A special wedding anniversary

2019 marks a special wedding anniversary for the 8th Lord and Lady Berwick, who married 100 years ago. For two years following their marriage, the couple lived at Cronkhill, an Italianate villa designed by John Nash on the Attingham estate.

Teresa and Tom on their wedding day by gate 1919

The 8th Lord and Lady Berwick on their wedding day.

Cronkhill will be open on Friday the 13th and Sunday 15th of September 2019. We will be displaying artefacts from the wedding and the flower arranging volunteers will replicate the beautiful floral archway over the gateway made by tenants to welcome Lord and Lady Berwick home in September 1919. They’ve also made a replica of Lady Berwick’s wedding bouquet and some lovely stephanotis flower buttonholes, like those worn by Lord Berwick, which visitors can buy as souvenirs. To book a place, please click here.

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Teresa Hulton (1890-1972) married Thomas, the 8th Lord Berwick (1877-1947), at the Church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, near the Hulton family home in Venice. Lord Berwick and Teresa Hulton had met before the First World War and continued to correspond throughout the war. To discover more about their lives during the war, please click here.

The marriage was solemnised by the Reverend Canon Knollys, British Chaplain at Florence. Teresa and Thomas had wanted to marry on the 28th of June 1919 but Canon Knollys could not be there until the 30th.

Wedding day group photo HIGH RES

A wedding photograph showing left to right: Gioconda (Teresa’s sister and bridesmaid), Reginald Bridgeman (best man), Canon Knollys, Teresa, Thomas.

They had other problems in the run up to the wedding, including a printers’ strike meaning the Hultons might have to hand write invitations and the dressmaker not finishing Teresa’s dress until shortly before the wedding. Sadly, in the wedding photographs it appears to be creased after being quickly unfolded!

Lord and Lady Berwick's marriage in Venice 1919

Sadly, the fold creases in the wedding dress are clearly visible in this photograph.

On the 17th of June, Teresa wrote to Lord Berwick that: ‘My wedding dress is not even begun yet.’ She worried that ‘I probably shall wear a night gown or some old rag.’ Very disappointing when the silver brocade dress cost £925!

Unfortunately Teresa was suffering from one of her frequent migraines on her wedding day. Her mother, Costanza, wrote: ‘I felt SO SORRY for you on the day of the wedding, and it must have been very trying for you to have to give explanations.

Thomas wore his Shropshire Yeomanry Captain’s uniform for his wedding. His fragrant stephanotis flower buttonhole symbolises marital happiness.

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The 8th Lord Berwick in uniform on his wedding day.

Although Teresa’s wedding dress does not survive, perhaps having been returned to the dressmaker or sold, fortunately Teresa’s appliqué Brussels lace mittens and wedding wreath are preserved and will be displayed at Cronkhill for the September 2019 opening. The orange blossom wreath symbolises virtue and fertility and artificial blossoms made of wax, paper and stiffened cotton were popular with brides following Queen Victoria’s lead.

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A display in the Drawing Room at Attingham created to celebrate the 1919 wedding. The display features the original lace mittens and wedding wreath worn by Lady Berwick as well as replicas of the wreath and bouquet.

A report of the wedding states that, following the tradition of ‘something old, something new,’ Teresa wore ‘a train of Brussels lace, which her mother and grandmother had worn on their wedding days.’ Teresa’s sister, Giconda, was her only bridesmaid and ‘wore a pale grey satin dress embroidered in gold.’

The wedding reception was held at the Palazzo Contarini Dal Zaffo, home of a family friend, because the Hulton’s home was still not repaired following bomb damage during the First World War.

Much of the honeymoon was spent at Lake Garda. They also travelled through Switzerland where they went on motor trips and picnicked in the countryside.

Tom and Teresa July 1919

Lord and Lady Berwick on their honeymoon.

On their way to Shropshire the couple stayed in Paris, where Teresa’s friend Lady Helen D’Abernon gave a lovely glimpse of them at the Ritz:

‘from their aspect & from a tiny talk with Teresa, I gathered a very happy impression of mutual devotion & understanding & content. I never saw T. look handsomer.’

Teresa, Bertram Park with head band facing forward close up

Teresa may possibly be wearing her diadem in this image.

At first the newlyweds lived in Cronkhill, since Attingham Hall was let by the Dutch-American Van Bergen family as it had been throughout the war. The couple arrived at Cronkhill to find the gateway decorated by the estate tenants with a floral arch to welcome them home. The tenants also presented them with a silver tea set now at Attingham and often displayed in the Sultana Room.

