The sheer scale and quality of the collection that survives at Attingham is magnificent. The wide range of historic items, conjuring up the impression of a great house of the past, like ghosts inhabiting the mansion’s grand interiors, is tinged with a sense of lost life and faded grandeur. The collection includes Regency furniture, silver, paintings, porcelain and textiles which reflects the changing fortunes of the family.
A family's collection
The awe-inspiring neo-classical architecture of Attingham was created more than 200 years ago for the 1st Lord Berwick. His son Thomas created lavish Regency interiors and amassed jaw-dropping collections, only to see them unceremoniously sold off as a result of his inability to stop spending. His younger and more astute brother, the diplomat William, built them back up again with his own fabulous continental collections of silver, ormolu and porcelain.
The last generation, Thomas and Teresa, 8th Lord and Lady Berwick, struggled in the post-war uncertainty and in contrast, had no choice but to live a simple life at Attingham. They nurtured and supplemented the furnishings and collections with sympathetic taste and judgement.
'Attingham’s collection holds an endless fascination for me - there’s always something new to discover as we work through the archives and papers that were left.'
- Helen Rowse, House and Collections Manager
Nevertheless, there’s a sense that parts of the story are always going to be incomplete, like a book with missing chapters.
At the mansion’s physical heart lies the site of the original house, Tern Hall, demolished 160 years ago. Once full of opulently furnished rooms, it now echoes as an empty courtyard. Attingham’s basement contains rows of servants’ bells, now hanging silent, testifying to the vast numbers of rooms that had to be attended.
Converting to other uses
The first-floor suites of bedrooms and bathrooms have long since been stripped of their fabulous contents and converted to other uses, necessary in the mansion’s 20th century search for new purpose.
Walking through the mansion’s interiors is like venturing into a series of elaborate stages for the Berwick family’s formal life. Some of the clocks are still ticking and chiming, others have fallen silent.
Some of the most impressive collection items are from the time of Thomas 2nd Lord Berwick. The Italian theme running through the collection is rather unexpected in rural Shropshire.
Thomas 2nd Lord Berwick: Grand Tour glories
As a young man in his twenties Thomas travelled to Italy on his Grand Tour accompanied by his Cambridge university friend, Edward Daniel Clarke, who acted as his tutor. While in Rome in 1793, Thomas commissioned the famous artist, Angelica Kauffman, to paint his portrait and two other large paintings. These three paintings can be seen in the Drawing Room at Attingham today.
Made for the Queen of Sardinia, the largest collection of royal Italian furniture in England, some of which is on display in the Drawing Room, still has regal presence despite its gilding and silk being time-worn.
Nash’s elaborately contrived Grand Staircase sparkles with a sense of Regency theatre, the domed skylight like a giant golden spider’s web hovering above.
Impressive Picture Gallery
His spectacular Picture Gallery, with its gilded glazed coving, is still fashionably lined with old master paintings, and below these stand Grand Tour marble-topped tables from Italy with bases carved as mythical beasts by a highly skilled Shrewsbury cabinet maker.
In the rich Regency décor of the Dining Room, the banqueting table is set with an opulent display that gleams in the warm gloom of candlelight and Argand oil lamps.
A wedding present
Made in Geneva, the Attingham Music Box is thought to be a wedding present from Thomas to his young wife Sophia Dobuchet. Covered by a glass dome, a tiny monkey sits in front of a golden harp and music stand, the box plays a melody used by herdsmen to call in their cattle.
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