The ‘Lord of the Manor’ series will take a look at the numerous grand estates, stately homes, houses and mansions across the UK. They are often centuries old with many-a story to tell, and we begin with a detailed look inside Shugborough Hall, situated in Staffordshire, a few miles from the county-town of Stafford.
Shugborough Hall is the historic seat of the Earls of Lichfield, and home of the late Patrick Lichfield, renowned photographer and cousin to The Queen. Part of the house has been open to the public since 1960, run by the National Trust, and as Thomas Anson, 6th Earl of Lichfield, renounced all rights to the property in 2010, the entire hall (including the Private Apartments once belonging to Patrick) is open for visitors.
Shugborough is the UK’s only complete working historic estate, and includes a farm with rare breed cattle, servants quarters, a walled garden and of course, the mansion house.
William Anson, a local lawyer, purchased a manor house in a river valley and eight acres of land near the county town of Stafford in 1624. The house that is seen today is the result of Anson’s grandson, also William, who demolished the manor house and replaced it with a three-storey country house in the first half of the 18th century.
Thomas Anson (great-grandson of the former William Anson) inherited the house, and was an MP for Lichfield. He mixed with the elite of society, with his friends including Matthew Boulton, Josiah Wedgwood and James Brindley, some of the biggest names of the Industrial Revolution.
Influenced by a lengthy Grand Tour of Europe in the 1720s, Thomas had a passion for the classical arts. He had architect Thomas Wright remodel the house in 1748. Rooms like the Dining Room and Library feature rococo plasterwork by Francesco Vassalli.
The colour-scheme in the Dining Room appears Wedgewood-esque, though was merely a popular palette for the age.
None of this, however, would have been possible without George Anson, Thomas’ brother, the gentleman in portrait above the fireplace. He was a naval captain, joining up aged 14, and eventually Admiral of the Navy. It was his circumnavigation of the globe between 1740 and 1744 that brought the Anson family its riches.
George’s mission at sea did not go to plan, with scurvy taking most of his men in the first few weeks. Their ship, the Centurion, fortuitously met the annual Spanish treasure ship, the Neustra Señora de Covadonga, travelling from South America to Spain; since England and Spain were at war, Anson decided to intercept the Covadonga.
Somehow, they successfully captured the larger galleon, which contained treasure amounting to £400,000. This was one of the largest prizes ever taken at sea by an English captain, and earned Anson fortune and fame. Some of this money was used by his brother to develop Shugborough and expand the estate, though George never lived at Shugborough again.
During his circumnavigation, George made a stop in Canton, China. The Captain and his crew helped save the city from a fire, and were richly rewarded with local wares, including vases, china, and mirrors. Many of the wares are still on display in the house today, with a priceless 200 piece china set, a thank-you gift to Lord Anson: the set details the ship and crew’s journey in pictures.
The Red Drawing Room, below, was used for the entertainment of important guests – otherwise it was not used by the family. For this reason, the silk sofas and chairs in this room are the originals, and have not been re-upholstered since their creation in 1795.
The chandelier is British crystal, likely from London, and hangs from another ornate ceiling, this time of double height. The furniture is in the French style, with intricately-decorated commodes.
Here, a portrait hangs of three children, those of the 3rd Earl and his wife, Lady Harriet Hamilton. This image was, in fact, painted by Lady Harriet, having trained in the skill under Thomas Gainsborough’s wing.
Samuel Wyatt was brought at the end of the 18th century for more remodelling, creating a new entrance with eight pillars in a neo-classical style.
It was in 1831 that Shugborough became seat of the Earls of Lichfield, the third creation of the title; Thomas William Anson, 2nd Viscount Anson, was a Privy Councillor with connections to the Royal Family: his youngest son, Adelbert, was godson of Queen Adelaide, consort to William IV.
The Saloon was originally a dining room, but during the remodelling of the house doubled in length. It then became something of an entertainment room, for dances and so on, or particularly large dinners.
It now holds an antique piano, and is where weddings are conducted.
The same year, Princess Victoria (the future Queen) and her mother, The Duchess of Kent, stayed at Shugborough for three days during a tour of the country on behalf of The King. The State Bedroom, with its seven-foot-square bed, was used, the visit giving the estate one of its earliest Royal connections.
