If Attingham Park was a person, it would definitely have a split personality. When you enter through the front door, if you turn left you are greeted by a feminine whirl of muted pastels, exquisite gilding and beautifully rendered flowers, birds and cherubs. If you turn right you are encased in a masculine atmosphere of strong colours and family portraits – you can almost smell the cigar smoke!
This ‘split’ design was very much en vogue in France when Attingham Hall was first commissioned by Noel Hill, 1st Baron Berwick, and his wife Anne Vernon in 1782. The house is also full of Italian treasures as several previous owners of the house had strong links to the country – the 3rd Lord Berwick lived in Italy for 28 years as a British diplomat, and the wife of the 8th Lord Berwick grew up in Venice.
My favourite room in the house was the ultra-feminine boudoir. Its a haven of pastel colours and gilding, designed for the 1st Lady Berwick. The room also features a trompe-l’oeil design effect – the round room appears to have five doors, but only two of these are real!
Another one of Attingham’s highlights is it’s picture gallery – it was added in the early 1800s by the Regency architect John Nash. It contains many of the paintings sold at auction in 1827 by the 2nd Lord Berwick and his courtesan wife Sophia to pay off their extensive debts, that have been reacquired over time.
‘Downstairs’ is also relatively complete and full of hands-on activities for the inquisitive young historian!
As with many country piles, fortunes declined in the 20th century. Fortunately, the 8th Lord Berwick who eventually gifted Attingham to the National Trust had the foresight to keep as much of the art and contents as possible, resulting in the preservation of one of the most complete late Georgian country house estates in England.
Attingham Park also has extensive grounds to discover, which unfortunately I didn’t have the time to do much of on this occasion. I did have enough time to have a quick peak at the extensive walled garden which has been lovingly restored and is thoroughly worth a visit.
Attingham Park is only four miles south-east of Shrewsbury, and is a wonderful stop if you are in that part of the world. If you have time, you can also explore the historic town of Shrewsbury, including its wonderful churches.