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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.