A two hour drive from home took Jenny & me on a little adventure of discovery. Using Penkridge as our base, we used our National Trust membership to full effect by visiting the remarkable Shugborough Estate near Stafford followed by, a few days later, Wightwick Manor near Wolverhampton. And in between, we had a fascinating day exploring the inner reaches of the town of Stafford itself, which revealed some remarkable historical gems.
Shugborough Estate. The opening up of the private apartments of the Earl of
Lichfield (photographer of the rich and famous) has proved a recent highlight that has brought visitors in their droves, but the most fascinating story behind the family and its property has to be the daring and dangerous circumnavigation of the world by George Anson(1740-44), who returned home with so much booty from a captured Spanish Galleon, that it took 32 carts to transport it from the port of landing up to London. His permitted share of the cargo made him, and his family, exceedingly wealthy, and guaranteed
him considerable royal preferment within the ranks of the navy, and ennobled him and his family for succeeding generations.
Stafford. The jewel of the town centre has to be the Ancient High House, a fine Tudor building that once became the headquarters of Charles I during the Civil War. Built by the wealthy Dorrington family in 1595, it must have taken a whole forest of wood to build the infrastructure, and that the fact it remains intact to
this day is a remarkable accident of history. An exhibition tells the amazing story of the impact of the Civil War on the region, along with the fortunes and ill-fortunes of several notable local people, including Philip Howard who was martyred for his pro-Catholic beliefs.
In the Shire Hall, you can explore one of the Courtrooms, read the accounts of local crimes and the punishments meted out to the unfortunate “criminals”. Can you imagine
being transported for 7 years hard labour to Australia for stealing a chicken?
And we enjoyed the serendipity of entering St Mary’s Church just as soprano, Beverley Smith, was rehearsing for her forthcoming concert. How lucky was that? We sat at the back enjoying the vibrancy of her voice as it filled the vast interior of the church.
Wightwick Manor. Theodore Mander, made wealthy through his paint business,
invested his new-found wealth in the building of this remarkable house. Though built in the late Victorian period, he deliberately turned his
back on the fashions of his time, preferring a décor with minimum ornamentation, and he eschewed the industrial mechanisation of the production of fabrics and furnishings opting, instead, for the expensive and highly individual designs of William Morris. He was influenced heavily by the pre-Raphaelite movement, as evidenced by the growing collection of paintings throughout the house. Every room you enter is dominated by the pouting presence of the young and nubile hanging on every wall. The house is filled with numerous curiosities, and though designed to impress the visitor, every room has a genuine feeling of being lived in (so much so, that we wanted to sit down in a cosy corner and admire the view from a window, or read a book from one of the shelves). These houses were mere showcases for wealth, but Wightwick Manor managed to marry that with a homely, domesticated atmosphere.
This was one of the first houses in the country to have electricity and central heating installed, so they enjoyed exceeding comfort for the time. But they embedded all of this modernisation within an architectural style that was more akin to the Old English style. A fascinating blend of different periods of history. And with an excellent guide to take you around (ours was called Marion), we were enthralled by the unfolding story.
Posted on April 14, 2011, in Aspects of Britain and tagged Ancient High House, Charles I, Dorrington family, Shire Hall, Shugborough Estate, Stafford, Theodore Mander, Wightwick Manor, William Morris. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.