As in Italy, Teresa enjoyed helping the community. She regularly attended Women’s Institute meetings and arranged fêtes and parties for the tenants. She enjoyed developing the gardens at Cronkhill.

Lady Berwick at Cronkhill in the Dining Room

Lady Berwick in the Dining Room at Cronkhill.

The Van Bergens moved out of Attingham in March 1920. Initially the Berwicks tried to find a new tenant for Attingham. However, due to the servant shortage after the war and the size of the mansion, finding a tenant was difficult. The Berwicks left Cronkhill and moved to Attingham themselves in October 1921. From this time onwards Cronkhill was let to tenants.


My work placement in the Mansion

My name is Coco and I have just completed a work placement at Attingham Park, working with the conservation team. I have just graduated from university where I studied the History of Art and I am now looking to gain some practical skills of working with historic buildings and collections.

Conservation in Action

Coco cleaning the Great Seal of Elizabeth I that is kept in the semainier in the Sultana Room

On a normal day as a conservation volunteer, I help to open the house before hoovering and dusting, using both everyday and specialist equipment, including pony hair and hog’s hair brushes. It is hugely important that the house is cleaned daily like this since dust and dirt can absorb moisture from the air and calcify, making it hard to remove.

A lizard skin inkwell cleaned by Coco

Lizard skin inkwell

A lizard skin inkwell cleaned by Coco

At Attingham, I also learnt how to check the amount of moisture in the air (the RH, or Relative Humidity) and temperature, as well as monitor the light levels (visible and UV) in the rooms where the collection was displayed and stored. To do this, I used a hand-held environmental monitor, taking readings near especially valuable and fragile items. It is essential the humidity and temperature levels in a room are kept stable – if conditions become too damp then objects will more quickly decay, but if they are too hot and dry then wood and plasterwork will shrink and crack. It is equally as important that the Trust monitors the amount, and intensity, of light that items are exposed to. If not controlled, light can leach the colour from textiles, watercolours, marquetry furniture and other sensitive objects, as well as weaken the fibres of fabrics.

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Shells are vulnerable to light damage

This month, I assisted in updating the property’s inventory of artworks and objects in various rooms. This involved handling and (if necessary) cleaning objects and making a note of their number and condition status, later to be uploaded onto the Collections Management System [link to NT collections webpage]. It is important that the inventory is checked yearly at Attingham to ensure the house keeps its status as an accredited museum. Holly (a Conservation Assistant) and I carried out this job as Conservation in Action. This meant we spoke to visitors about the objects we were handling, some of which were very rare and precious.

Shagreen almanac

Coco condition checking an almanac found in the Sultana Room semainier

We unlocked the semainier in the Sultana Room, a chest with seven clothes drawers (one for each day of the week plus, unusually, and extra drawer in Attingham’s semainier). The semainier contained hundreds of objects wrapped in acid-free tissue paper. Some of the most interesting included an almanac bound in shagreen (the skin of a stingray), locks of human hair wrapped in paper, and a miniature inkwell in a case of green lizard skin.

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A lock of human hair found with a letter dated 1798

We also unwrapped Elizabeth I’s Great Seal, attached to a local document dated 1594. On one side, she is depicted enthroned; on the other, on horseback.

Elizabeth I

The Great Seal of Elizabeth I

One of my favourite objects was a mourning locket featuring a memorial urn of woven hair, trimmed with gold and pearls and set in an avenue of trees.

Mourning locket

A mourning locket with a scene made from woven hair

I was also given the job of condition checking and dusting the vast shell collection, which is housed in a cupboard in the Boudoir. The collection consists of thousands of different varieties of shell—cowrie, conch, marlin spike, mitre, helmet, turbo, concus, volute, and so on—kept in a total of 18 drawers, some of which are carefully arranged in colourful, geometric patterns.

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A beautiful pattern created with the seashell collection in one of the drawers in the Boudoir

In one drawer, two seahorses are positioned in the centre of a group of sea urchin and limpet shells. On the surrounding shelves, there are larger shells, including a giant conch and even an ostrich egg!


These seahorses are amongst the more unusual contents of Attingham’s shell collection

The collection belonged to Susanna Hill, the mother of the Frist Lord Berwick. Records show that she was collecting shells as early as 1744. In this period, shells were sourced from across the world—namely from the Caribbean, Africa and the Indo-Pacific—and brought back by sailors and naturalists to be sold in dealers’ shops. It would be here that Susanna acquired her collection. Holly has written a very interesting article for the Attingham Mansion blog which is definitely worth a read, if you’re interested in learning more about contemporary shell-collecting practices. Please click here to see it.


