Grand Dames of South Shropshire

      The second home of the Darbys, Dudmaston is just south of  Bridgnorth near Quatt. Its hillside location and nine acres of lakeside walk coupled with its beautiful 17th century Palladian exterior and landscaping are almost breathtaking. Inside, most of the art treasures that once populated Adcote, before students, grace the walls and halls along with the Labouchere collection, all of which was acquired by the National Trust along with the house in 1978. Its galleries were brought together by Sir George Labouchere, a diplomat, and his wife Rachel’s collection of botanical drawings and watercolors were included. Rachel was a Darby and made it possible for most of the family art collection to be brought to Dudmaston. Many art sculptures adorn the gardens and walks which are extensive here.  Some of the walking routes on the estate go for miles- many of which have their own car parks.
     This mansion was rebuilt it 1695 but the estate was in continuous family ownership from the 12th century clear up to the National Trust acquisition.  The rebuilder was Thomas Wolryche who was in a long line of successive Wolryches who acquired the property in 1403 through marriage to a family which had been granted the estate by Henry I. Through the centuries the house passed to the Whitmores and Laings who merged their names with Wolrych as part of their inheritance. Thomas Wolryche commissioned the Smiths of Warwick for the design of the home and its interior is basically classical. The setting above a slope down to the Valley Severn makes it look exquisite with terraced lawns which swoop down into the Dingle and Big Pool. Inside, a Regency library and most of the house is devoted to the art that graces it. Only the rooms occupied by the family are kept separated which gives a feeling that this is more an art museum than a residence. You’ll find the collection is extensive, famous and well appointed.    
Tel. 01746 780744
     Further south and west of Bridgnorth, Morville Hall, would appear to be an eclectic version of a Palladian Villa with Georgian features added. The architecture may not make sense on paper but it is certainly interesting to view and is definitely unique until the interior is toured. Inside, Elizabethan features reign which makes sense since the original house was most likely built during that period. This National Trust property is tenanted and maintained well by two extraordinary people, Dr. and Mrs Douglas who have furnished the interior appropriate to the period of the individual rooms and many of their own collection. Over the past twenty years many changes have been made but the plasterwork has survived  and the original two Elizabethan spiral stairs remain.
     Mrs Douglas has done all the work in restoring the gardens which includes a parterre and rose garden. A yew hedge with a maze exists and even a small vineyard. Footpaths are evident on the grounds and extensive archaeological surveys have been conducted on the grounds and the woodlands surrounding the estate showing evidence of medieval industry.
       What may be more interesting is earthwork evidence on the property of a possible castle. On the same grounds Morville Church, a Saxon minster which was served by eight canons, was granted to the Benedictine Abbey of Shrewsbury by Roger de Montgomery circa 1080. This may certainly show that the entire site has more history connected to it than the evidence which now exists would indicate. A survey conducted in April and May of 2006 revealed sixty previously unidentified sites and enriched the data in significant detail of some previous records. These included the evolution of the agricultural building in and around the settlement.
Tel.  01746 780838
     South of Much Wenlock, in countryside about ten miles west of Bridgnorth, Shipton Hall, which was built in 1587 in Elizabethan style in rough grey limestone has a very sedate and mild exterior with an eclectic interior reflecting the unusual vicissitudes of its history.
     It overlooks the upward sweep of the upper portion of Corvedale Valley with a mellow elegance sitting amidst a splendid old English garden without smugness. The initial view is of the older exterior some of which has even been incorporated into the house as a whole. As a wedding gift to his daughter, Richard Lutwyche rebuilt an earlier (and much older) black and white timbered house which had been reduced by fire early in the 16th century. Evidence suggests that the remains of a 13th century manor house existed on the property with some parts still retained within the present H-plan structure! It is known that the property belonged to Much Wenlock Priory in medieval times.
     Lutwyche’s daughter married into the Mytton family and it remained in that family for 300 years. The façade has two flanking wings with an offset tower and has an unusual sideways entrance. It was likely part of a former belvedere because they were in fashion at the time.
     The Rococo interiors are the work of T.F. Pritchard who was employed by the Mytton family in the 1760s. The equivalent of a great hall has four grand pedimented doorways at each corner of the hall with Rococo foliage and Mytton coat-of-arms on the overmantel of the fireplace. He was responsible for the delicate work on the mantelpiece in the sitting room, as well but his most wonderful work at Shipton is the staircase, by far. With the intricate ceiling in a gothic style similar to his work at Croft Castle in Herefordshire (just across the border) along with the classical hall, gothic staircase, the library overmantel was even more modern for the time in neo-Mannerist which is actually Rococo at its most flamboyant. If you visit it you might want to note that the old bookcases house a rare Georgian gentleman’s collection in good condition ! Additionally, he added Tudor and Jacobean paneling showing himself at his most versatile.
     In the older portion of the house a selection of bedrooms retain the original Elizabethan paneling. It is purported that one of the upstairs bedrooms was a one night sleepover for Queen Elizabeth when she became lost on a journey between Shrewsbury and Ludlow. In another bedroom one of the Mytton girls was locked away in 1792 because she tried to elope with a disapproved suitor. A crude engraving of her remorse is etched on the window pane. The story comes out better than usual, though. Eventually she won her father’s approval to the match. All’s well that ends well ! 
     On the grounds you’ll find a stable block built by T.F. Pritchard, a medieval dovecote to explore (north of the house) and the parish church of St James which has Saxon origins dating back to the 10th century, includes a Norman tower and a chancel built at the same time as the rebuilt hall. Some remains of the medieval village of Shipton are also present !
Mrs M.J. Bishop  Tel. 01746 785225
     Going as far south to Cleobury Mortimer, Detton Hall is seated one mile north on a 371 acre estate near Neen Savage in farmland. It seems a most unlikely place to find a restored Tudor mansion but it was, at one time, derelict and nearly unredeemable. It dates from the 14th century and many Tudor features were retained within a basically Elizabethan structure with marvelous gables, oak staircase and Jacobean kitchen. It boasts eight bedrooms and many rooms were restructured for different purposes. The craftsman and builder, Eric Ratcliff, who restored the mansion to its former glory was a tenant farmer until he purchased the house in 1952.  
     Owned by the Detton family at one time, it passed through several well-known families as the Cresswells, Botfields and Moses Cadwallader. However, Detton was mentioned in the Domesday Book and according to records has only changed hands six times before the purchase by the Ratcliff family. Before their takeover in 1952 the last recorded sale of the house was in 1710. Arthur and Clare Ratcliff turned it into a ranch and had a going meat market up until recently. The remainder of the Ratcliff family have backed out of continuing the business and the entire complex was closed and put up for sale this year.
     To be able to visit and tour this house is a real treat. Most may never know what marvelous changes were made to this delightfully rebuilt manor. In the words of Simon Jenkins, “Detton is a house of surprise and pleasure.”    


