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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.

The music stand, stool and harp next to the pianoforte in the Drawing Room at Attingham Park, Shropshire.

The instruments at Attingham all have fascinating stories to tell.

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.

Thomas, 2nd Lord Berwick

Thomas, 2nd Lord Berwick spent a great deal of the family fortune and lavished gifts upon his new wife.

Sophia, wife of 2nd Lord Berwick

Sophia Dubochet, a former courtesan, became the wife of 2nd Lord Berwick at the age of 17

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.

1818 bill for Lady Berwick's harp, music stand and stool

1818 bill for Lady Berwick’s Erard harp, music stand and stool in the Attingham archive.

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.

Letter from Sophia, wife of 2nd Lord Berwick to William, 3rd Lord Berwick, 1835

One of the letters sent by Sophia to 3rd Lord Berwick in the 1830s with the aim of getting her possessions back from the creditors.

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.

Regency harp on display at Attingham

The Regency harp is part of a small collection of musical instruments on display at Attingham.

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.