Musical instruments play a significant part in historic houses and can be a huge insight into the social, cultural and recreational life of a house. At Attingham we have a small collection of instruments, and each one tells us a different story about the members of the family and how the house was used by them. For ladies, being able to play a musical instrument was highly important in order to appear accomplished and their music must have filled the rooms of houses across the country.
Over the course of my internship, I have started to realise the significance of the instruments at Attingham. I have chosen to research each instrument at Attingham and discover more about how it impacted on the family story. My next few blog posts will focus on a different instrument and this week, I have been researching the harp in the Drawing Room.
In 1812 the 41-year-old 2nd Lord Berwick married Sophia Dubochet, a 17 year old courtesan. Lord Berwick had always spent extravagantly and he bought many gifts for his new wife.
In 1818 he bought for Sophia a double-action ‘Grecian’ harp costing £168 and a music stand with matching stool. The harp was manufactured by Sébastien Erard, a famous harp maker of the time, and pioneer of the double-action harp which were hugely popular.
At the time of purchase, Sophia began having lessons from Robert Nicolas-Charles Bochsa, a French musician and composer. There was a scandal involving Nicolas-Charles Bochsa, who in 1817, became involved in fraud and forgery and fled to London from the continent. Therefore while he was hiding in England to escape prosecution from French law, Sophia was having harp lessons from him!
Lord Berwick went bankrupt in 1827 and he and his wife went to live in Italy to escape the creditors. After his death in 1832, Sophia was writing to her brother in law, William, 3rd Lord Berwick to try and get some of her possessions back. She wrote: ‘…my harp stand & stool as belonging to my Harp & being light I would wish sent to me.’ This implies that she had her harp with her in Italy and we know that her music stand and stool never reached her as they remain at Attingham today.
The harp currently on display in the Drawing Room is on loan from Arlington Court (National Trust) in Devon. Sophia’s harp would have been very similar.
The research into the harp gives some background into the context in which it was bought and why it is no longer here. Next week I shall be looking into a different musical instrument in our collection, and finding out how it fits in with the story of the house and family.