Grand Dames of North Shropshire

     It would be a disservice to Shropshire to ignore all the marvelous architecture that exists there besides the wonderful castles. English architecture is endlessly fascinating- no matter the era or century- and so I am devoting an entire entry to these Shropshire mansions, outside the subject of castles, on the strength of their diversity and in some cases, unique features. Those I have chosen have been part of a popularity poll between myself and several people to whom I give credit for taste. If I have forgotten something you hold dear please say something in the comments, if you can. Meanwhile, enjoy this collection :

     Starting from north Shropshire, Oakley Hall, which is a few miles northeast of Market Drayton, sits on a hundred acres of lush parkland in St Mary’s parish very close to the Staffordshire border. It is reputed to have a history dating back to 1085 according to the Domesday survey. It was from the 13th century tower of St Mary’s Church at Mucklestone, nearby, that Queen Margaret of Anjou watched the Battle of Blore Heath in 1459 which was won by the House of York. The current mansion is modern by comparison, of course. Oakley’s classical front entrance and Queen Anne exterior overlooks an extensive garden and landscaping that attracts many visitors. 
     However, it is only open to the public through corporate ventures which include weddings, filming, concerts and private functions with a main hall that accommodates 120 people comfortably. This property is privately owned and so offhand visits involve the engagement of the Fisher family who do attend to groups when contacted formally.      
Tel: 01630 653472  
     A short distance away Wollerton Old Hall  is situated off the A53 between Hodnet and Market Drayton. The big draw for this 16th century mansion are the gardens with only the visible exterior available to the public. It is a pleasant view, however, and well worth a day’s visit for the pleasant walks and views surrounding the old mansion. The gardens are divided into six different vistas- three on a north-south side and three more east west with fifteen different themes by flowers or landscaping. This includes an exquisite rose garden.
     A restoration of old and inception of newer plantings was started by John and Lesley Jenkins in August of 1984. This is an opportunity to see many rare and unusual flowers and plants along with hedge bushes and much more.
     Adcote Hall School at Little Ness which is south of Oswestry and only seven miles northwest of Shrewsbury, is now an independent day and boarding school for girls founded in 1907 after a brief stint as a country house built by the Darby family, the founders of Ironbridge. It is a Grade 1 listed mansion which was built in 1879 for Rebecca Darby- a great niece of Abraham Darby under the watchful eye of Richard Norman Shaw. It is Tudor in style with some Art Nouveau interior additions which give it added dimension without taking away from the more traditional inherent forms. The Great Hall is one of those features with its magnificent stone arches under a wooden roof. A large bay window looks out onto Rebecca Darby’s garden which has been faithfully maintained throughout Adcote’s history.
     Early on, Adcote was filled with the extensive art collections of the Darby family eventually being removed to Dudmaston when the school installed its necessary equipment and rudimentary furnishings. There is some symmetry of style between the former dining room and the library with the elaborate plaster ceilings and fireplaces, otherwise Adcote is a study in diversified architecture. It has been suggested that a return of some of the masterpieces sent to Dudmaston might bring back some of its former glory.
Tours are by appointment only. Tel. 01939 260202
     Loton Park, neighbor to Rowton Castle (and in the direct vicinity of Alberbury Castle’s remains) is an oft enlarged country estate which has been in possession of a long line of the Leighton Baronets who go back quite far in Shropshire’s history. This family has Saxon ancestry along with three Welsh princesses in its genealogy and dice was thrown at Ludlow Castle to divide up the inheritance. The name itself is among the oldest in Shropshire, dating back to the early 12th century in the person of Tihel de Lathune. By 1312, many of the Leightons were local MPs continuing up until the 20th century. Even today, it is the private estate of Sir Michael Leighton, the 11th baronet,  and the knowledge of his ancestry and portraiture on the walls makes this already impressive Grade II listed home come alive. 
        The property boasts four hundred acres of parkland and possesses one of the mere two privately-owned deer parks in the entirety of Shropshire. From its position below Breidden Hill near the Severn, it seems to go on forever- dominating the valley of Oswestry. The hall itself boasts a long list of architects over the centuries but its inception in its current form was built late in the 17th century with enlargements made in 1711. It was further extended on the north and remodeled from 1830 to 1838 by Thomas Jones of Chester and then enlarged once more in 1873 with a theatre wing added on the southeast. This work was commissioned by a Lady Leighton whose taste for the theatre resulted in the most intriguing addition to the mansion. With a dais at one end and a gallery on the other it is adorned with lots of hunting trophies and the present baronet’s collection of porcelain depicting birds of prey. The primarily Tudor exterior has some wonderful classical interior that is an absolute feast to tour. Much of the architecture is embellished with minimal unique touches in the details.  Several 18th century chimney pieces were the work of T.F. Pritchard with one known to be heavily restored after a major fire at Loton in 1985.