Another drawer full of shell cleaned by Coco

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Attingham so far. Volunteering here has helped me to understand how the National Trust works as a conservation charity. As a conservation volunteer, you get the chance to perform multiple roles — you are responsible not only for caring for and safeguarding an important, historic collection, but also for bringing it to life for the benefit of everyone.

If you would like to find out more about volunteering opportunities at Attingham, please click here.


Lady Sybil Grant and Pitchford Hall

This month we’ve been learning more about some of the wider connections the Berwicks of Attingham had in the local area. Recently, members of the conservation team took the opportunity to visit the nearby Pitchford Hall on a special Restoration Tour.

It was exciting to be following in the footsteps of students from the Adult Education College that was based at Attingham (1948-1976) who also went on a trip to Pitchford Hall in the 1950s.

Summer School July 1954

A Summer School group on the colonnade at Attingham, July 1954

Pitchford Hall, named after a natural pitch well found in the grounds, is a gorgeous half-timbered house. The Colthurst family owned the house for over 500 years but sadly had to sell it in 1992. Recently, in a wonderful stroke of fate, Rowena Colthurst has been able to buy back the estate. She and her family are now embarking on the task of restoring the estate after 25 years of neglect.

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Pitchford Hall

Pitchford Hall was of special interest to us due to its Attingham connection. Thomas, the 8th Lord Berwick, was a friend of Lady Sybil Grant (1879-1955) of Pitchford Hall. The 8th Lady Berwick’s visitors’ book reveals that the Berwicks knew the Grant family as early as 1925. Lady Sybil was the eldest child of Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery and Prime Minister from 1894-5, and Hannah de Rothschild, who was reputed to be the richest woman in England. Sybil married General Charles Grant, who had served in the second Boer War and both World Wars.

Lady Sybil Grant

Sybil Primrose (later Lady Sybil Grant) as a young woman. Photograph by J. Thomson, from “The Social Jester,” The Sketch (September 26, 1900). Photograph in the public domain.

James Lees-Milne, secretary of the Country Houses Committee of the National Trust, recalls a dinner at Attingham Hall in 1944 when Lady Sybil Grant reputedly said of Lord Berwick:

‘Poor Tom, he should not have lived in this age. He cannot drive a car, ride a bicycle, fish or shoot. He would have stepped in and out of a sedan chair so beautifully.’


The 8th Lord and Lady Berwick in Georgian fancy dress costume in the Picture Gallery at Attingham Hall, c.1923

Archival records and photographs show that Lord Berwick clearly could cycle. During the First World War his unit of the Shropshire Yeomanry was converted from a mounted to a bicycle unit. A bill survives in the archives for his Raleigh bicycle. This example highlights how the opinions expressed in James Lees-Milne’s diaries are subjective and personal and don’t reflect the National Trust’s current stance or actual facts about the people and places discussed.

Lord Berwick May 1904 on horse

Lord Berwick in uniform on horseback at Cronkhill, May 1904

At the time of this dinner the Berwicks were negotiating giving Attingham to the National Trust. In 1944 Charles Grant looked into transferring Pitchford Hall to the National Trust but this never came about, unlike Attingham which was a special bequest to the National Trust and came to the Trust in 1947 after Thomas’ death.

Attingham postcard

This postcard shows Attingham around the time that it was given to the National Trust

We found the tour of Pitchford Hall fascinating, hearing about the history of the family and seeing the collection in the rooms. It was heartening to hear how committed the family are to finding collection items sold in 1992.

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One of the beautifully furnished rooms at Pitchford Hall

In his diaries, now published as People and Places, James Lees-Milne recalls that Lord Berwick and Lady Sybil would discuss spirits together. Lees-Milne’s humorous, if far-fetched, account mentions Lord Berwick who ‘thinks that ghosts have invaded the vacuum cleaner, while his neighbour, the orange-haired Lady Sibyl Grant, has moved out of Pitchford Hall, which she believes to be haunted, to live in a tree house.’

You can find out more about the ghosts of Pitchford Hall on their website, please click here.

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The treehouse at Pitchford Hall, reputed to be the oldest treehouse in Britain

Lady Sybil was an eccentric character. As well as being fascinated by ghosts, she was a fortune teller and would base herself on the steps on the front elevation of Pitchford Hall to tell fortunes. Her obituary in The Times recalls that she had a ‘strong sympathy’ with the gypsies.

