Shugborough Hall, a country estate near the village of Milford in Staffordshire is the ancestral home of the Anson family, the Earl’s of Lichfield. The estate belongs to the National Trust, but is leased to Staffordshire County Council and is home to a selection of visitor attractions including the mansion, gardens and parkland, a servants quarter museum and a working farm.
I have visited Shugborough Hall many times over the course of my life. My grandfather, who owns several classic motorcycle regularly attends vintage vehicle shows, these are occasionally held annually at county estates such as Weston Park, Himley Hall and of course Shugborough Hall. As a child I would always attend these with my family (occasionally riding on a motorbikes until I fell asleep one ride home), however I have not been for a number of years until yesterday. Whilst the vehicle aspect held little interest for me, the prospect of visiting another National Trust property did, especially when the visit would cost me nothing instead of the National Trust member discounted rate of seven pounds fifty. I later learned it would have been worth the money and will definitely visit again to see things I missed and to share the experience with others.
A Little History
The Shugborough Estate was originally owned by the Bishops of Lichfield and consisted of a manor house surrounded by a moat, set in eighty acres of land. Following the Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries, the estate was bought by William Paget in 1546 and then by William Anson in 1624, who was a successful lawyer.
William Anson’s grandson also named William, demolished the earlier house and built the central section of the current mansion. In 1720, Thomas Anson inherited Shugborough from his father William Anson III. It is Thomas Anson who annexed over one thousand acres of land, claimed it as his own and with Thomas Wright, created the vast parkland and erected several of the monuments, based on Chinese, Greek and Roman architecture. In the second half of the eighteenth century, Thomas Anson, using money from his brother George Anson’s successful naval career, extended the mansion adding the two wings.
Thomas Anson died in 1773 without a son and Shugborough was inherited by his nephew George Adams (later Anson). George was succeeded in 1789 by Thomas Anson II, who became the first Viscount Anson. Viscount Anson created the walled garden, a successful modern model farm and the mansion’s portico. After his death in 1818, Shugborough was inherited by his son Thomas Anson III, who became the first Earl of Lichfield.
The first Earl of Lichfield lived an excessively extravagant life and squandered an obscene amount of money gambling, resulting in a severe financial crisis for the family in 1841-1842. Shugborough had been mortgaged and in order to settle his debt, the Earl was forced to sell much of the contents of the house. Several items were saved from the sale including the family silver and family portraits, however books, sculptures and pieces of art included original Rembrandt’s were sold in the Great Sale, which lasted two weeks. After the sale, Shugborough was shut up and left empty for many years until the earl’s son, Thomas Anson IV (the second Earl of Lichfield), inherited the estate on his death in 1854.
The second Earl of Lichfield and his wife Harriet moved to Shugborough and the Earl followed the family tradition becoming the MP for Lichfield. The second Earl and his wife set about restoring Shugborough to its former glory, buying back items sold during the Great Sale when possible, and introducing new pieces to the house. Whilst the second Earl of Lichfield restored much of Shugborough Hall, he was unable to reduce the mortgage on the estate. His son the third Earl of Lichfield paid off the mortgage by taking smaller loans and invested money into the colonies, as well as running the estate himself.
In 1958, Shugborough Hall was inherited by Thomas “Patrick” Anson, the fifth Earl of Lichfield and cousin to Queen Elizabeth II. Patrick, who was a successful photographer, was forced to offer the estate as part payment of death duties in 1966 following the death of his grandfather, the fourth Earl of Lichfield. Whilst the estate was owned by the National Trust, the Earl lived in a private apartment until his death in 2005. The private apartment is now open to the public.
The Shugborough Estate is owned by the National Trust, but has been leased to Staffordshire County Council as part of a ninety-nine year lease who finance and administer the estate, providing a “complete working historic estate” for the use of the nation.
The mansion, along with parkland, gardens and farm, opens daily at eleven in the morning. Built between 1694 (the central section), 1748 (the wings) and 1790-1806 (portico & steps in the new front entrance), the mansion is a grand Georgian mansion-house fully open to the public. Until March 2011, the private apartment consisting of much of the first floor was closed to the public, serving as the residence of Patrick Anson, the fifth Earl of Lichfield until his death in 2005.
Before the opening of the private apartment, the State Rooms had been open to the public for many years, these included the Dining Room, Blue Drawing Room, Red Drawing Room, State Drawing Room, Saloon and State Bedroom. I will write about these in Shugborough Hall Part Two: The Mansion.
Located to the rear and sides of the Mansion, the formal gardens include a mixture of manicured formal terraces, shrubberies, herbaceous borders, lawns edged with lavender and two island retreats set along the river.
The gardens are also home to several monuments including a ruin with a druid sat upon it, a monument to a cat and a sculpture based on Nicolas Poussin’s ‘Et in Arcadia Ego onto which a mysterious code is engraved.
The Servant’s Quarters is adjacent to the mansion and is set in 1871, staffed with a host of maids and male servants in full Victorian costume. The Servant’s Quarter buildings are comprised of two courtyards, a working kitchen and laundry, a coach house, servant’s dining room and bedrooms.
Also housed in the Servant’s Quarters is the Staffordshire County Museum, a collection of objects, clothing and replica shops, as well as a classroom and a working brew house.
The grounds at Shugborough Hall total nine hundred acres and consist of follies, formal grounds & gardens, an island garden and an island arboretum. Dotted around the grounds, are a great number of small and large monuments including the Triumphal Arch, the Tower of the Winds, the Doric Temple and the Chinese House. The Triumphal Arch is a structure that particularly impressed me, I was unable to find out how to access the field until we were leaving, but it will be first on my list of things to see next time I go, and hopefully that day will be much sunnier. I was able to take a photo from the bottom of the hill in the fenced off car park, I can’t help but picture Elizabeth Bennet encountering Mr Darcy whilst taking a turn about the grounds.
Walking around the grounds, I did frequently imagine myself as a Georgian Gentleman walking about in breeches with a cane and at other times, horse riding around the follies. I think perhaps I read a little too much of Victoria Connelly’s ‘A Weekend With Mr Darcy’ and watched a few too many Jane Austen adaptations over the weekend.
The farm at Shugborough Hall was built in 1805 and it is this time, that the still working farm is set, with numerous Shugborough staff and volunteers in costume and character. The farm features a large and relatively grand farmhouse, a mill, dairy that makes cheese and butter, a tea shop, sweet shop and of course a farmyard of pigs, goats, sheep, turkeys, chickens, ducks, a donkey, pony and horse.
The Walled Garden is set in 1805, the year of it’s creation. There are a great number of crops growing in the garden, beans, onion and apples amongst them. Highlights of the Walled Garden include the Head Gardener’s House, the Dipping Pool and the staffed Blacksmiths.
Outside the Walled Garden, the Bothy’s have been converted from living accommodation for single male gardeners into craft shops including a woodturner, glassmaker and shop selling weaved willow produce.
In short, Shugborough Hall was a very enjoyable place to visit, with attractions that are bound to spark the interest of children and adults alike. As the title suggests, this is aimed at being merely the introduction to a series of blog posts focusing on different aspects of the Shugborough Hall Estate, watch this space for Part Two: The Mansion.
- http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/shugborough-estate/ – National Trust Webpage
- http://www.shugborough.org.uk – Official Shugborough Website