One of my current projects is inventory checking the storerooms, a task usually done every five years. However, a number of items in the Picture Store have not been catalogued on the National Trust Collections website so this means an extra thorough inventory check is needed this year to get everything sorted. Another project is rehousing the photograph collection to a special Photograph Store and I am assembling photographs in the Picture Store to take there.
The inventory check provides an ideal opportunity to examine the condition of stored objects. Some need their acid-free paper packaging renewing. This paper is used to protect items from dust because it does not transfer damaging acids, which cause permanent damage and decay, to historic objects that it is in contact with.
Some of the most impressive items in the Picture Store are the panels of early nineteenth-century French wallpaper depicting Indian scenes. These once decorated the 8th Lady Berwick’s bathroom and she left instructions that the window should be kept open to ensure the paper was well ventilated to preserve it. Today we monitor humidity levels in the stores as too much moisture in the air might cause mould growth on the paper.
More wallpaper is housed in a map chest but this time it’s tiny fragments taken from various rooms. These offer evidence of how the rooms were decorated over the years. These wallpaper fragments are from Attingham’s First Floor and might help inform how we redecorate these rooms in future.
Our volunteers researching the ancestry of the Berwick family were thrilled to see this heraldic shield together with a list of the names of families from whom the Berwicks claim descent.
The Picture Store offers a treasure trove of information about the families the Berwicks married into, notably Teresa Hulton later the 8th Lady Berwick. As a girl Teresa dreamed of becoming a concert pianist and trained at Munich. Her music manuscripts are beautifully bound and are interestingly shaped more like books than the A4 manuscripts used by musicians today.
Teresa never became a professional pianist, although she continued to play at charity concerts throughout her life. She met Thomas Henry Noel-Hill, 8th Lord Berwick, before the First World War and corresponded with him throughout the war years. Their letters reveal their shared love of the arts and in one letter Teresa mentions meeting ‘Bakst the ballet artist who to my astonishment has made two flattering and rather pre Raphaelite pencil drawings of me! Quite small, done in two mornings.’ She sent one to Lord Berwick and he wrote back:
‘What a delightful new year’s gift you have sent me. A thousand thanks. I like the Bakst drawing immensely, it is a most charming and graceful portrait of you, and a very good likeness, as the artist has given you your eyes and expression, which is the essential I think to make a portrait like the sitter. You could not have sent me anything I liked better as a souvenir of you.’
Following her marriage Teresa wrote for magazines and the articles, kept in a box in the Picture Store, offer a fascinating glimpse into her life and interests. They include an account of attending the coronation of George VI, advice on dressmaking and discuss the dachshunds that she bred.
Some items in the Picture Store are linked to sadder episodes in Attingham’s history. These are the memorial services for Gioconda, Teresa’s sister, and the 8th Lord Berwick. Gioconda died in France in a bus accident in 1940 on her way from Italy to England where she had arranged to live with her sister at Attingham. It was a tragic blow for Teresa. Following the 8th Lord Berwick’s death in 1947 Attingham was transferred to the National Trust to be enjoyed by the nation. It’s nice to think that my work in the Picture Store is continuing to deepen knowledge about the collection and make Attingham’s treasures more accessible.