I have passed Attingham Park a great number of times during my life, but until this weekend have never been for a wander. After visiting my first National Trust property (as an adult) back in March and becoming a National Trust member in May, Attingham has been high on my list of places to visit, but only on a sunny day as to not ruin the experience. With the cancellation of some plans and the prospect of a sunny Saturday (perhaps the last for a good while), I decided finally to make the short drive down the ‘old A5’ to Atcham, near Shrewsbury.
A Little History
Attingham Park was built from an existing house Tern Hall, named after the river that flows through the estate. Tern Hall was owned by Noel Hill, a successful politician who through supporting Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger was given the title of Lord Berwick. The new Lord Berwick wanted a grander mansion for he, his wife Anne and their six children and so hired Scottish architect George Steuart to design and build the new Attingham Park mansion, which remained somewhat unfinished by the time of his death in 1789.
After the first Lord Berwick’s death, Noel and Anne’s eldest son Thomas inherited the estate along with a vast fortune and became the second Lord Berwick. At the time of his father’s death, Thomas was on his Grand Tour in Italy, where he purchased a substantial collection of paintings, sculptures and books. When he returned to Attingham Park, Thomas led an extravagant life and hired John Nash to renovate a number of rooms within the mansion and build a new gallery to hold his collection. In 1812, a forty-one year old Thomas married seventeen year old courtesan Sophia Dubochet, whom he had met in London. Thomas and Sophia spent vast amounts of money living a very extravagant life, despite being social pariah’s due to their inappropriate marriage. Thomas, lavishing gifts on Sophia, ran up huge debts, that resulted in two bankruptcy auctions being held in 1827 and 1829 in order to pay off their debts. After the auctions, Thomas and Sophia moved to Italy where Thomas died in 1832, outlived by Sophia who lived to the age of 81 in Leamington Spa.
When the second Lord Berwick held the two great auctions, his younger brother William Hill, a successful diplomat and Ambassador in Italy, travelled back to Attingham to purchase pieces of the family furniture and portraits. He then leased the estate from his brother until Thomas’s death, after which William inherited the estate and became the third Lord Berwick. After returning from Italy, William bought with him a collection of furniture that is now housed in the Drawing Room along with silver that he commissioned as Ambassador for the English Crown and Government, for which he would have had to entertain dignitaries and elite British citizens. William died in 1842 without a legitimate heir and the estate then passed on to Thomas and William’s youngest brother Richard, a then elderly rector.
Richard was the fourth Lord Berwick for only six years and did little to increase the Attingham Park estate or the Hill family fortunes. After his death in 1848, the estate passed to his eldest son also named Richard who became the fifth Lord Berwick. The fifth Lord chose to live at Cronkhill in a John Nash designed Italian villa, though lived financially responsibly, clearing the family’s debts and making repairs and extensions to the mansion. The fifth Lord also died in 1861 without heir and the estate was inherited by his brother William, a sixty year old Colonel. William only used Attingham Park to entertain guests, choosing to live elsewhere. The estate then fell to another Richard Hill, nephew of the sixth Lord Berwick before being inherited by his son Thomas, who was the last Lord Berwick of Attingham.
Thomas Hill, the eigth Lord Berwick inherited the estate in 1897, by which time Attingham Park was let out to tenants. Thomas was a diplomat and lived in Paris from 1903 until after the First World War after which he and his wife Teresa moved into Attingham Park. Thomas and Teresa intended to live at Cronkhill and let out Attingham but due to many years of neglect, they were unable to find tenants and were forced to move into Attingham Park themselves. During their time at Attingham Park, Thomas and Teresa restored the mansion’s interiors and furnishings and when World War Two broke out, Attingham Park was home to the Women’s Auxiliary Airforce and the place that the Edgbaston Church of England Girls School staff and pupils were evacuated to. Thomas negotiated with the National Trust over the future of the estate, to whom the estate was bequeathed to on the last Lord Berwick’s death in 1947.