The steps to the side of the bed were created especially for the visit, as Victoria liked her bed with three mattresses, which made the bed rather hard to reach! Mother and daughter shared the bed, as was the ‘Kensington System’.
The State Apartment consists of the bedroom, sitting room (to the left) and a dressing room on the right. A large rounded bay with two windows gives the best view of the gardens, down to the River Sow.
This is also said to be the haunted room of the mansion, with a noticeable drop in the room temperature. Lady Harriet Hamily, 2nd Countess of Lichfield is said to reside here, with a number of strange stories being recounted by visitors. Patrick Lichfield’s Labradors would never go into the State Bedroom, waiting outside the rooms in the hall until their master returned…
Also available to view at Shugborough, is a collection of Patrick’s work, as that is why most people know the name ‘Lord Lichfield’. Many of the images were taken on the Shugborough estate, including some of Princess Anne, Lulu and Joanna Lumely. Christmas cards sent from The Duke and Duchess of York (future George VI and Queen Elizabeth) sit pride of place in a cabinet for all to see.
As seems to be the way with all aristocratic families, the 1st Earl of Lichfield got himself into debt, being a prolific gambler. He began to sell off the house’s contents in 1842, including a number of rare books from the library to recoup some of this money. As the silverware is original to the house, it is thought the servants hid it, to save it from the auction.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the house is the Private Apartments. Patrick Anson, widely known as Patrick Lichfield, bequeathed Shugborough to the National Trust in part-payment of death duties for his grandfather in 1960 (his father had predeceased his grandfather by two years and to pay a second lot of death duties would have crippled him and the estate).
The Earl kept a suite of rooms in the house (almost 40 in total), but allowed the remainder of the house to open to the public; when he was not at Shugborough, he would allow a further two of his private rooms to be opened.
Since 2011, following the vacation of the apartment by Thomas, these private rooms have been open to the public; these include his sitting room, bedrooms, kitchen and breakfast room. Many feature his personal belongings, including his photography equipment, and some of his clothes and accessories, kindly donated by his partner, Lady Annunziata Asquith.
This part of the house is the least formal; it is very homely, but with high ceilings, large rooms and a colourful history to go with it.
The first room of the private apartment is known as the ‘Bird Room’, as one of the Earls used the room to display taxidermy, with many winged specimens. This was the family sitting room in Patrick’s time, furnished with large, comfy sofas, a TV, and a desk. After Thomas moved out, he took most of the family funriture with him, and now houses a baby grand, some bird taxidermy.
The carpet is original, given as part payment from Brinton’s of Kiddiminster for the Earl’s work on an ad campaign for them. It reflects the ceiling, installed during Wyatt’s time, and features the Anson crest. On the table on the far right, sits a cast of Patrick’s hands holding his camera.
Leading on into the corridor, numerous bedrooms spring off the hallway, where a mini-bar is nestled under the stairs to the top floor (not open to visitors). Guests of the Earl could help themselves to a beverage – including Lichfield Gin – and head to the cinema room, near the butler’s apartment, if they wished.
A picture of Patrick and friend David Bailey hangs here.
One of these bedrooms, the yellow bedroom, was once occupied by Joanna Lumley, a friend of Patrick’s. All rooms are well proportioned, with en-suites and excellent views over various parts of the estate.
The Lilac Bedroom has its own en-suite, decorated with the same floral wall-coverings. Patrick’s sister, Lady Elizabeth used this room when she lived at Shugborough. The view looks over the River Sow too, to the left of the State Bedroom.
A short note on Lady Elizabeth: she works as a party planner, and has organised a number of events for The Queen and assisted with plans for Royal Weddings, including that of The DUke and Duchess of Cambridge. She regularly attends Royal events, including Ascot. Here she chats with Princess Anne, whom she knows very well due to Anne’s friendship with Patrick.
All the bathrooms feature original 1920s plumbing. The plugs are also embossed with a sealion, which features in the Anson family crest. Most en-suites are decorated to match the bedroom they serve, like the Lilac En-suite.
The Dressing Room of Patrick’s holds some of his clothes and personal belongings. It is also called the Mustique Room, due to one of its walls being filled with images of Mustique, including Princess Margaret. The Earl used to own a property on the island neighbouring hers. His bags are embroidered with an ‘L’ for Lichfield, and so are some of his clothes.
