As part of the roof project we have had to take down the Picture Gallery chandelier and so this has provided us with a fantastic opportunity to give it a good clean. So for the next two weeks we will be focusing on lighting at Attingham from the 1780s when the house was first built, right up to the present day.
Maureen Dillon, Lighting Advisor to the National Trust, produced a report in 2007 on the development of lighting at Attingham. We have used her report to create a small exhibition using objects from our collection. Over the next few blog posts, we will immerse you in the world of lighting at this large country house.
Chapter 1: An Embarrassment of Riches (1785-1832)
Attingham Hall, the new house was not finished when Noel Hill, 1st Lord Berwick died in 1789.
His eldest son, Thomas, inherited the tile and spent lavishly on Attingham’s interiors in the early 1800s. Thomas was declared bankrupt in 1827 and there were two sales, one that year and one in 1829.
The 1827 sale catalogue provides a fascinating insight into the contents of Attingham during its heyday. At this time, the house was lit by a considerable number of highly expensive candle and oil fittings that were the height of fashion in terms of design. Many of the fittings were decorated with neoclassical motifs, for example vine leaves and grapes, rams-heads and sphinxes, that were popular in the Regency and Napoleonic period.
There were six cut glass chandeliers at Attingham in 1827 and they were of the tent and waterfall design.
The chandelier which hangs in the Drawing Room today hung in the Sultana Room in 1827. It has 18 lights and the Drawing Room would have had 36 lights and the Boudoir had 12 and they were all of the same design.
There were a number of pairs of candelabra of neoclassical designs. In Lady Berwick’s Sitting Room and Morning Room there were pairs of swan-head design candelabra. We believe that the 8th Lord and Lady Berwick purchased the ones we have today to reflect those which would have been in the house in 1827.
In 1827 there were also four pairs of candlesticks with Egyptian female figures which may have looked similar to those currently on display in the Drawing Room.
There were also chamber candlesticks and snuffers. Cheaper tallow candles would have been used in the servants’ areas and expensive beeswax or spermaceti (from the sperm whale) in the formal rooms.
Lord Berwick also had a reading lamp with a slide candle and shade, perhaps for use in one of his library rooms. These types of lamps first came into use in the 1740s.
Lord Berwick’s wife, Sophia had harp lessons and her music stand, located in the Drawing Room, has fittings to hold two candles.
The 1827 sale catalogue also mentions a great deal of match pots. Friction matches were not invented until 1828. If these match pots are lighting related objects they may have been used to hold spills and tapers with which to light candles. The match pots were located in formal rooms, dressing rooms and bedchambers, usually in pairs made from materials that included, white china, pink and gold paper, and black and gold India paper.
Many of the formal rooms at Attingham, such as the Octagon Room and Picture Gallery, were fitted out with many expensive Argand lamps which were invented in 1783 and produced a great deal more light than candles. They were fuelled initially by spermaceti oil and then as demand for the oil increased, by colza oil from rape seed.
The lamp in the Picture Gallery would have produced 120 c.p. (candle power) which was a great deal more than the Drawing Room chandelier at 36 c.p. with its 36 candles. In fact the sale catalogue also lists ‘two Eye Shades, for viewing pictures’ to cut out the glare!
Nonetheless, by today’s standards even rooms lit by a number of Argand lamps and candles would have appeared dim and the greatest single source of light would be that from the hearth fire. Illumination was therefore increased by the use of mirrors, gilding and cut glass.
This is just a small selection of the light fittings at Attingham in 1827. Thomas, 2nd Lord Berwick had the best in design and new technology and no doubt his footmen were very busy making trips to the Lamp Room to keep them all maintained!
The next blog post on lighting will detail the aftermath of the bankruptcy sales. If you have chance, come and see our small lighting exhibition on the First Floor which will be up until the end of May.