Under National Trust ownership, Attingham Park became home to The Adult Educational Centre from the 1940s until the mid 1970s. The 1980s saw the beginning of period of restoration for Attingham Park, the National Trust began rebuilding, repairing and restoring the mansion and estate, a project that continues to this day.
As a Georgian Country House, the mansion was designed to be symmetrical and split into masculine and feminine halves; feminine to the east/right and masculine to the west/left.
Visitors are able to explore the mansion either as part of a guided tour or free flow, having missed the majority of the tours, I opted for free flow, which for the most part allowed me to avoid large crowds. Thankfully, unlike some of the other National Trust houses I have been to, photographs could be taken inside the rooms at Attingham Park.
The Entrance Hall
The Entrance Hall is at the centre of the mansion with the Drawing Room to the right, the Dining Room to the left and the Picture Gallery and Staircase straight ahead.
Built with a degree of trickery in mind, the Entrance Hall is decorated with fake marble and mock alcoves designed to look three dimensional housing classical sculptures. The fireplace is topped with a bust of William Pitt the Younger; Prime Minister from 1783 – 1806 who created the title Lord Berwick. Some non-historian folk might know Pitt the Younger as a character in Blackadder the Third, featuring Hugh Laurie as the Prince Regent (later George IV).
Leaving the Entrance Hall through the first door on the right, you will enter the Drawing Room.
The Drawing Room
The Drawing Room along with many of the rooms at Attingham Park were designed by architect George Steuart. Filled with Italian white and gilded furniture brought back from Italy by the third Lord Berwick. The furniture, which came from the Palazzo Belvedere, belonged to Caroline Murat; the sister of Napoleon, who’s portrait also hangs on the Drawing Room wall.
One thing that struck me as I walked into the room was the lack of silk walk coverings, that are so frequently found in National Trust houses.
Next to the door leading from the Entrance Hall into the Drawing Room is a sketch of Richard, the fourth Lord Berwick, by John Hayter. Noticing the name Hayter, I immediately asked the room guide if it was the same Hayter from numerous Buckingham Palace paintings.
“Excuse me, the sketch of the Reverend by Hayter over there, is that the same Hayter that frequently painted Queen Victoria? I was at Buckingham Palace a few weeks ago and saw a number of his paintings there”
Isn’t it fun to say: “oh yes I was at the Palace last week, afternoon tea with Her Majesty and so on…” hehe. After returning home, I did a quick internet search and found John Hayter to be the brother of George Hayter, who’s paintings of Queen Victoria can be found in the East Gallery at Buckingham Palace.
Moving through the Drawing Room, you will enter the Sultana Room.
The Sultana Room
The Sultana Room was a more intimate sitting room, smaller than the main Drawing Room. The names comes from the sofa or “sultane” in the alcove, which – the only area in the mansion – has crimson silk wall coverings.
On a table beside the entrance there is a small music box with a monkey conducting, that made me think of the Phantom of the Opera, which also features a monkey music box.
Moving through the Sultana Room and through an ante room, you will enter the now unfurnished Boudoir.
The Boudoir, always the most feminine room of a house, is considerably more elaborately decorated than the other rooms, adorned with classical scenes and cherubs.
The room is unfurnished as to allow visitors to walk freely around what is quite a small room, originally it would have been a private space for the lady of the house, the centrepiece of the feminine side of the house.
Walking back into the ante room, you will exit through another door and down a long set of corridors to the other side of the house, the masculine side, beginning with the Octagon Room, which is the masculine equivalent of The Boudoir.
The Octagon Room
The Octagon Room seems to be quite a good area for a study, leading to the Inner Library after another ante room. Similar to The Boudoir, the room is sparsely furnished with only a table in the middle of the room showing original and replica fabrics.
The Octagon Room was used as an office by Sir George Trevelyan when Attingham Park served as a an adult education college between 1947 and 1975.
Leaving the Octagon Room, you will enter another Ante Room, decorated with a great number of paintings of cattle.
The Ante Room
Walking through this Ante Room, ignoring the cattle paintings, I found three familiar looking paintings of Venice. Having seen Canaletto paintings at a number of other National Trust houses and of course Buckingham Palace, I am sufficiently able to pick them out in a room full of other paintings, especially when other paintings are of cattle. After asking the room guide about the paintings, they are actually copies and not real Canaletto paintings.
