I re-visited Attingham Park recently and now technically-challenged moi has finally managed to download photos to my PC, here’s my blog report.
Attingham Park is one of the greatest country houses in Shropshire. Built between 1782-5 for Noel Hill, 1st Lord Berwick, it was designed on an impressive scale so that Lord Berwick could outshine one of his cousins who lived nearby, just north of Shrewsbury. (Nice to know that oneupmanship was alive and kicking even back then LOL!) Attingham was to be home for five generations of the Berwick family.
Attingham was built in around an existing property, Tern Hall, which was not demolished until 1856. The family lived in Tern Hall while building work progressed and the demolition left an open courtyard in the centre of the house. Remnants of the foundations and some sections of Tern Hall can still be seen in the courtyard today.
The 1st Lord Berwick died young and it was left to his son Thomas to complete and furnish the vast new mansion. And it’s Thomas, 2nd Lord Berwick, whose story I found most fascinating. It’s a lurid tale of love, wallpaper and a famous Courtesan!
The Regency period was a highpoint in the history of the house. Thomas loved buying and commissioning works of art, both at home and on the Grand Tour, which he displayed in specially designed rooms at Attingham.
In 1805, he commissioned the famous architect John Nash to design the Picture Gallery with its unique glazed roof, white marble fireplaces and rich inlaid floor. Nash also designed the Grand Staircase which leads from the Picture Gallery to the first floor, and the fish scale decoration to the domed roof is reminiscent of Brighton Pavilion which Nash went on to design in 1815. In recent years, an exciting discovery was made while renovating the tunnel-like flights of stairs leading from the Grand Staircase to the principal bedrooms. Under layers of red oil paint, an elaborate decorative wallpaper scheme was uncovered. It consisted of painted rectangular panels with cut away corners. Fan shapes, wreaths and olive bands were incorporated into the design to give a trompe l’oeil effect of greater depth and space. The patterns were stained, painted and applied onto individual sheets of wallpaper which were hung on the walls horizontally.
It might seem incredible to us now, but wallpaper was a very expensive commodity then. As an expensive commodity, it was subject to tax – oh yes, we British have always been ingenuous when it comes to taxation! – and each sheet was stamped by a tax inspector. It was then tax stamped again if the paper was stained or coloured. Displayed at Attingham are sheets of wallpaper stamped twice with the crest of George III and the date 1807.
Thrilling as it is, how does this story of Thomas, 2nd Lord Berwick’s extravagant expenditure on wallpaper and alike lead on to a famous courtesan’s arrival at Attingham and a connection with one of our best Regency authors, Nicola Cornick?
Here’s how. Thomas, was in his late thirties when he fell violently in love with Sophia Dubochet. Sophia was a courtesan, the younger sister of the famous Harriette Wilson.
After setting eyes on Sophia, Lord Berwick spent a fortnight driving up and down the street where Sophia lived in the hope of catching another glimpse of her. He was eventually introduced to Sophia by Lord William Somerset and determined to marry her from that moment.
Sophia was reluctant, but allowed Lord Berwick to set her up as his mistress in a house in Montague Square. Lord Berwick continued to spend extravagantly on his mansion in Shropshire (perhaps partly to impress Sophia) and to beg her to marry him; finally, she agreed and Berwick even wrote to Sophia’s father to ask for permission to marry his daughter. They were married in St. Marylebone Church in 1812.
This story put me in mind of Nicola Cornick’s recent, fabulously romantic e-Harlequin novella, The Secrets of a Courtesan. I don’t want to give spoilers here – do check it out for yourself, it’s a wonderful read – but the story of Berwick and Sophia proves that, on rare occasions, courtesans did find themselves pursued for honourable reasons by gentlemen of the English peerage ;0
There’s much more of interest at Attingham, but I’ll save that for another day 🙂 A few photos to end with (click to enlarge)…
The Park is wonderful at Attingham – it was initially designed by Thomas Leggett and improved upon by Humphrey Repton.
(I know….I’m a tad obsessed with ice houses *g*)
This description and diagram of the ice house is situated just at the entrance (as you can see in the above photo). It was a hot day when I visited and as you walked down the steps and under the arch, you could feel the temperature drop significantly.
The Grand Regency Dining room is currently laid out for a dinner party. It looks fabulous and gives visitors a real sense of what an elegant Regency dinner party must have been like. (The food wasn’t real though!)