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The house and collection at Wightwick

Visitors in the Great Parlour at Wightwick Manor and Gardens, Wolverhampton, West Midlands
Visitors in the Great Parlour at Wightwick Manor and Gardens | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

When Theodore Mander commissioned the building of a new manor on Wightwick Bank in 1887 he started the Mander family's love for Victorian art and design which would unfold over a century of collecting and preservation. HIs untimely death in 1900 left the care and development of the new home to his son, Geoffrey. His story is one of art and design, industry and politics, told through the house he saved and lived in.

A family home

Although the art and design collections stand out, most of the items at Wightwick are deeply personal. The Mander family left an archive full of letters and photos covering their whole lives.

Geoffrey Mander was very clear the house should remain a home and not become an art gallery, and he said as much in Parliament.

The artwork is therefore shown in a domestic setting. This theme is maintained by not placing labels next to items. Instead, information can be found in the catalogues provided in rooms.

Using electric light

When it was built the house was fitted with electric lighting, which was cutting edge for 1887.

However, by today's standards the rooms are quite dark and, on a cloudy day, areas can feel a bit gloomy, so give your eyes a chance to adjust.

To provide a little extra light, volunteers are equipped with torches.

Using central heating

The house was built with central heating, and many of the original radiators still work.

However, the house is now heated more for the care of the collection than to stay warm. The heating helps combat high humidity levels, which can lead to mould growth.

Creating a Morris house

It often surprises visitors that William Morris never came to the house, nor did his company formally design for it.

Instead, all the wallpapers, fabric wall coverings and soft furnishings were bought through the Morris & Co shop or catalogue.

Unlike the artwork, Morris & Co designs were included in the 1887 and 1893 buildings.

However, they were much enhanced after the 1937 saving of the property, when Sir Geoffrey expanded the Manor's Morris collection (or 'Morrisania' as the National Trust's Historic Buildings secretary called it).

This included sketches for Morris designs, as well as large items of furnishings, such as carpets and curtains.

Managing light levels

Morris loved traditional dyes and colours, however they don't stand the test of time or exposure to light particularly well. Light levels are managed carefully in certain rooms. Unlike a watercolour or photograph you can't move wallpaper to a darker corner.

Still alive

The house still has the feeling of being lived in. Paintings and furniture are regularly moved around just as the family would have done. Paintings are regularly loaned to other museums for exhibition.

If you want to sit down and take a moment to savour the space, all you have to do is look out for a cushion with a cat on it - a tribute to Lady Mander's love of cats.

Just like home

There are toys to play with in the nursery and you can try out the full-size billiards table, allowing you to pretend you're an Edwardian gentleman playing in opulent surroundings.

The old range is still in use and lit on cold days, giving the Victorian Kitchen a special atmosphere with the smell of burning coal.

Looking out of the Billiard Room door back into the Great Parlour at Wightwick Manor. The large, wooden table is in the centre of the room on top of red and blue Persian rugs. To the side is the inglenook fireplace with chairs upholstered in William Morris fabrics.
Explore the vast collection at Wightwick Manor | © National Trust/Annapurna Mellor

Discovering and exploring the collection

Wightwick is a house and collection which has something to appeal to all visitors.

For those who love Pre-Raphaelite art or Morris designs and want to understand where an item came from, feel free to ask our volunteer room guides any questions during your visit.

Alternatively, you can find our detailed guidebook for sale in the Old Manor shop.

Giving the impression of age

When Edward Ould designed the house, he was trying to make it feel quirky and give the impression it was a much older house which had evolved over time.

This means there are some short flights of steps in the Manor, but most of the ground floor with the principal collection is accessible, and if you can't make the stairs to the bedrooms there is a photo guide you can leaf through.

Pre-Raphaelite art collection

Remarkably for a house now so associated with this art movement, Wightwick had no Pre-Raphaelite art prior to 1937.

Once the house was known to be in our care, Sir Geoffrey and Lady Mander started to buy art to put on display for their visitors.

The first was a portrait of Jane Morris by Rossetti and Madox Brown, which the Manders donated to the Trust.

Creating a collection

Over time a unique collection developed, with some major pieces supplied by the National Trust, and small works and sketches either purchased or given to the National Trust.

The collection now boasts over 70 works by D.G Rossetti, 50 by Edward Burne-Jones, 23 by Evelyn De Morgan's and 20 by Millais.

There are also works by the often overlooked Pre-Raphaelites; Lizzy Siddal, Lucy Maddox Brown and Simeon Solomon.

Highlights of the collection

Love among the Ruins by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones
Love among the Ruins by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones | © National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

Love Among the ruins by Edward Burne-Jones

This painting dominates the Great Parlour, although it hasn't always been there. It was transferred from Upton house when Lord Bearsted gave his house and art collection to the National Trust. This is the second version of this subject by Burne-Jones, the original watercolour was damaged during exhibition during his lifetime, so he did a copy in oil.

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Close view of the fireplace in the Acanthus Room at Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton. The quotation is from "In Memoriam" By Tennyson.

Wightwick's collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Wightwick Manor on the National Trust Collections website.

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