     A few miles southeast of Shrewsbury, Longner Hall is an interior dream seated in a beautiful woodland paradise near Uffington. The estate has remained in the same family for over 700 years but not a shred of the Elizabethan Manor home remains. This red sandstone Tudor Gothic revival fantasy was designed by John Nash and landscaped by Humphrey Repton in 1803 with stunning results! Only the original service buildings remained, much to the chagrin of Repton who advised the Burton family against rebuilding the house. 
     Thankfully, they used his services for the fabulous landscaping he achieved and refused to listen to advice otherwise. John Nash offered to work in any style they chose. Their selection was the style he preferred. Nash also Gothicized the inner court with a clock tower entrance which prepares you for the delightful L-plan exterior and even more fantastic interior which makes quite a bit of use of fan vaulting and wonderful plasterwork. In the library the plaster is painted to give the appearance of wood. The staircase hall is the showcase of the house, lit up by a large stain-glass window designed by David Evans and offset with a quatrefoil design fireplace. The only departure from gothic is in the dining room which was redone in 1868 in heavy Victorian style and is uncharacteristic to the house in dark tones. Some changes to the chimney piece and ceiling are attributed to E. Swinfen Harris circa 1884.
     Repton’s work included the long drive through the parkland estate along with walks lined with yew trees, borders which made use of roses, shrubs and an ancient yew. An obligatory enclosed garden with an English mix plus garden houses, a tower and game larder are attributed to him. You’ll also find a short woodland walk around the old moat pond which remains.
Contact Mrs Burton   Tel. 01743 709215
     Just southeast of Longner Hall, Attingham Park at Atcham is now owned by the National Trust but was one of the great houses of the Midlands, built by Noel Hill who was the great grandson of Sir Rowland Hill. His inheritance was the lesser family seat of Tern Hall turned over to him in 1768. Four years later he commissioned George Steuart, a James Wyatt adherent, to build Attingham directly in front of the old hall. The result was entirely classical inside and out and rather eccentric during the Regency period. His political status almost commanded that he build such an estate and his marriage to wealth assured its magnificent appearance.
     Repton landscaped the estate in 1797 alongside Thomas Legget. He built a deer park on the estate and the road he installed leads to a classical bridge at midway point giving a marvelous view of the façade of Attingham. Some oak trees on the estate date back to the reign of Henry VII.
     Given the title of Lord Berwick he died young at forty-three in 1789 and thankfully missed the squandering of his money by his son, Thomas. This son did manage to acquire quite a collection of art and installed a gallery with the help of John Nash to house it but by 1827 he was bankrupt and most of the contents of it had to be sold to pay off debts. Two more heirs, Noel Hill’s sons, also bungled their inheritance but the last produced an heir who managed to turn the estate around. That son was Richard Noel Hill, a flutist who was apparently a genius as well. He invented a rifle and produced the famous Attingham herd of Hereford cattle. He also managed to clear away all the debts accrued by the estate and repaired the mansion as well.
     The eighth Lord Berwick was a very social and flamboyant type who married an Italian woman, Teresa, who brought the level of social activity there to an all time high. But that soon fizzled and negotiations between the Hills and James Lees-Milne were underway by 1937 for the National Trust acquisition. The only dichotomy of the house is the fact that it was built on one side to please Lord Berwick and the other half for his wife. This is all best left for a visitor to sort out but it makes for an interesting classical interior which includes statues of Mercury and Minerva.
     The National Trust managed to restore many of the pictures sold from 1827 and they are hung in tiers, which was the custom of the time, in the gallery that Nash built. A restoration program is in progress to restore the interiors. Tours of Attingham are anecdotal and lively and events and family activities are scheduled often.
Tel: 01743 708 123 information
     If you head east of Attingham and Longner toward Telford and turn north on the A442 you’ll find an Edwardian villa at 200 Holyhead Road that has delightful features such as very delicate gingerbread stonework above standard Georgian windows. You are greeted on the front drive with Wellingtonias of massive height lining the way. The last occupant of Sunnycroft was Joan Lander, an unmarried and notable teacher at the Royal School of Needlework, who was commissioned to do work on the coronation gown of Elizabeth II, current monarch of England ! Some examples of her exceptional work can be seen. 
