveway walk to the house.
I was slightly taken aback by the driveway to be completely honest. In Telford, which is not a very awe-inspiring town, with the exception of Ironbridge, I had no idea such beautiful trees existed. Sunnycroft is definitely the hidden gem of Wellington.
Walking down the driveway, which isn’t very long, you come to the front of the house.
When you first arrive at Sunnycroft after parking, you are directed to a hut near the entrance of the car park, to purchase tickets and choose a time for a house tour. My tour was at half past two and when I arrived at the entranceway, I was alone.
The lady in the entrance hall, was very friendly, informing me about the floor tiles which were purchased from Maw & Co in Broseley at a cost of two thousand pounds.
Whilst waiting for my tour to begin, which is in fact a ten minute talk about the history of the house in the Billiard Room, followed by an independent wander around the house, the lady discussed some cartoon drawings framed on the hallway a-liking one character to one of Charles Dickens’ characters. I confessed I was not very knowledgable about Dickens’ work and that Jane Austen was my forte. I mention this because every blog post should come with a little mention of Austen (just like every present should come with a gift of tea). Coincidentally, the lady is shortly due to go on a Jane Austen tour and asked if I had been, sadly not, though I do plan to visit Bath soonish.
The Billiard Room
After the earlier group finished their talk I was admitted through the Entrance Hall and into the Billiard Room.
The room is part of the extension built in 1899 by Mary Jane Slaney, she was fond of entertaining and separating men from women. As a result of this separation, parts of the house, the Billiard Room in particular were decorated in a very masculine style, whereas the Lady’s Drawing Room was decorated in a more feminine style. The ceiling in several of the rooms at Sunnycroft are not made of plaster or wood, but in fact concrete, due to Mary’s fear of a fire. The wallpaper in the Billiard Room was a very expensive paper wall covering made to look like fabric, I had assumed it was fabric until being told otherwise.
The Staircase Hall
After exploring the Billiard Room, you continue through the hallway into the Staircase Hall.
The Staircase Hall is a very grand room I think, for the size of the house. Clad in red, with a high skirting board and low dado rail which was a fashion of the late Victorian era, the Staircase Hall leads off to the first floor, the Dining Room and the Drawing Room.
The Dining Room
The Dining Room is a very green room, overlooking the croquet lawn. I noticed once again that the Dining Room lacked a chandelier, I am beginning to wonder whether I am of a minority of chandelier lovers, they do though, create such an atmosphere.
On the wall not shown in the photo above, is a painting called The Card Players by Alfred Gilbert. Alfred Gilbert created the statue of Anteros, the Greek God of requited love, found atop of the Shaftesbury Memorial in London’s Piccadilly Circus (I was told the statue is often mistaken for Anteros’ brother Eros, the god of one-sided love). Lord Shaftesbury was Victorian politician, philanthropist and social reformer, who I remember from my GCSE work on the living standards of the working class in the nineteenth century and his fight for better working conditions in factories, particularly for working children. The room steward did not know anything about Lord Shaftesbury so I somewhat delighted to find my historical studies come in useful!
The Drawing Room
After the Dining Room you walk through the Staircase Hall and into the Drawing Room.
Compared to the Billiard Room, the Drawing Room is a very feminine room full of light colours, patterns and ornaments. The Sunnycroft tea room is also located in one of the reception rooms off the Staircase Hall, accessible from the garden verandah. I am unsure whether that room was a second Drawing Room/Parlour.
Walking up the staircase, past the many portraits and through the first door on the Turret Landing, you walk through a room with a medicine cupboard, originally used to store linen, but used by the Lander family, to store medicine, remedies and toiletries. Next to the cabinet is Joan Lander’s nurse uniform.
There are several doors off this upper landing, two of which you can access, the first leads to the East Bedroom and the second to a video showing Joan receive a commendation by the late Queen Mother (the Queen at that time).
The East Bedroom has a view overlooking the Wellingtonia Avenue. The bookcase next to the bed alas, had no Jane Austen, but the room had some nice features including a mat in front of the fireplace with the Lander family crest embroidered onto it.
Walking back onto the Turret Landing, the next room you enter is the Master Bedroom.
The door to the Master Bedroom has a curtain on a hinge, allowing extra privacy and I assume extra heat insulation. Next to the door is a wardrobe with two Victorian dresses on show. These were used for some time for the children to dress up with, until the family realised they should be kept safe for posterity.
The Master Bedroom is a very large room, as it ought to be, and I think, one of very few rooms with ceiling lights, other rooms opting for gas-powered lamps attached to the walls.
Sunnycroft is set in a five acre mini-estate with gardens consisting of a croquet lawn, vegetable garden, vinery, shrubbery, orchard, paddock, stream & soft fruit garden and the two Victorian conservatories alongside the rose garden.
The conservatory is a grade II listed building in its own right, there are two conservatories at Sunnycroft, both used to grow and store plants.
Sunnycroft is one of very few buildings of this type to remain in the state they were built in. Many have since been demolished or converted into apartments, offices or hotels. One such example of an a suburban villa having been turned into a hotel is Buckatree Hall at the foot of The Wrekin, where I next visited on my afternoon off.
- http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sunnycroft/ – Official National Trust Webpage
- http://www.nationaltrustimages.org.uk – National Trust Images Website