Patrick’s private bathroom leads off this room, then on to his bedroom. This sits over the library, offering views over the front of the estate and Cannock Chase.
In these suite of rooms are some of Lichfield’s works, including portraits of Joanna Lumley, Mick Jagger, Princess Margaret and Princess Anne, whom were guests at Shugborough, the Royals more so than the others.
In his sitting room (above), Patrick would take a photo of the same scene of the estate at 11am everyday, with the camera at the window; if he was away, he asked the butler to take the photo, and Shugborough has a collection of these photos somewhere in their archives.
At the foot of the chair sits a dogs lead and tennis ball. The Earl was fond of Labradors and always had two or three canine companions; this is a small nod to the animals who occupied the house with him.
The sitting room also smells faintly of tobacco still, and was where Patrick regularly smoked.
The breakfast room is an entirely round room, which used to be Patrick’s room as a child.
Guests would breakfast in here, and Patrick would have small weather reports laid out for them, so they could plan their day’s activities around the weather. Tabasco sauce also sits on the table – in homage to the Shugborough’s former occupant, who would never leave home without a bottle.
The kitchen is something of a time-warp: stuck in a 1970s style, complete with dumb waiter, this was where Lord Lichfield’s guests were fed from. A plaque features The Earl and Countess of Lichfield.
The door to the left, leads to the Butler’s apartment.
The last room upstairs is a large guest bedroom and en-suite. Olivia Newton-John stayed in this room, and it is thought Princess Margaret did too, as it is the most grand.
Patrick’s connection to the Royal Family is seen throughout his Apartment. There are photos of Princess Anne and Princess Margaret at Shugborough, as well as a family portrait he took at Windsor, back in the 70s.
The route of the tour leads you downstairs, to the last few rooms of the Apartments. You pass the Earl’s dining room, sadly closed, and into his small study. Here a calendar from the 1980s shows just how busy and in demand Patrick was. America one week, then to Shug’ for a weekend, then to Mustique for a holiday, and to Japan for work the following week.
Another connection to the Royal Family is seen here; a guest information leaflet for a party at Windsor Castle to celebrate birthdays of The Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, Princess Anne and Prince Andrew, all of whom celebrated a decade birthday (100, 70, 50 and 40 respectively in 2000).
Next is the Boudoir. Now empty, Patrick used it often when he had his picture taken for its light. This room also features the oldest wallpaper in the house, purchased and hung in the mid 1800s.
Between the two lies the private entrance to the house, used by guests and Lord Lichfield himself. Bright yellow, and formerly decorated with swords (you can just about make their outline out in the photo), it makes an impressive yet welcoming entrance.
The last rooms to see are the Anson Room, formerly the formal sitting room, where guests would be served drinks before dinner. The carpet here was a wedding gift from Lady Leonore Grosvenor, daughter of The Duke of Westminster, to her husband, Patrick. It is a deep brown with yellow wheat pattern; this symbol is prominent in her family arms. This was open to the public if Patrick was not there.
This leads on to the Library. In the small doorway is a touching family sentiment, and an Anson tradition: a height chart for the children. Patrick’s children, Thomas, Rose and Eloise feature, but so do ancestors, with dates stretching back to the 1920s – truly a look back in time to personal family moments.
The Library has another ornate ceiling. Originally two rooms, mirrors give the illusion of continuous bookshelves. Here a gout stool is featured, to aid one of the Earl’s legs.
It holds over 3000 books, though sadly no originals survived the 1842 sale. The door leading out of the room to the corridor is also covered in books, though just the spines, to give the impression of a room entirely filled with books.
The Conservatory features a large billiards table and tables for card games, with lovely views down to the river at the back. This is also where a cabinet holds the chinaware set depicting Admiral Anson’s journey.
In the Servant’s Quarters, actors assume the roles of a number of staff that worked at Shugborough in the late 19th century, particularly good for smaller visitors.
These include laundry maids, cooks and the butler! You learn about service life as you go around the building, and there is also a mock school room, and a play room, comparing the rich to the poor in the 19th century.
The Kitchen is full of aromas of baking, and visitors may be lucky enough to try the cook’s creation when it comes from the oven!
Find out about visiting here.