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Knock The Village Down – It Spoils The View!

Part of the grounds at Shugbrough Hall.

Today’s Saturday Snapshots come to you from Shugborough Hall, in Staffordshire, where an entire village was once razed to the ground because it spoiled the view! Sadly, on the day I visited, the weather was so cold, wet and windy that I really couldn’t appreciate the landscaped parkland and ornamental gardens, but the interior was warm, dry – and truly 
spectacular.

A modern blacksmith hard at work on the estate, just as
predecessors would have been centuries ago.

Originally there was a manor house here which belonged to the Bishops of Lichfield, but by 1624 it had passed into the hands of lawyer William Anson, and it was his grandson (another William) who set about transforming the medieval manor into a stately home. Between 1656 and 1720 he built a brand new house which still forms the heart of Shugborough, with the ‘new’ wings constructed by his eldest son Thomas stretching out on either side. 

Wouldn’t you love a little bookcase like this?

It was Thomas who turned Shugborough into what it is today. He installed ‘classical’ pillars at the main entrance and, following the fashion of the day, employed a top landscape gardener to create a vast ‘natural’ parkland, with woods, fields, slopes and dips, all dotted with follies copied from classical Greek, Roman and Chinese buildings. It was like a TV garden make-over show, but on much, much grander scale, because to make his dream come true he took 1,000 acres of land from nearby Cannock Chase, and moved more than 30 families out of the village of Shugborough because their cottages intruded on his idyllic vista. At least he provided people with homes elsewhere, but it must have been terrible for them to be shifted around like that.

The ceiling in the state dining room was beautiful with its
ornate plasterwork and gold leaf, but it was difficult
to photograph.

Thomas also commissioned the most sumptuous decorations, paintings and furnishings. The state dining room is so stunning it takes your breath away – the paintings, goldleaf and plasterwork  ceiling have to be seen to be believed. It’s a showpiece, designed to impress, and it certainly succeeds. The ambitious home-improvement project was funded by Thomas’ younger brother George, a heroic Admiral who amassed a fortune during his naval career, thanks to the gold he found on board a captured Spanish ship. 

Longhorn cattle in the fields – you see how they got their name.

Development continued with the creation of formal gardens and terraces, a model farm, a walled vegetable garden, and cottages for the workers. But by the middle of the 19th century the 1st Earl of Lichfield, another Thomas (personally I think continuing to use the same Christian name through various generations makes this story very confusing) gambled and frittered his money away, so the house was shut up and most of the contents sold to pay off his debts. However, after his death in 1854 the family moved back, acquired some of their former possessions, and even found replacements to furnish the state rooms. But finances never really recovered, and in 1966 the estate was offered to the National Trust as part payment of death duties. 

In times gone by all the baking was done in an oven like this.
Once the wood had burned, and the oven was hot, the ashes were
 raked out, and food cooked by the heat retained in the stone or brick walls.

Shugborough was the family home of renowned photographer Patrick Lichfield, the fifth earl, and a cousin of the Queen His private apartments are now open to the public, together with an exhibition about his work, which includes some of his most iconic pictures.

These look like cakes covered in marzipan, but they are cheeses, made in the
Shugborough dairy. The right one on the right has feverfew pressed into the top.

Talking of pictures, you can take photographs, but you can’t use flash, and the lighting in many of the rooms is not good – subdued lighting helps protect the furniture, decorations and art objects Additionally, some areas are roped off, so you only get a view from doorway, which makes it awkward to get the shot you want.

Lord Lichfield’s photographic equipment.

It must be 12 years or more since I last visited, and in that time there have been a lot changes and improvements, and there is a lot to see – so much, in fact, that we didn’t get round to everything, which was a shame, especially as it is quite expensive to get in, but we had a really enjoyable day and the weather was so awful that walking around the grounds and farm was not really an option. 

A bath in one of the guest bathrooms in Lord Lichfield’s
private apartments still has its original plumbing – and still works

Shugborough is owned by the National Trust, but financed and administered by Staffordshire County Council – and the luxurious stately home and the extravagant lifestyle of  its inhabitants are a far cry from Birmingham Back to Backs, which is also owned by the trust, and which I wrote about a few weeks back.

The dipping pool in the walled garden was where gardeners could dip
their water cans to water fruit and vegetables in the walled garden.
These days it’s dry – but there was a lot of water around it!

For more Saturday Snapshots see  Alice’s blog at http://athomewithbooks.net/

These snails certainly wouldn’t eat your plants – they’re woollen creatures
made by stick weaving, and on sale in one of the small bothies where young gardeners
 used to live,  which are now used as craft workshops.

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Author:

I'm a former journalist and sub-editor who loves needlework, reading and writing, and is still searching for the Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything. Until I find the answer I'm volunteering at an Oxfam Book Shop and learning about Creative Sketchbooks!

61 thoughts on “Knock The Village Down – It Spoils The View!

  1. Paulita, they wanted 'perfect' parklands around their mock-classical mansions, and there were certain features that were must-haves and others things that were complete no-nos, and I guess villages came into that category.

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  2. There is so much to see you could easily spend a couple of days of there – there is an amazing laundry as well, which we didn't go to this time, but it has coppers, washboards, dollies, flat irons, starch,laundry blue, mangles etc.

    Like

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