Banking for Victory: A country house at war

Bank staff on the South Terrace of Upton House in the Second World War © M Samuel & Co Ltd

Bank staff on the South Terrace of Upton House in the Second World War

In September 1939, when Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced that Britain was at war with Germany, the owners of Upton House – the Bearsteds – moved out and their family-owned merchant bank, M Samuel & Co Ltd, moved in from London. From March 27th 2015 visitors to Upton House and Gardens will be transported back to wartime Britain to experience how it looked when 22 bank staff made the property their home. Nine ‘offices’ and twelve family rooms will be recreated to present a compelling picture of what life was like for them as war raged: where bank staff slept in shared dormitories; a bus took them into Banbury at the weekends, each supplied with Wellington boots for their first foray into the countryside; land girls tended the gardens and lived in the stables; armed servicemen guarded prisoners of war working in the grounds; meals of rook pie and rabbit stew were taken in the glamorous long gallery, and the typing pool girls worked surrounded by some of the nation's most treasured works of art.

Lord Bearsted, the collector

Upton’s Long Gallery created by Viscount Bearsted

Upton’s Long Gallery created by Viscount Bearsted

Lord Bearsted acquired Upton House in 1927 partly because of its location in good hunting country, but also because he was keen to see his expanding collection of art accommodated under one roof.

Almost two decades later the National Trust accepted the gift of Upton House and Gardens on the strength of the collections of paintings and porcelain. It was, and is, one of the finest private art collections in England. 

Both Lord and Lady Bearsted gave freely of their time and fortune. In particular Lord Bearsted had a pivotal role in enabling Jews to escape from the perils of Nazi Germany.

Nursing the Bruegel

Upton's rare copy of Pieter Bruegel's 'The Massacre of the Innocents' requires the use of facing paper to halt flaking of paint, pending conservation

Upton needs to raise £15,000 for technical analysis by a Bruegel expert before our conservator re-applies flaking paint and removes yellowed varnish, making it easier to see the delicate colour and line of the artist's original intention.

We are already halfway there! Please help us to reach our target, you can donate via the link below or by cash in the Picture Gallery at Upton House.

Spotlight on Stubbs

Though best known for his peerless depictions of specimen horses George Stubbs ARA (1724-1806) also painted vernacular scenes of rural life, of which Upton has three examples.

The paintings doubtless appealed to Lord Bearsted because, like most of the items in his collection, they contain human interest. All three scenes, portrayed with realism rather than sentimentality and evidently the result of careful observation, can be found in the Dining Room.

Peruse the porcelain

Viscount Bearsted shared his father's love of porcelain. The collection of 18th-century European porcelain includes examples from most leading English factories, notably an unrivalled group of Chelsea figures displayed in the Long Gallery on the ground floor. The French porcelain, displayed downstairs in the Porcelain Lobby, features Sèvres tableware including pieces made for Catherine the Great of Russia, King Louis XVI and for Madame du Barry, mistress of Louis XV.

A treasure house

The entire collection of artefacts at Upton House and Gardens can be viewed online at the National Trust's website. From tapestries to paintings and porcelain to furniture, the selection reflects a love for collecting.

The Bearsteds were 1930s millionaires with wealth acquired through founding the Shell Oil company. In addition to spending their fortune on this vast collection they were involved in local, national and international philanthropy as represented in this selection.

Enjoy Lord Bearstead's home from home

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