     While it may be true that many thousands of such similar houses were built for prosperous middle class families of the time, this villa is one of the few remaining with the added distinction of being unaltered and with much of the original contents still in situ. The entrance contains portraits of Lander ancestors and the billiard room is decorated with hunting and battle scenes. The Card Players by Victorian artist, Alfred Gilbert hangs in the dining room to wonderful effect. The redbrick exterior features are rather standard with gables, wrap-around veranda and a matching greenhouse but its most distinctive portion is the grand and generous Edwardian staircase and makes the tour a most pleasant view of genteel domestic English charm.
Tel: 01952 242884
     If you are based in Shrewsbury you may want to head over to 126 Barker Street to pay a visit to Rowley’s House Museum. I added a photo of it in my album along with the rest of Shrewsbury but did not include it among the castles although its history and present use merit a good tour when you have the chance. For Shrewsbury, even with the castle and abbey very much present and in wonderful condition- all considering- Rowley’s House is iconic in representing medieval Shrewsbury being the most splendid 17th century timber-framed building still in existence there along with the attached mansion which was built in 1616 (the earliest brick-built mansion in Shrewsbury.) It is suggested that it is the only remaining example of a domestic house also containing a warehouse. It is curiously isolated from the medieval core which remains in Shrewsbury and is surrounded by parking. This area was once a medieval merchant quarter but became run-down to the point of needed demolition. Rowley’s House is a beautiful survivor and contains much of the artifacts of Shrewbury and environs and has since the 1930s.
Tel. 01743 361196
     Heading southeast near Shifnal, which is northwest of Wolverhampton in Staffordshire, Weston Park sits in a thousand acres of landscaped gardens which were, of course, the work of Capability Brown commissioned by Sir Henry Bridgeman of Castle Bromwich late in the 18th century. Its neighbors are the famous Boscobel House, Chillington Hall, Moseley Old Hall and Aston Eyre Hall, all being right on the border of Shropshire and Staffordshire. This Stately Home and Park is the former seat of the Earls of Bradford and was built in 1671 by Lady Elizabeth Wilbraham who is purported to have been the one to design the house, originally. If this claim is true she was the first female architect of England. Mostly likely she followed the Regency style of her day and classic features were added at a much later time and with a long list of architects. The garden buildings were designed by James Paine, particularly the Granary which is now in use as an art gallery. It was built in 1767 and went through several additional changes. When you visit it today it will be difficult to believe that it was converted from a barn, originally.
       The beautiful and famous art collection which fills the house was purchased by Lady Elizabeth’s grandson, the 3rd Earl of Bradford, and includes the works of Van Dyke, Gainsborough and Stubbs among the furniture and objets d’arts. He also made many changes to the house starting early in the 19th century making use of John White’s expertise. Further alterations were commissioned in 1830 of Thomas Rickman and in 1866 the Earl employed William Burn to switch the position of entrance to the east façade of the house, add a guest wing and an orangery which is now effusive with exotic plants to the formal gardens along with new Italianate landscaping to the south and west of the mansion.          
    Its current status is reflected in the current uses of the rich interiors and exteriors. This mansion was chosen by Prime Minister Tony Blair for the G8 Summit retreat which took place in May of 1998 ! It was arranged by the administration of the Weston Park Foundation who now holds the ancestral seat in trust for England and is run as a charitable organization. This status is not unusual because the house also played host to King George V’s daughter Mary as Princess Royal on her honeymoon. Benjamin Disraeli was also a guest and fell in love the beautiful gardens. Many guests who are fortunate to stay overnight there are pleased with the warm but sumptuous atmosphere.
 Tel: 01952 852100
     Boscobel House and the Royal Oak are equally famous for the role they played in history. On September 8, 1651, Charles II showed up on the doorstep after the battle of Worcester trying to escape the Roundheads and Cromwell specifically. Later, he also went to Moseley Old Hall, a short distance south, and was most likely given help to escape to Bristol and then France. This English Heritage property shows very little of age but flaunts its history and with a charm not as apparent in similar buildings of England. It is more of an historical exhibition than a museum but has been well-preserved for its purpose.
     A little over three hundred and fifty nine years ago this 17th century Jacobean hunting lodge was a mere farmhouse which had been the possession of the Cotton family and its large oak tree made history when Charles sought refuge inside the oak which stood close by. Today’s oak is, of course, an ancestor to the original but the fascination remains for many who come to this popular visitation spot. Just southeast of the A41 and nearby Weston Park, Boscobel is at Brewood, Bishop’s Wood on former farmland. It still appears to be a working farm to this day. William Penderel, who leased the house during the Civil War, was in residence in King Charles II’s time. However, it apparently always had a second use as a refuge for catholic clergy and devotees judging from the number of paneled rooms and secret hiding places. The Giffard family who had possession of the house later were also catholics.
