This year we are celebrating 10 years since the start of the Attingham Re-discovered project in 2006. Each month we are focusing on a room in the Mansion and how that room has evolved over time. This month we are looking at the Inner Library and the West Ante Room.
Re-discovering the Inner Library
The Inner Library was designed as a breakfast room in 1782 for Noel Hill, 1st Lord Berwick. His son, who became the 2nd Lord Berwick in 1789, was such an avid book collector that he had the room converted into a library in the early 1800s.
The 2nd Lord Berwick employed the architect, John Nash, to work on Attingham Hall. In c.1805, Nash designed the pink trompe l’oeil (‘fool the eye’) decorative scheme on the ceiling. Nash’s designs were at the height of fashion, as were the bold colours and sense of illusion in the decorative scheme.
The walls of the Inner Library were painted red, a popular Regency colour choice associated with strength and masculinity. The dado was painted to imitate grey marbling, similar to that in the Entrance Hall. In 1827, the carpet was a crimson-ground Axminster and there was a ‘slate and stone colour octagon roset-pattern Floor Cloth’ like the one in the Entrance Hall.
Thomas Donaldson, a Shrewsbury carver and gilder, fitted the lattice work doors in 1812. The open lattices prevent conditions in the bookcases getting damp, so are ideal for preserving the book collection.
In the twentieth century, the ceiling and dado decoration were painted over in white. As part of the Attingham Re-discovered project, in 2001, the white paint was removed from the ceiling to reveal John Nash’s decoration and the dado decoration was partially revealed on the dado ten years later.
In 2011, re-created curtains, poles and finials were installed to represent the look of the room in the Regency period. They were re-created using surviving samples and documentary descriptions.
Rediscovering the West-Ante Room
It is not entirely clear how the West Ante-Room was first used when built in the 1780s but in the 1810s it became a library space for Thomas, 2nd Lord Berwick. At this time, it would have been one of five library spaces in the new Attingham Hall building which encircled the old house, Tern Hall (demolished 1856/7). The room had grey painted walls with a wood graining scheme on the dado. The curtains would have been pink and hung above the blue and crimson scroll-pattern carpet.
In 1921 the room was painted pale grey with white woodwork and used as the 8th Lord Berwick’s writing room. The marble fire surround was removed by the Adult Education College (1948-76) to create space for office furniture when the room was used as the college secretary’s office.
The Attingham Re-discovered project has been reviving the mansion since 2006. The decorative scheme of the early 1800s was restored between 2008 and 2010. The fireplace was returned and the Regency decorative scheme replicated. In 2013 the finishing touch was added when Attingham books were put back into the cases.
A passion for books
Thomas, 2nd Lord Berwick (1770-1832) was a patron of art and his extravagant tastes almost lead to bankruptcy. The road to ruin began during his Grand Tour (1792-4). He travelled to Italy with his tutor, Edward Daniel Clarke, whose biography describing the trip is displayed in the Inner Library today. The many souvenirs that Thomas collected included books and he developed a special interest in early manuscripts. Thomas was invested as a Fellow in the Society of Antiquaries in 1801.
His library was a splendid sight as he commissioned bindings in London and employed local bookbinder Eddowes. Books were status symbols and collecting was one way in which Lord Berwick, who was nervous in society, may have attempted to impress acquaintances.
Lord Berwick became increasingly extravagant, amassing over 3,000 volumes. In 1809 he had a small number of catalogues printed to list his collection. As part of the Re-discovered project, we had two copies made for visitors to browse.
Bibliomania was a popular craze amongst Regency aristocrats, satirised in a poem by Thomas Dibdin (1809) that praised the 3rd Duke of Roxburge’s library. The sale of the Duke’s library in 1812 was eagerly attended and marked the founding of the Roxburge Society, one Britain’s oldest bibliophilic societies. The Berwicks’ neighbours, the Heber family and J.A.Lloyd of Leaton Knolls, were members of the Roxburghe Club. Amongst the books sold was a first edition of Boccaccio printed in 1471 that made £2,260, a record that stood for over sixty years. The Marquis of Blandford and the 2nd Earl Spencer fought over the Boccaccio. Blandford won but when he sold his library in 1819 to pay off debts, Spencer bought the Boccaccio for just £918.15s!
For sources and further information, see a blog post on the Roxburge sale and
A Catalogue of the Library of the Late John, Duke of Roxburghe and a page on bibliomania.
Reading into ruin
The 2nd Lord Berwick’s extravagant spending was not helped when in 1812, aged forty-one, he married Sophia, a seventeen-year-old courtesan, whom he lavished with gifts. Harriette Wilson, Sophia’s sister, describes their route to ruin in her memoirs that are currently displayed in the Inner Library today. Lord Berwick’s cousin, Edward Burton, warned Thomas: ‘I fear you will go on until your affairs are quite unmanageable.’
In the late 1820s, Lord Berwick moved to Italy and in 1827 he was forced to auction many of his possessions in a sale that took sixteen days and was in 213 lots. Most of his books were sold and further sale occurred in 1829. Upon his death in 1832, Attingham then entered the care of his younger brother, William. William, 3rd Lord Berwick also collected books and around 9,000 volumes owned by him were sold after his death in 1842, although some of his books remain in the cabinets today.
Were the books actually read?
All the books currently in the Inner Library belonged to the family. They are of varied dates and most show marks of wear that indicate they have been read at some point by the family or their guests. The collection mostly dates from the mid-1600s to the early 1900s and includes novels, poetry, art, history, travel, bird, botanical, geography and law books.
Amongst the most fascinating are the schoolbooks used by Noel, 1st Lord Berwick, and his siblings. Samuel, Noel’s elder brother who died young, seems to have been a budding artist and used blank pages for sketches and caricatures.