Detton Hall Farm   Tel: 01299 270173,    e-mail:


     Mawley Hall a short distance away (two and a half miles southeast) is well planted by the River Rea with extensive walks and gardens that reach down to its banks. This National Trust property is filled with a wonderful collection of English and Continental furnishings and porcelain and the interior is not betrayed by the staid rectangular Georgian exterior.
     In 1728 Sir Edward Blount, who owned the large estate, commissioned Francis Smith of Warwick to create this stately mansion. Two years later the finished mansion was completed to Georgian perfection, if that can be seen in the nearly ostentatious exotic interior it exemplifies. The north east central entrance front reaches the full three storey height with Doric pilasters and a pediment while the garden front, which faces the south west, is similar in design with an approach of a double flight of steps with wrought iron balustrades.


     You’ll find Italian plasterwork, possibly done by Francesco Vassalli, throughout the interiors imparting a textured background. A bi-level grand staircase, sporting a carved serpentine handrail delineates all the angles without punctuating them. Multiple rusticated arched  entrance colonnades makes for a temple-like atmosphere and these are reflected in the interior niches with busts of Roman emperors and mythological characters and later in the statues which line the gardens. The formal promenade in the house is redundant to the landing and only one bedroom contains plasterwork to match much of the interior. Nevertheless, the artwork of all the workmen is apparent and Mawley can be officially marked as an architectural triumph. T.F. Pritchard was brought in for the apsed (classically recessed) dining room and he finished it in Adamic style which became popular much later in the 18th century. 
     A marquetry room is marvelous in that its walls and floors are inlaid with nearly every type of wood acceptable for such work- oak, elm, yew, ebony and even ivory. Carved doors, chimneypieces and overmantels along with Rococo ceilings are everywhere. 
     In 1962, after continuous occupation by the Blount family, the house was sold to Anthony Galliers Pratt whose family has also been in occupation up to the present. They carried out a complete restoration along with the addition of landscaping the parkland and have had the house open to the public for decades.

e-mail   tel. 01299 270869
     On the edge of the Clun Forest, Walcot Hall which is northwest of Stokesay Castle and close to Bishops Castle at Lydbury North, was the Georgian seat of Lord Clive of India. Shropshire was his ancestral county and he established his political base there, becoming lord lieutenant, after making his name and fortune in India. 
     This country villa extraordinaire had its beginnings in the 12th century when the property was acquired by the Walcot family. Lord Clive purchased the entire estate in 1763 when he was Lord Governor of Bengal and commissioned William Chambers to remodel the house and stable block. Seated high between the forest and Long Mynd, it is reached by a long drive between two lakes. 
     The plan was simple enough. It is an eleven-bay square with a basic and modest Doric portico in dark red brick. All the final changes to it were made in the 20th century which included a higher pedimental delineation and some sized-up modifications to a cluster of Georgian rooms which center around the entrance hall. From a massive central staircase, which rises 50 feet, the landing appears even larger and is lit up with a large bow window looking out onto a courtyard below. Beyond that is a detached ballroom. This was added in 1804 when, after marriage to an heiress to the Earls of Powis, Lord Clive’s son made several additions to Walcot  including the ballroom wing, improvement of the grounds and developing over thirty acres of arboretum and pools and mile-long lakes in the front. Even so, this became the secondary residence until 1933 when much of the proprietary contents were taken to Powis Castle and the estate sold to Ronald and Noel Stevens.
     Under their jurisdiction a private zoo and bird sanctuary was installed and they commissioned A.T. Butler to demolish part of the 19th century additions that Lord Clive’s son made but not extensively. The arboretum can still be visited and much of the house. The interiors to the original house were remodeled in neo-Georgian and this is the style which remains today. Now owned by the Parish family it has been used for apartments and long-term visitors and vacationers have accommodations made available in ten separate units. 
Tel: 01588 680570    just off  B4385
With embraces extraordinaire,
The Castle Lady  
 I have a very important announcement about this blog coming up this week. Check back often.



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