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Pitchford Hall viewed from the gardens

Lady Sybil found the rooms in Pitchford Hall dark and to brighten them up she had many painted a vibrant yellow! Eventually she decided to move her quarters into the much more light and airy orangery, situated between the walled garden and famous 1600s treehouse. Her husband remained living in his quarters in the Hall and the couple communicated by means of a megaphone, semaphore and written messages. The butler must have regretted the distance when traversing to the orangery each day to bring Lady Sybil her tea!

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The orangery at Pitchford Hall

Lees-Milne satirically caricatured the connection between Lady Sybil’s red hair and her abode, noting her ‘orange bonnet, draped with an orange scarf… orange hair’ and her ‘face absolutely round and the lips are the vividness orange I have ever beheld,’ before concluding ironically, ‘she took me to the orangery where she lives.’

It was great to discover more about a link to Attingham at this local property. Pitchford Hall’s Facebook page gives updates on the restoration and lists tours and other events taking place.


This beautiful clock will soon be restored to working order


Our treasured timepieces

At Attingham we are lucky to have some splendid examples of timepieces with elaborate decoration and captivating chimes. Many of our showrooms clocks are fine examples of Empire/Regency neoclassical styling. They were the epitome of fashion in the latter part of the 18th century and the early to mid-19th century with their Ancient Greek and Roman influenced mythology and architecture. In Napoleon’s France and Regency Britain such objects displayed to all that these nations were the great empires of the world following in the steps of their classical predecessors.

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This elegant and interesting clock rests resplendent on the Octagon Room’s mantelpiece. Unusually, this English made timepiece is wound anti-clockwise from the rear of its case.

These clocks are mostly bronze coated with a thin layer of gold, which if handled too often would wear away. This is known as ormolu and is applied in a process using mercury to bind the gold to the bronze. This process involves the evaporation of the mercury, which is so toxic that many of the workers involved died before the age of forty. Thankfully, electroplating is now used.

Clock Blog 1

A jovial Dionysus (Bacchus), possibly alluding to his ‘Triumph over India’, proudly sits within Attingham’s Boudoir. Sadly, his staff or thyrsus is missing its pine cone top (I’m still hoping to find it one day in the ‘Bits Box’ in our stores).

Writing this blog made me think about the meaning of time related words, so I thought I might include a few here. Horology the study of the movement of time, stems from the Latin ‘hora’ meaning hour/time, the word clock comes from ‘clocca’ which is the  Medieval Latin for bell, and the Ancient Greek water clock, Klepsydra, amusingly translates as water thief and was used to time the speeches of judicial trails.

Whilst in the midst of writing, Caroline, our House Steward, mentioned to me that there was once a rather peculiar clock tax. It came into legislation thanks to Prime Minister William Pitt in 1797 but proved so unpopular it was repealed just nine months later – unlike the equally unpopular window tax, which lasted over a hundred years, and whose effect can still be seen in many bricked-up windows throughout Britain today.

During my role as part of the Conservation team at Attingham I have occasionally helped with the winding of our clocks which takes place weekly as most of them have an eight-day movement. This has blossomed a particular interest and passion within me for them. After all, these hard working objets d’art have been custodians of time for, in some cases, over two hundred years.

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Me winding the longcase clock in the Servant’s Hall. Photograph kindly taken by my fellow conservation volunteer Katie.

We have a dedicated folder which records on a weekly basis not only the date and time of winding but also the accuracy of the clock’s movements. This folder is also used to note any adjustments that been carried out such as altering the counterbalance of the pendulum to either speed up or slow down the clock’s movement. This is sometimes the result of atmospheric expansion or contraction of the intricate metal parts. These records are vital to the conservation of our clocks and help us become aware of any problems that may need special attention.

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This is one of my favourites, the putto (cherub) or amorino (cupid) on the swing acts as the pendulum, it is currently resting in one of our stores.

All of our clock winding/maintenance keys and equipment are kept in a tool box along with a pony-haired brush which is used to gently remove one of our greatest enemies – accumulated dust. Before we attempt any work on the clocks we put on powder-free latex or nitrile gloves as these essential necessities protect our timepieces from dirt and sweat which can easily damage the surface of the clocks.

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Here is the crank and some of the keys used to wind the clocks; below these is the stick used for the pendulum/hands and below that is a pony-hair brush (notice the taped ferrule to avoid its metal potentially causing damage).

Some of the more delicate ones in the showrooms have a pendulum suspended from a single thread of silk and to stop these before winding we use a slim wooden cylindrical stick. This stick is also used when we need to move the hands of some of the clocks as using fingers on the small and ornate ones could potentially damage them. The clocks in the basement are much more robust, especially the longcase ones, and take some cranking to raise their heavy weights in preparation for the week ahead.

