Steph and I have been members of the National Trust since 2011, and over the past five and a half years, we have enjoyed some wonderful day trips to view exquisite houses and inspiring landscapes.
We have now visited 53 properties, and most of those within a 50 mile radius of home. We’ve picked the ‘low-hanging fruit’ so to speak, although we have ventured further afield from time to time. This year, once the weather improved to make outings possible, we have been constrained to some extent in our choice of properties to visit because I still recovering from that nasty accident in early January when I broke my leg.
So, in the main, we have chosen to revisit a number of properties quite close to home: Hanbury Hall, Packwood House, Baddesley Clinton, Coughton Court, and the like. Last week, however, I was determined to wander further afield. But it wasn’t my leg holding me back (although by the end of the day my ankle had swollen to almost twice the size of the other, and I was ready to put my foot up on a stool and rest it). No, it was the thought of the journey. Any trip north of Birmingham, either to the west on the M5/M6 motorways or to the east on the M42. Inevitably the volume of traffic just makes such journey tedious in the extreme. The Birmingham metropolitan area is a huge obstacle around which north-south journeys have to be navigated.
So when I suggested to Steph that we should head north to Shugborough Hall, just a few miles east of Stafford, I wasn’t really too enthusiastic about the prospects for an enjoyable day out. How wrong I was!
First, making the trip mid-week, we did not encounter the volume of traffic that I had feared, so the 55 mile journey too just over an hour. Second, although I can’t say I had any high expectations of Shugborough, it was one of the nicest National Trust properties that we have visited since becoming members.
Shugborough is the ancestral home of the Earls of Lichfield – the Anson family. In writing this account of our visit to Shugborough, I came across this excellent account (by archivist and architectural historian Nick Kingsley) of the Anson family, so all I need to do is describe some of those aspects of our visit last Thursday that caught my attention. The central manor house dates from 1695 (William & Mary), and wings either side were added by 1745. The portico was added at the beginning of the 19th century.
The estate was passed to the National Trust in 1960 on the death of the 4th earl, in lieu of death duties. However, the estate was managed by Staffordshire County Council (SCC) until this year when the council decided it could no longer afford the £35 million annual cost of upkeep, and the property will revert entirely to the National Trust in due course.
The 5th earl, society photographer Patrick Lichfield (as he liked to be known) and first cousin (once removed) to Her Majesty The Queen, continued to reside at Shugborough, occupying first (upper) floor apartments at a nominal rent from SCC until his untimely death at the age of 66 in 2005. Then his son Thomas, the 6th earl, cleared the private apartments of personal effects. The apartments are open, almost in their entirety today, but have been ‘refurnished’ by the National Trust in the style they originally enjoyed, with just a few original pieces left behind.
Given my reduced walking capacity, I was relieved to see that a shuttle bus (and a ‘train’) operated throughout the day from the entrance up to house, a distance of about 800 m.
Under normal circumstances it would have been a delightful walk across the parkland, but I knew that this would have been impossible for me. As it is we did walk for more than 3 miles, and my foot and leg were certainly complaining by the evening.
Not all parts of the estate are open under National Trust membership, and there is a car parking fee of £3 to everyone, only refundable if you purchase a ticket for all the attractions at Shugborough. We wanted to see only the gardens and the house, and those were accessible with our membership.
Before lunch, we decided to walk the gardens and part of the park. The weather was threatening for later on when we could at least then be under cover in the house. Behind the house, on the west side, and across a channel of the River Sow (that is very slow flowing, and controlled by sluice gates) are the formal terrace gardens.
There are just a few formal parts to the gardens. To the rear, west side of the house, is a rather splendid terrace laid out with a series of sculptured shrubs. In the grounds there is a number of features, including the Cat’s Monument (commemorating a moggie that reputedly belonged to Admiral George Anson), and the Shepherd’s Monument. A delightful bridge next to the Chinese House crosses the River Sow channel and there is walking access to other parts of the parkland opposite the house.
From the entrance hall (where there are some splendid Italian plaster casts of centaurs) you pass through the Bust Parlor and Ante Room to the dining room and its exquisite plaster ceiling.
The Red Drawing Room was originally several bedrooms on two floors. But it was opened up to form this beautiful reception room decorated in a beautiful coral pink. In the other (south sing) is the Salon. The Library also has a beautiful plaster ceiling.
The ‘private apartments’ on the upper floor are decorated now to the style they had when they were the Shugborough residence of the Earl of Lichfield. Among the most finely decorated is the Bird Room, with its ‘matching’ ceiling and carpet.
From the outside, Shugborough Hall is not particularly impressive. Its grey façade is not exactly welcoming. But what a delight the inside is, and how many of the rooms ares, unexpectedly, open to visitors. And the National Trust volunteers here are really special—friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. A thoroughly enjoyable visit.