The English Country House as a Grand Survivor:
Attingham Hall on the Attingham Park Estate in Shropshire is a remarkable survivor. One of the most - if not the most - complete Georgian country house left in England, by all rights it probably should have crumbled to ruin from alternating bouts of neglect and extravagance years ago.
Before being given to the National Trust more than 50 years ago, it spent about 165 years in the hands of a family that produced so many childless bachelors it seemed bent on self-extinction.
The Trust began the process of restoring the house in the 1990s, with operation "Attingham Rediscovered" getting into full swing after the millennium. The renovations and restoration work is being done transparently - so that visitors to the house can see the ongoing process, enjoy the newest discoveries (such as original 1807 paintwork on handmade paper recently revealed) and see the house come to life.
Visiting Attingham - First Impressions:
Approaching Attingham on its relatively short (for a great English country house) drive, the house becomes visible through trees and across meadows. A variety of breeds of longhorn cattle from the Home Farm's tenant browse across the lawns. The impression is of a landscape composed like an 18th century painting - not surprising as the house was landscaped by renowned 18th century gardener Humphrey Repton
The facade with it's Ionic columns is impressive but it's only the beginning. Swinging around to the parking area, the house seems to go on and on. A beautiful Georgian stable block encloses a large courtyard where the estate shop and a small snack bar are located.
From the stable block area, visitors approach the house over a ten minute walk through one of the estate's many woodland garden areas.
An interesting characteristic of the interior is that the house was laid out according to a plan fashionable at the time with a feminine and masculine side. Beyond the drawing room and other "state" rooms, the rooms become more and more the private quarters of either the lady or lord of the manor.
One other element some visitors may not pick up on - the house has no nursery and no evidence of occupation by children or a nanny. That's because after the family of Noel Hill, the first Lord Berwick, who built Attingham, no children ever lived here.
Highlights: The Drawing Room and the Dining Room:
The drawing room scheme of cool blues, white and gold shows off the 18th century Italian furniture brought back to furnish Attingham by the 3rd Lord Berwick. He was a diplomat in Italy who saved the house after his older brother squandered a fortune on his courtesan wife and was forced into bankruptcy.
The chaise longue in this room belonged to Caroline Murat, sister of Napoleon and Queen of Naples. Her portrait hangs nearby. Be sure and look, as well, for the portrait of a modest looking woman in a blue velvet coat with a fur collar. That's the 8th Lady Berwick, who, together with her husband, began the painstaking process of restoring Attingham and is considered its saviour. The cloak she wore when posing for this painting is displayed in the drawing room. Before moving on, take a gander at a truly lovely blue, white and gilt decorated ceiling in the restrained Gergian style.
As part of Attingham Rediscovered, the glamorous dining room is arranged for an ambassadorial dinner, the table set with an 1830s silver table service (the third Lord Berwick contributed his ambassadorial silver to the house treasury), including dishes, cutlery, trays and serving pieces, candelabra and ormolu centerpieces. Even the desserts and table decorations follow the designs of an early 19th century Italian confectioner. The room is kept in simulated candlelight so that visitors can get a sense of a glittering dinner party at Attingham amid the sparkling mirrors and shining French porcelain.
Highlights: Feminine and Masculine Rooms:
The Boudoir, on the east or feminine side of the mansion, was designed for the 1st Lady Berwick, and would have been her private sanctuary. Its walls have been carefully cleaned to reveal a theme of love featuring painted and gilded cupids on the walls and ceiling.
The Sultana Room would have been where Lady Berwick entertained - playing cards and gossiping with friends, perhaps, or, as the room is shown, serving the newly fashionable afternoon tea from a Georgian tea service. In 2012, the Trust was forced to remove this room's draperies which are now being conserved in storage as part of Attingham's study collection. They had never been removed from the windows of the Sultana Room in more than 200 years.
The Octagon on the western or masculine side of the house, was extensively restored. When the house was leased to an adult education college in the 1970s, it was repainted. Upon investigation, a colorful Regency design scheme was revealed that has now been recreated and restored.
Highlights: The Picture Gallery:
The glass ceiling designed by Nash was experimental for its time and leaky almost from the start. Visitors to Attingham for most of 2012 and 2013 will be able to see the room being dismantled,its collections covered or moved for protection, as the restoration of the ceiling gets underway.
Make note of the gilded satinwood organ at one end of the picture gallery. It is original to the house and was played by the three daughters of the first Lord Berwick.
The Park and Gardens:
- Address:Attingham Park, Atcham, Shrewsbury, Shropshire SY4 4TP
- Telephone: +44(0)1743 708162
- Open: The house is open from mid March to early November. Grounds, gardens, shops and cafes are open year round. Lady Berwick's Tea Room, located within the house, is only open when the house is open. Hours vary seasonally so check the opening times specific to your visit.
- Admission: Adult, child and family tickets are available. National Trust members go free. Visit their website for prices
- Facilities: There are two cafes and a snack bar in the gardens, a large shop that sells National Trust gifts and plants from the gardens and another shop, in the Butler's Pantry, that sells gifts related to Attingham.
- Getting there: Attingham is on the B4380, 4 miles southeast of Shrewsbury. Shrewsbury Station is 5 miles away and local Shrewsbury to Telford bus routes stop there.