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The rear of one of the clocks in the Sultana Room showing the thread which the pendulum is suspended from.

There will be a specialist clock conservator visiting Attingham in August who will be giving our hard-working timepieces a full check-up so that they can continue their important and much-loved role of greeting our visitors with their charming chimes.

Hopefully, this blog has inspired you to find out more about the clocks at Attingham and those in the care of the National Trust. If so, then the National Trust Collections website is a great place to find lots of examples.

Cronkhill and Town Walls Tower update

Cronkhill and Town Walls Tower are two small properties opened by the Attingham house team a few times per year. They have limited openings because they are tenanted but they are both little gems with a fascinating history and well worth visiting.

Town Walls Tower is the last surviving watch tower on Shrewsbury’s town walls. Parts of the walls date from the reign on Henry III when a special toll was taken on goods coming into Shrewsbury to pay for the building of a defensive wall using sandstone from the Quarry, now a public park. The tower was added later in the reign of Henry IV when Shrewsbury’s fortifications were strengthened due to fears of more attacks from the Welsh forces.


Town Walls Tower seen from the rear, (C) National Trust


The towers never saw much military action and were later sold to principle townsfolk. In its later years Town Walls Tower became home to a watchmaker, a coachman and was used as a play den for the children of a family who owned it! It was given to the National Trust in 1930 and is currently tenanted by Shrewsbury Girls’ School.


Town Walls Tower seen from the road, showing a door that would have led onto a raised walkway that ran around the walls and back to Shrewsbury Castle. (c) National Trust


Cronkhill was built by John Nash (c.1802) to provide the 2nd Lord Berwick with an eye-catching Italianate villa to admire from Attingham. The building recalled the Tuscan villas in the Claude Lorrain paintings that Lord Berwick collected and fitted beautifully into the Picturesque landscape of the Attingham estate.

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Cronkhill (c) Laura Turner


Cornkhill was originally painted with an ochre colour to blend in with the landscape and recall the warm colour of buildings in Claude Lorrain’s paintings. In building’s later history it had been coated in stark white Dulux Weathershield. Nash would have been appalled as Sir Uvedale Price, an influential Picturesque theorist whose ideas were advocated by Nash, wrote in his Essay on the Picturesque (1796) that a whitened building ‘stares you impudently in the face’ and ‘is like the eternal grin of a fool.’ Even worse was that the plastic based paint didn’t allow the building to breathe, resulting in damp problems. Recently the National Trust carried out an important project to return Cronkhill to its original colour which lends a warm feel to the building whatever the weather. The building has now been restored allowing the walls to breathe.

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A painted window found during restoration work on the exterior of Cronkhill (c) National Trust


The first occupant of Cronkhill was Francis Walford, the 2nd Lord Berwick’s Steward. Cronkhill then became home to the 5th Lord Berwick who was renowned as a maker of rifles, musical instruments and most especially as a farmer. He won many prizes at agricultural shows and his Hereford cattle were so famous that after his death they were bought by buyers from Australia, Canada and for Prince Albert’s herd.

Another important occupant of Cronkhill was the 8th Lord Berwick who lived there from 1919 with his new wife, Teresa. We have a wonderful collection of photographs in the Attingham archives showing the couple at Cronkhill. They found it hard to get a tenant for Attingham so moved there themselves in 1921. Cronkhill has been let out to private tenants ever since.


Teresa, 8th Lady Berwick, enjoying the garden at Cronkhill (c) National Trust


This year the National Trust decided to start opening the properties on a timed ticket basis. Last year the visitor figures were huge and resulted in overcrowding, which was damaging in conservation terms and led to poor visitor experience as visitors squashed into the small rooms!

Cronkhill hall and stairs c.1919

Cronkhill hall and stairs, c. 1919 (c) National Trust


It was decided to limit visitor numbers at Town Walls Tower to 100 per day and visitors to Cronkhill to 250 per day and to run timed entry slots throughout the opening period. Tickets are bookable online or by phone (see links below).

The timed tickets were very successful in ensuring visitor numbers became more manageable. Town Walls Tower worked especially well with both days fully booked!


The door into Town Walls Tower (c) National Trust


The Friday opening of Cronkhill was fairly quiet as it was a chilly day but the beautiful weather on Sunday brought visitors flocking. £68.50 was made towards helping the National Trust’s conservation work at the Cronkhill open days, mostly on the Sunday.