Exiting the Ante Room, you will enter the Inner Library.
The Inner Library
The Inner Library is named as such due to there being two libraries at Attingham Park, one inside (Inner Library) and one in the wing on the left side of the house, which also now occupies a tea room. The “Outter Library”, extremely disappointingly, was closed and so I could not explore and photograph that room, I shall have to imagine it instead.
Whilst walking into the Inner Library I came upon one of the guided tours led by ‘Thomas Hill, the second Lord Berwick‘. Here he told the tale of his time as Lord Berwick and his life with Sofia Dubochet.
Walking through the Inner Library, you then enter the Dining Room.
The Dining Room
The Dining Room was perhaps my favourite room of the house, lit by candlelight (electric of course) and with the curtains closed to protect the room from sun damage.
Above the fireplace is a portrait of William Pitt the Younger, who’s bust I mentioned as being on display in the Entrance Hall. The Dining Room has quite an elaborate ceiling, also red, adorned with white plasterwork featuring grapes and wheat.
After exiting the Dining Room, you will enter the Picture Gallery.
The Picture Gallery
When Thomas Hill the second Lord Berwick inherited Attingham Park in 1789, he also inherited a substantial fortune. As was the custom at that time, Thomas took part in the Grand Tour, a tour of Europe and in particular Italy, during which time, Thomas purchased a great number of paintings, sculptures and books and needed a place to put them. After moving into the mansion Thomas hired architect John Nash (the architect who designed many of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace), to renovate a number of rooms within Attingham Park and construct a gallery to house his collection.
Immediately on entering the Picture Gallery I thought back to the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace, though this gallery had no where near as prestigious a collection as those that make up the Royal Collection. The gallery did however house portraits of King George III, his wife Queen Charlotte and also King William III. Whilst discussing Canaletto in the Ante Room, the room guide talked of a painting of Pompeii ‘Excavations of Pompeii’ by Jacob Hackert on loan to the Getty Villa art gallery in Malibu, America.
The Picture Gallery leads to the staircase and the upper floors of the mansion.
The Upper and Lower Rooms
The first floor of Attingham Park consists of exhibits about the history of the family, archives, a few pieces of furniture and a 1920’s cafe specialising in Afternoon Tea named after Lady Teresa Berwick, none of the rooms open were furnished as bedrooms, which was a little disappointing.
The lower floor, accessed by a back staircase when returning from the first floor, houses the Kitchen and servant’s areas.
Exploring the lower floor of Attingham Park, you will see the Servant’s Hall, the Butler’s Pantry which is now a gift shop, the Housekeeper’s rooms and the Wine Cellar, now housing the silver collection.
As well as the mansion, Attingham Park is home to a Walled Garden, Deer Park and additional park land.
The Deer Park
The Deer Park is home to almost two hundred deer and is open to the public to have an wander around, there are two routes that can be taken; the full walk and the shortcut, I took the shortcut on this occasion, wanting to see the Walled Garden before leaving. The majority of the deer were further than I wished to walk that day, but I did happen to come upon a pair deer by chance walking past a slightly wooded area.
After exploring all that I could muster for one day out alone, I returned to the stables to look at the second hand bookshop, ponder tea and peruse the gift shop before heading home. A short drive away from Attingham Park on part of the Attingham Estate, is a smaller house called Cronkhill, an Italian inspired villa designed by John Nash and lived in by several of the Lord’s Berwick, another property I will have to go see. I would also like to return to Attingham Park to see the house decorated for Christmas, similar events are held at Wightwick, Moseley Old Hall and Sunnycroft nearby throughout December.
I will now leave you with an assortment of other photographs from my visit, enjoy!
- http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/attingham-park/ – Official NT Attingham Webpage
- http://attinghamparkmansion.wordpress.com – Attingham Park Mansion Blog
- http://www.nationaltrustimages.org.uk/search?term=Attingham+Park&sort=1 – National Trust Images of Attingham Park