    The 16th century range they occupied was upgraded to hunting lodge and the stucco exterior was painted to look like timbering by Walter Evans, who acquired the property in 1812. Its current appearance is based largely on the work he did and was recently restored to the white-painted Evans restoration of 1851. Walter’s reasons for restoration were the Royalist associations implied ever since the salvation of the twenty-one year old King. He should be memorialized for his foresight in Boscobel’s ultimate purpose.  
     Comprised of the Gifford range and the main house, at angles, an interior tour reveals a Tudor hall and parlor which has portrait depictions of King Charles and Cromwell. The mantelpiece has more depictions of Charles’s escape and you’ll hear of other furnishings and artifacts being directly of use by Charles. With replicas becoming more and more prevalent and authentic in appearance it’s difficult to verify the validity of the claims but may be more safe in respect to safeguarding authentic relics, after all. Otherwise, it has been mostly refurnished in the Victorian style.
     Upstairs there is a divided single chamber of which one was a Squire’s Room with a priest’s hole and the other is a furnished bedroom. The attic shows off genuine Jacobean features and contains a hiding place where the young King slept after his uncomfortable night inside the oak tree. This was related to Samuel Pepys by the King himself some time later along with all the other events of the period.   
  (Video clip about the restoration)
Tel. 01902 850244
     If you head back west toward Telford and go three miles south you’ll find Rosehill House just outside Coalbrookdale. This was the house built by Abraham Darby’s son-in-law, Richard Ford in 1738 and it is the house that Rebecca Darby lived until the end of her life. Dale House is right next door on the hill, which is Abraham Darby I’s house but he died before he set foot in it. Both mansions sit above Coalbrookdale with an aristocratic air but Rosehill is definitely prettier. The greatest introduction to Rosehill’s outstanding interior is the pedimented classical door on the exterior.
     It has a rather restrained but very tasteful interior making use of their considerable resources of their own industries. On the walls, besides extensive portraiture of the family, you’ll see pictures of limekilns. The study is filled with company books and the fireplaces are made from Coalbrookdale castings. The bedroom contains Coalport porcelain and the bedstead is made of iron.
     After Rebecca’s passing the house was tenanted until 1951 and was converted to a hotel but by 1975 it was taken on by the Ironbridge Trust and is a museum of a bygone era with restorations recreating its look from the 1850s.
      Ironbridge Gorge Museums Tel. 01952  432166
      Benthall Hall, which is a mile southwest of Ironbridge, had its origins with the de Benetala family who had claim to an estate at Broseley as far back as 1100 most likely in the form of a medieval manor house. The present modified Elizabethan stone hall was built under William Benthall late in the 16th century and because it was Royalist, was garrisoned during the Civil War and suffered several skirmishes. The exterior and interior architecture is superb work and the grounds, though very limited in size comparatively, are very beautiful.
     This modest beauty sits on a plateau west of Ironbridge Gorge sequestered from the new portion of Telford. Its layout is perfection with four centered gables atop two octagonal canted bays with mullioned windows and a projecting solar wing to offset the symmetry along with two large molded brick chimneys. Inside, a wonderful two-storey staircase, built in 1618, enlivens the house with gothic detail. The strapwork balustrade depicts leopards and wyverns, which were a symbol of an important marriage of the time-  Lawrence Benthall to Katherine Cassy. The crowned lion you’ll see was also a Benthall symbol. The newel posts appear Victorian which may be later additions. Many of the decorative features involve these symbols throughout the house. An exquisite plasterwork ceiling, freize and fireplace overmantels incorporate heraldic beasts which mirror the staircase. The latter were Rococo works dating from 1760 and reside in the dining and drawing rooms added by T.F. Pritchard. It will be well pointed out that one piece of furniture remains at Benthall which originally belonged to the house. An oak refectory table still sits in the entrance hall it has occupied since 1640. 
     Thirty generations of Benthalls have lived at the house but there was a period of time when they lost their propriety rights because of financial hardship. They literally sold the property without retaining rights as tenants in the mid-18th century but by 1934 they were able to buy back the estate and in 1958 they sold again to the National Trust under the stipulation that they will continue to occupy the house.
     During the Latter part of the 19th century the Benthalls had the good fortune to have George Maw on the premises. He was England’s foremost botanist of the time and was a prodigious plant collector. He wrote a book specifically on the Crocus and filled the Benthall woodland garden with rare bulbs and alpines he brought back from his expeditions outside of England. These lie to the north of the house on the Shropshire Way, which is a long-distance footpath that runs the length of the woodlands down to the River Severn. Garden terraces beside the house are filled with roses and are additionally surrounded by tree peonies, potentillas, geraniums and more exotic flowers and plants. The designer was Graham Thomas and it was laid out by Robert Bateman over a span of sixteen years! Some of the trees on the outer portions of the lawn include Japanese angelicas.