Cronkhill (c) Laura Turner


It would be lovely to see you at the next openings of Cronkhill and Town Walls Tower. To find out more about Town Walls Tower and book a slot on one of the half hourly tours, please click this link.

To discover more about Cronkhill and book a visit, please click this link. Visits are free-flow so you can arrive at any time throughout the hourly slot you book onto.

Changing the Boulle cabinet display

When you next visit Attingham you may notice that changes have been afoot in the Inner Library. A new display of books has been created in the beautiful red tortoiseshell Boulle cabinet that was bought by William, 3rd Lord Berwick, in 1833.

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The Boulle cabinet


The display in the Boulle cabinet needs altering periodically as if books are always kept open in one place then the leather spines and the animal skin glue holding the pages to the binding is at risk of cracking. Harvey James, a book conservation specialist, advised that we rested the books that we’d displayed previously in the cabinet as they had been out for a while. Helped by a volunteer, I replaced the books that had previously been displayed on the bookcase shelves for a well earned rest and created a new display.

As well as including books essential to tell Attingham’s story, like the 1827 sale catalogue and memoirs of Harriett Wilson, the courtesan who was sister to the 2nd Lady Berwick, I tried to link with topical historical themes. This year Attingham is celebrating Humphry Repton, employed by the 2nd Lord Berwick to landscape the grounds. His Red Book for Attingham is on display in the West Ante Room. Books about English Deer Parks and by Gilpin, a key player in the Picturesque landscaping movement and influence on Repton, can be seen in the Boulle cabinet.

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Evelyn Philip Shirley Esq., Some Account of English Deer Parks with notes on the management of deer,  1867

Also topical for 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One and I included some of the 8th Lord Berwick’s military books in the display. He spent some time in the Shropshire Yeomanry at Morpeth and the battered, water stained appearance of some of the covers shows he was carrying the books with him in service. You can read more about Attingham’s World War I stories here.

Lord Berwick in military uniform

Thomas, 8th Lord Berwick, in military uniform


The display was also a lovely chance to showcase the beautiful illustrations and marbled patterns in some books. I am particularly fond of the humorous illustration in a book of Chinese Costumes that shows a tea gatherer and some monkeys. According to the book ‘A very singular expedient has been resorted to for gathering the tea in places so difficult of access… Monkeys are trained to climb these heights, and to strip the leaves from the bushes.’ The author explains that ‘these kinds of assistants are not the most easy to be procured; for the monkeys, in this employment, cannot be guided wholly by artificial instinct’ and need lots of food rewards to train them to climb up to the tea bushes by means of cords.

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M. Breton, Costume of China, Volume 2 Arts, Manufactures &c, 1813


When handling books clean, dry hands or latex gloves are best because white cotton gloves can reduce sensitivity and abrade the books. Before they were placed in the cabinet or put into storage, the books were placed on foam book blocks to be condition checked and cleaned. Two soft pony hair brushes were used to clean the books as the outside needs to be cleaned separately from the pages because the covers contain tannin, which could stain the pages if the same brush was used to clean them.

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Me cleaning one of the beautiful Gould’s British Bird books that was sadly too big to display


We kept an eye out for problems like mould growth or an infestation of insects, like silverfish or booklice. A lot of these problems are prevented as Attingham’s environmental monitoring system means that conditions in the Inner Library are ideal for the preservation of books. We need to ensure that books don’t become damp, as this would encourage pests and mould, or too dry as this might cause cracking and damage as the pages and covers are made of different materials and so expand and contract at different rates. Luckily the books were fine, although some show signs of previous damage. One of the schoolbook belonging to Noel Hill, 1st Lord Berwick, had a lovely example of old bookworm holes at the edges!

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One of the scribbled on school books – Gradus ad Parnassum sive Novus, Thresaurus, 1738

Cleaning the Fireplaces

Attingham Mansion is rather lucky when it comes to fireplaces, with many examples of Greek and Roman influence and mythology, they are very much a statement of a grandiose past. My name is Simon and I regularly volunteer at Attingham helping with conservation work. I have had the privilege recently to give the fireplaces a little tender loving care to keep them in their resplendence for the present and future generations, and this blog post is concerned with this.

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Me in the midst of cleaning


Like all things, including us, a little bit of intervention is needed to keep them at their best and prevent further deterioration, and this is really what Preventive Conservation is and what my work as a conservation volunteer involves. Each year in the closed season the house gets what we call a ‘deep clean’ to take the opportunity to get the jobs done that would be difficult to do when the house is open and busy with visitors. So, for the past few weeks I’ve been helping the house team with the fireplaces.Fireplace cleaning by Simon 3

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Cleaning in progress with resultant mucky swabs!


