Built in 1785, it is now under the managment of the National Trust.
There is so much you can do and see on a visit to Attingham Park; the hall, the parkland and Home Farm – a farm attraction on the edge of the Estate. You could spend as little as an hour on a guided tour or as much as a day enjoying the residence, the grounds, the education centre, the farm and its animals, the extensive public footpaths and even perhaps bring a picnic along to enjoy by the river’s edge.
Attingham Park was once considered the county’s grandest home. What you see today sits on the site of an earlier house called Tern Hall. Designed by George Steuart,, the house was built between 1783 and 1785 around the old Tern Hall for the 1st Lord Berwick. The surrounding 500 acres of parkland with a deer park were constructed with the help of landscape designers Thomas Leggart and Humphrey Repton.
The construction is of local Grinshill stone with 11 bays service wings and an attached library. Ionic columns sit stoically on either side of the front entrance which has a commanding view of the Wrekin and the River Tern.
Attingham was purposely “built as an illusion” to make it seem grander and more important than it was. It starts with the drive which has been created to make the property appear larger by winding through the well positioned trees rather than being able to see the house from the road and driving straight to it which naturally would be of shorter distance.
The inside of the hall is described as being of Regency Period because it followed the tastes of King George III’s son, Prince Regent. The prince’s tastes were of all things new and expensive. As you walk from room to room you will think you’ve seen the best collections, paintings, and ceiling plasterwork until you reach the next room and become amazed at the beauty and splendour of that room’s collections and decorations. You will find serpentine design through outthe house.
You can chose to walk around at your own speed and read the information sheets provided for each room or you can take part in a guided tour lasting about 1 hour with an enthusiastic costumed guide. There is also a well informed room steward in each room available to answer any questions.
The house is of symmetrical design and you will find that there is a male and a female side to the house.
The first room you enter is the Main Drawing Room and it is a stunner with everything symmetrical, so if you look into the mirrors at either end of the room it looks as if the room goes on forever. False doors also give the illusion of extra rooms.
Always remember to look up at Attingham because one of the pure joys of the house is the plasterwork ceilings of highly decorative designs
At the age of 21 Thomas Hill collected no fewer than 60 Etruscan vases, commissioned paintings and sculptures and started to appreciate the fine art of plasterwork.
The Sultana Room is a smaller drawing room which was decorated to look like a small tent of the Far East. This room is far cosier than the main room and was probably used more for leisure with its recessed ottoman sofa, fire and harp to entertain you whilst you rested. A special item in this room is the monkey playing the harp music box - don’t let the children miss it.
In the East Anti-Room you will find pictures of Lady Berwick, the last Berwick to reside at the hall. This room was used as a private dining room.
The Boudoir Room is a typical room for the ladies to retreat in to. It is totally round with 5 doors (2 false doors - more illusion), and decorated with what was called the grotesque style. It doesn’t look grotesque to the visitors; it is totally feminine with cupids, arrows and ribbons adorning everything. There are round painted romantic designs, angels on the round ceiling, eight columns and a mirror which reflects the parkland outside, giving the illusion that the room is indeed much bigger.
On the way to the picture gallery you will pass through a corridor, pay attention to the walls. Theyare covered with strips of hand-painted wallpaper, dating to about 1815 with scenes depicting a story of India. Then look up to the dome curved plaster frieze ceiling.
The Picture Gallery was designed by John Nash and constructed on behalf of the 2nd Lord Berwick who wanted a grand place to show off his art collection. There are so many interesting paintings in this room so take a seat and just look about for a while. For example Painting #56 is the excavation of Pompei and just 1 mile down the road we have the real excavation of Wroxeter, Shropshire’s Roman City and Picture #92 is of Queen Charolette whose face ages as you walk past it from left to right.
You have a chance now to see the original hallway of the first floor and Lady Berwick’s Sitting Room, although the room is not restored it gives you an idea of what it might have been like and the pleasing views she could get of the Shropshire countryside.
As you reach the opposite side of the hall, you enter the Octagon Room - the mirror masculine image of the round ladies Boudoir. This room has eight sides and was Lord Berwick’s private “quiet room”. In 1813 it was made into a small library. Now it is the first of a suite of three rooms that are all libraries.
As with every family there are skeletons in the closet and the West-Ante Room has a collection of various electoral jugs showing the struggle between the two Hill families (Attingham vs Hawkstone) in their costly attempts to win electoral votes in the county.
The oldest jug is Caughley-ware which was made in nearby Broseley and is quite rare these days. There is also a fine collection of French porcelain plates.
There is another Inner Library and just outside the front entry is an Outer Library with an even bigger collection of books.
The Main Dining Room almost defies a proper description because it is so sumptuous. The cranberry walls set off the decorations of the room perfectly. The plasterwork on the ceiling is of grapes and wheat and Romans (back to those who used the grounds so many years before the Berwicks). The marble fireplace is exquisite. Borders on the walls are in gold leaf with ears of corn. Everything screams bountiful harvests. A painting of Henrietta Maria on the front porch of Attingham with Wenlock Edge in the background adorns one wall.
It is now time to go down stairs and see how the servants lived. This room with its vaulted arched stone ceiling is where all the necessary jobs were undertaken. You will see The Servants Hall where they had their meals and meetings, polished silver, did the sewing and whatever jobs that were necessary at the time. Today the room also displays a mosaic in honour of the heraldic achievement of Noel Hill, Lord Berwick.
The Berwick Silver Collection is in the wine cellar and the splendour of the shining silver is something to behold. One service which was part silver gilt included no less than 96 plates. Unfortunately when the 2nd lord Berwick had to declare bankruptcy all of his collection was lost. The sale of 1827 took all day and was 213 lots. The silver you see today is from the 3rd Lord Berwick.
The Bell Room was wired to every room in the house so the servants could answer the lord’s beck and call. At one time there were more than 40 main rooms used in the house and 26 bedrooms.
Just down the hall the Tenant’s Parlour where the land steward managed the properties finances and where the tenants could have parties from time to time.
Once again this room has a lovely vaulted ceiling and on one wall you will find a huge salmon caught on the grounds. It is perhaps the biggest salmon ever caught in Britain weighing in at 65 pounds and 53 inches, the unfortunate thing is that the time it was never recorded.
The Family Activity Room is a recent addition and is a great opportunity for the children to learn to lay a table or a fire, dress up in Victorian costume, play games of the times, or perhaps sit quietly in the reading corner.
There is a music board which plays different instruments if you press a button and then the children have to guess which instrument it is and where it might be found in the house.
The Kitchen is huge and a great place to play “can you identify this object and what does it do?” There are many implements children and possibly their parents have never seen, conversely it’s a great place to remember or learn how grandmother used to things.
The maps given to you on entry can now direct you to other places you might like to see such as the Bee House, the children’s outdoor play area, the Environmental Discovery Centre, the deer park, the Berwick Memorial and the numerous footpaths.
The Environmental Discovery Centre is designed to make you more aware of the surroundings as you walk the fields and copse. There is a list of birds spotted on the day; perhaps you can add a name? On the wall is a board giving the status of the deer in the park and a collection of antlers for identification.
As I left the rooms of Attingham Hall I reflected on the opulence of the times and felt grateful that the Trust has preserved the beauty of the designers and the families that loved the house.
Words by Martha