     It is assumed that the Benthalls were catholic sympathizers from some subtle and not-so-subtle features of the house. The porch entrance has a special hidden room with a quincunx above the door, a symbol of the five wounds of Christ, which would be a secret sign for priests needing refuge. Another is the false floor of the room which was most likely a place to hide their religious vessels, sacraments and artifacts. This particular vantage point would have been a good lookout point and a true sanctuary if they were under scrutiny. That came later when the Benthalls showed support in the Stuart cause.  
      Tours are given in the summer months primarily from April to August.  Tel: 01952 882159
    Not for from Wroxeter  Pitchford Hall  is among England’s finest Elizabethan half timbered houses with the distinction of being Grade I listed. It was first mentioned in the Domesday Book as Piceforde as early as 1081 in which it was described as a crop and pig farm. The owners were listed as Edric, Leofric and Wulfric with three separate manors. Whatever was put up at that time is long gone but historical records indicate that medieval residences occupied the area from 1284 until 1431 and portions of these earlier dwellings may still be incorporated within the fabric of the current west wing of the present hall. This 16th century mansion was continually altered  through the centuries and only the drawing room still contains paneling and a ceiling which dates back to 1626.
    Some time during the reign of Henry VIII during the persecution, a Priest’s Hole was installed in the house. Prince Rupert is said to have hidden there from the Parliamentarians. Another royal to visit was Princess Victoria in 1832 with her mother and her diary described the house as curious looking but very comfortable. Her acquaintance with such dwellings was minimal at best and even to the modern eye a black and white timber framed building is a bit of a shock to the system. Pitchford was one among three houses considered a safe refuge for the royal family during WWII and was probably considered for its sequestered location.
     At present it is owned by a private party so no tours are possible. To see the mansion close-up, if you can get onto the property to see the church, it’s possible to get a good look and photos depending on your camera. Tip: Tell them you’re a Pitchford.  an interesting web site put up by David Pitchford
     North of Bridgnorth just outside of Stockton, Apley Hall is a gothic revival delight ! This English mansion was finished in 1811 seated on 180 acres of private parkland with the Severn running alongside the property. As the estate of the Whitmore, Foster and Avery families it is officially the largest mansion in the county of Shropshire.
     Whitmores were the first landowners beginning in the latter part of the 16th century and started with a Georgian style house which was remodeled much later during the Regency era in Gothic style between 1808 and 1811 commissioned by Thomas Whitmore who was the High Sheriff of Shropshire at the time and later became a member of Parliament for Bridgnorth. The remodeling was designed by the Thomas Wyatt branch of the Wyatt family with construction by the Carline family who were Shrewsbury architects. This involved adding a chapel in a wing behind the main block and polygonal turrets and battlements.
     During the early Victorian period in 1867, the Foster family purchased the entire property for a large amount of money and remodeled it without changing the basic style. During this phase of its occupation by the Fosters, the famous English eccentric Baron Gerald Tynwhitt-Wilson, a relation to the Fosters, was born at Apley Hall in 1883. During that period Gothic revival incorporated Rococo embellishments although it may have been difficult to keep in good condition in later years due to its eventual abandonment by 1987. The direct Foster family line died out by 1960 and most distant relations were unwilling to occupy the house since the upkeep was substantial and required more money than most were willing to accept as a responsibility. A private school was started there in 1962 but closed its doors to students in 1987. It was put on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register sometime later during the next ten years because of natural deterioration and vandalism which is becoming prevalent with abandoned homes. In 1997 Neil Avery, who is conservation specialist took on Apley as a family home and restored the mansion to its former glory thereby making it possible to remove the building off of the list.
     Most recently it has been divided up into self-contained units and is now rented out to apartment dwellers. As a result it is not normally open to the public and limited viewing is possible only by contacting the owners on the Apley Estate. Contacts may be reached at Apley Hall Restoration Ltd., Bridgnorth, WV15 5ND 
Only grand kisses from
The Castle Lady
     Lots of big photos will go up very soon of all these wonderful houses on the Shropshire album. Maybe tomorrow.  Stay tuned ! ! !

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One Response to Grand Dames of North Shropshire

  1. santos says:

    Thank you for sharing valuable information. Nice post. I enjoyed reading it. The whole blog is very nice found some good stuff and good information here. Thanks.


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