Whilst working on the mantelpieces I would sometimes notice small areas of damage and these can really fire the imagination if you let them – was it an overworked servant; a disgruntled Lord; or a drunken RAF officer that chipped the frieze, who knows?

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Bust of Pitt the Younger resplendent with polish


Anyway, I digress, the first thing we do is give them a check to see if any new damage has occurred or if there are any areas of concern that need reporting. Sometimes we discover small areas of rust which mostly can be buffed out with a little metal polish and cloth or, if stubborn, a non-woven abrasive pad with a little polish on. Then it’s a case of giving them a good dust with a hog’s hair brush which is more robust than the pony hair ones we use for more delicate objects, but is fine on marble. Most years a good dust and a clean with deionised water before a coat of wax or black leading is applied is all that is required, but this year we decided to give them a bit more attention.


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Partially waxed showing how the wax covers scratches.


Every few years it is good practice to give them a more intensive clean and after brushing and vacuuming the dust we armed ourselves with cotton swabs, buds and a solution of white spirit and deionised water. This was applied via the cotton to all the more awkward to reach places to remove most of the dirt that has accumulated there. You may have noticed I used the word ‘most’ as the aim is not to have the object looking brand new rather to keep it presentable with its historical context intact.

Once all the residue had evaporated (excess can be dabbed off with a paper towel) we then started to apply the wax with a clean brush in a circular action and, after some time to allow it to dry, buffed it with a clean cloth. Once the wax had been applied to the marble and metalwork we finished off with black leading the areas of the grate that needed it. And that is essentially how we look after the fireplaces in our care ready for another busy year in front of their admiring audiences.

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Fireplace cleaning by Simon 1

Two of the cleaned fireplaces ready for the visitors to enjoy.



The aftermath of Christmas in the mansion


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By this point in the year you’ve probably packed away your Christmas decorations and it’s the same at Attingham. Although, as might be imagined, tidying up after our 1940s Christmas took place on a much larger scale in the mansion!

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The volunteer flower arrangers gathered all the Christmas arrangements into the Dining Room

The mansion was closed on Christmas Eve so that the house team and volunteer flower arrangers can remove the flower arrangements and as many of the Christmas trees as possible. If they were left too long in the mansion when it is closed then decaying flowers or falling pine needles might damage historic surfaces, even though we tried to protect them as well as possible with sheets of Melinex plastic. The water used to prolong the life of the flowers and trees might damage the collection by leaking or evaporating into the atmosphere and raising humidity levels. The basement volunteers were also busy in the aftermath of Christmas packing away food that was made for displays so that it did not decay or attract pests.

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Volunteer flower arrangers and basement guides hard at work

It felt strange to be putting away Christmas decorations the day before Christmas but it was satisfying to know we’ve made a start undecorating ready for the New Year. The Butler’s Pantry was used as a store for decorations as they were carefully removed from the trees and organised ready for reusing next year. Having a separate bag for each of the three different colours of baubles on the Drawing Room tree helped.

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Caroline, Laura and Andy removing baubles from the Drawing Room tree

Removing the vintage teacups that were individually wired onto the branches of the Dining Room tree was particularly nerve-wracking. Unwinding the tree lights can sometimes be tricky, especially the ones that were cable tied to the trees!

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Laura taking the decorations off the Octagon Room tree

It was high time to remove many of the trees as they were dropping lots of needles. The needles falling off the Servant’s Hall tree as it was undecorated sounded like monsoon rain falling onto the plastic protection!

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Timber! The Drawing Room tree is down and on plastic protection to stop the historic carpet being damaged.

The warden team helped with removing the trees from the house and loading them into their trailer to take to burn on the estate. Some of the trees were so large that they needed to be sawn into smaller sections so that they fitted through the doors without causing damage. It was easier bringing them in when they were compressed in netting bags!

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The Boudoir tree loaded onto the wardens’ truck

With Christmas out of the way the house team are now deep cleaning the mansion and returning furniture moved over Christmas to the show rooms. You can enjoy guided tours of the mansion this winter and maybe see some conservation work in progress. Winter Mansion Tours take place at timed intervals on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until the 11th of February and can be booked via the National Trust’s What’s On web page for Attingham, or call 03442491895.


Cooking for a 1940s Christmas

Hi I’m Jenny and I started as a volunteer Basement Costume Guide in July 2016.


