Discover the manor and collections at Wightwick
When Theodore Mander commissioned the building of a new manor on Wightwick Bank in the Old English style in 1887 he started the Mander family's love for Victorian art & design which would unfold over a century of collecting and preservation. However, 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.
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 us.
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. Our 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. We also have works by the often overlooked Pre-Raphaelites; Lizzy Siddal, Lucy Maddox Brown and Simeon Solomon.
A family home
Although the art and design collections stand out, most of the items at Wightwick are, in fact, 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. Our artworks, therefore, are shown in a domestic setting. We maintain this theme by not placing labels next to items. Instead, information can be found in the catalogues provided in rooms.
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, our volunteers are equipped with torches.
The house was also built with central heating, and many of the original radiators still work. However, we now heat the house 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.
Morris loved traditional dyes and colours, however they don't stand the test of time or exposure to light particularly well. We now control light levels very carefully in certain rooms. Unlike a watercolour or photograph you can't move wallpaper to a darker corner.
The house still has the feeling of being lived-in. We move paintings and furniture just as the family would have done. We also regularly loan our paintings 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.
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.
Learning about 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, look out for our room folders.
More interested in the social history? Pick up one of our scrap books containing copies of original photographs and documents.
As part of the welcome leaflet, every visitor gets a guide to the house, which has been written by the real experts of the Manor - our volunteers. Feel free to ask them any questions during your visit as they are always happy to help.
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. Unfortunately, for less mobile visitors, this means there are a few short flights of steps. Most of the ground floor with the principal collection is accessible, and if you can't make the stairs to the bedrooms we have a photo guide you can leaf through.
Winter can be a great time to visit the house, few visitors mean you have more time to soak in the atmosphere of the house and talk to the volunteers about what is on display. However lighting levels often reflect the outside, so a dark dismal day outside will mean the house may be dark, a bright winters day means the same inside. For all his innovations Theodore didn't have cavity wall insulation so whilst our heating boosts for opening hours the house doesn't hold heat and can be cold.