Jenny in her 1940s land girl outfit stood by the Servants’ Hall tree. (c) National Trust

Christmas is just around the corner and this year we are celebrating as though we’re in the 1940s; this was chosen to celebrate 70 years since the National Trust began running Attingham Park. We have used homemade decorations around the property to illustrate the motto of the 1940s, “make do and mend”.

Following the death of the 8th Lord Berwick in 1947, the 8th Lady Berwick continued to be a pillar of the community through her work within the local branch of the Women’s Institute (WI) in Atcham. At this point, Lady Berwick was employing relatively few members of staff in the mansion; Mrs Durwood (Cook/ Housekeeper) and a maid, with occasional extra help. Greater numbers of volunteers are working in the Kitchen as it was decided we would be members of the WI that have come in to help Lady Berwick prepare for the afternoon tea party set up in the Dining Room.


A volunteer preparing a 1940s recipe. (c) National Trust 

Instead of the food the volunteers make being used for the afternoon tea party in the Dining Room the food is offered to visitors as ‘tasters.’ These are made using recipes from the WI during the 1940s; the recipes were created during a time of rationing when they ‘bulked out’ their ingredients. The most notable method was using mashed potatoes in pastry so less flour is needed; when visitors tried jam tarts made with potato pastry they said how hard it was to tell the difference from normal pastry. 

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A 1940s display in the kitchen. (c) Holly Kirby

In 1943 the Shropshire WI became infamous for producing more jam than any other county. During this frugal era sugar was distributed via permits and they had to come up with creative flavours based on the limited food available. In honour of this achievement we have been making jam using their original recipes, ranging from relatively normal flavours like blackcurrant and gooseberry to the more unusual ‘High Dumpsie Dearie’ (derived from the phrase “I dumps it all in ‘ere dearie,” this flavour is made up of whatever they could find, we used apples and plums). One of the most surprising flavours was ‘Carrot Jam’ used in jam tarts as ‘tasters.’ The visitors were impressed with the flavour of the jam, remarking they would never have known it was carrot as it tasted of apricots.


Some of the jams made using 1940s recipes. (c) National Trust

Other ‘tasters’ made include mince pies, scones, rock buns, chocolate pinwheels and carrot cookies, all made using wartime recipes and all thoroughly enjoyed by the visitors! 

The last day to see us in the Mansion is Saturday 23rd December then in 2018 the Mansion will reopen on the 17th February.

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Attingham’s kitchen set out for a 1940s Christmas. (c) Holly Kirby

Decorating Frenzy


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Many visitors come to Attingham during December to see our spectacular Christmas trees and beautiful flower arrangements.  In order to put this all together a small team of staff and volunteers worked tirelessly through November putting up themed decorations, draping paper chains, and adorning each tree with hundreds of twinkling fairy lights.

We start planning Christmas months in advance to make sure we get every detail right.  This year our theme is a 1940s Christmas. Each Christmas tree inside the Mansion has its own theme that reflects a story about what happened at Attingham and in the wider world during the 1940s.


Putting the lights on the Entrance Hall tree


Before we could start putting up decorations we had to move some fragile items in our collection like ceramics and textile chairs due to the high numbers of visitors at this time of year.  We also needed to completely clear the 1830s Dining Room table setting ready for its seasonal redisplay as a 1940s Christmas tea.  We packaged away the fake food on the table, and protected the ormolu centerpieces which we moved to a safe and secure location.


Katie and Holly packing away the Dining Room table


The large Axminster carpet in the Dining Room needed to be moved.  First we gave it a very gentle low-suction vacuum to get rid of dust on the surface, then we covered it in acid free tissue paper (for protection)and rolled it in the direction of its pile.  Because of its size we had limited options for storage!  After much debating we decided to house the rolled-up carpet along one wall of the Picture Gallery so that we could have the shutters open in the Dining Room and so that it would not be in people’s way.


Members of the house team rolling up the carpet


We also had our talented volunteer flower ladies making displays around the house.  They were based in the Picture Gallery for the last week in November and created flower arrangements of all shapes and sizes for the various rooms in the house, linked in with the themes for each space.


The flower ladies’ base: the Picture Gallery


After the chaos of decorating, we had a day to clean up the mess that we had made before the house opened.  We gave everything an extra dust and vacuum, and then we were able to sit down and have a relax after a month of hard work.


The tree in the Inner Library


It’s been lovely to hear visitors’ comments about the mansion decorations this year.  You can come and see us through December until Saturday 23rd December.

Thinking of visiting for Christmas next year?  In 2018 we’ll be asking everybody to book tickets to their Mansion visit in advance through the website, so please keep and eye out for more details next year.