Aristocratic tenants of the National Trust; Shugborough House, Staffordshire

Shugborough Hall, Staffordshire (Image: Neilsvrx via flickr)

Shugborough Hall, Staffordshire (Image: Neilsvrx via flickr)

The news that the area of Shugborough House open to the public is to ‘double in size’ with the inclusion of the Lichfield family apartment, is a reminder of just how advantageous some of the deals were for the owners who gave their houses to the National Trust.  The Trust today is perhaps almost best known for its country houses which form an important part of its work.  However the houses were not simply museums but, due to the often very generous terms under which the families ‘gifted’ the houses, they were often able to stay on in private apartments.

When founded in 1895, the original aims of the National Trust were very much focussed on the preservation of countryside with houses only coming later. The first house the NT acquired was Barrington Court, Somerset in 1907 but the unexpectedly high cost of maintenance and repairs meant that another wasn’t acquired for over 30 years.  With the first crisis period of the country house in the 1930s, leading to many demolitions, there was a growing realisation that the National Trust was well placed to rescue some of the threatened homes.  In 1936 they set up a ‘Country House Committee’ in response to the suggestion of Philip Kerr, the 11th Marquess of Lothian at the 1934 AGM that the NT should be able to accept the gift of country houses, with endowments in land or capital, free of tax. This new regime was then given legislative powers through the National Trust Act of 1937 with Lothian then providing the first donation of one of his four great houses, Blickling Hall with its 4,760 acres, in 1940. To help guide them, Country Life magazine was asked to draw up a list of those properties (which totalled 60 larger and 600 smaller houses) which ought to be saved for the nation.

Having created the legislative backing the NT was well placed in the second period of crisis in the immediate post-war period when the tireless, if not faultless, Secretary of the Committee, James Lees-Milne, travelled up and down the country persuading owners to part with their inheritance.  He was helped by the pernicious, and still highly damaging, death duties which, since 1904 had risen from 8% (for estates valued at over £1m) to 50% by 1934, leading to massive sales of land and contents to fund the demands of the ever-grasping Exchequer.  The multiple sets of duties levelled against the aristocratic families who had sometimes lost father and then son in WWI (and who had been particularly vulnerable as they were often officers and so first over the top) meant estates were inherited by an uncle with no deep connection to a house and estate who would happily sell up.  However, for some who were loathe to simply sell, the National Trust seemed to offer an attractive alternative where someone else would pay the maintenance bills whilst they were still able to live in the house.

The degree to which the family remained in the house was sometimes simply down to how well the family had negotiated with the NT and dependent on the chips they had to bargain with.  For some such as Lord Faringdon at Buscot Park where he retains ownership of the contents, this is powerful position as the house would be severely diminished without the collection of furniture and art.  For others such as Throckmorton family at Coughton Court and the Dashwoods at the glorious West Wycombe Park, long leases (250-300 years) ensure their continued presence.  For some, the pre-eminent importance of the house gave them the edge with Sackvilles at Knole, an Elizabethan treasure-house, living in a large section of the house and still owning vital parts of the house and the entire 1000-acre parkland.  At other houses, the family remain living in the almost the whole house but with almost all the rooms open to the public such as at Anthony where the Carew-Pole family have just a small kitchen and sitting room as their own.  For others such as the Hyde-Parkers at Melford Hall they were retained by the NT as the paid administrators of their own family home which is almost completely open.  Other families like the Lucy’s at Charlecote Park have just a private wing or simply a flat in a wing such as the Drewe’s at Castle Drogo.

For the grade-I listed Shugborough House, begun in 1695, the elegant enlargement and magnificent plasterwork and decoration by James ‘Athenian’ Stuart between 1760-70, ensured that the house would always be on the list of ‘major’ houses to be saved.  When the then Lord Lichfield gave the house and 900-acre estate to the NT in 1966 in lieu of death duties the agreement regarding the house only included the state rooms on the ground floor and a small section of the first floor with the rest was leased as private apartment for the family.  The rooms to now be opened include the Boudoir with original real silver leaf wallpaper dating from 1794, and the impressive Bird room which was Lord Lichfield’s private drawing room.  The 6th Earl of Lichfield has now surrendered the lease allowing Staffordshire County Council, who run the house on behalf of the NT, to include the rest of the ground and entire upper floors.

It may seem like a strange anachronism to have the donor family still living and enjoying the family seat (although they pay rent) whilst having the National Trust pick up most of the bills for maintenance. However, the family add a rich layer of history and their commitment to the care of the houses is second-to-none with their residence helping the houses avoid the awful fate highlighted by Philip Kerr that ‘nothing is more melancholy than to visit these ancient houses after they have been turned into public museums’.

Full press release: ‘Shugborough mansion is set to double in size‘ [Shugborough Hall]

Superb post by Fugitive Ink on ‘James Lees-Milne and the National Trust‘ [fugitiveink.wordpress.com]

Thanks to Andrew for original link.

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About Matthew Beckett - The Country Seat

An amateur architectural historian with a particular love of UK country houses in all their many varied and beautiful forms.
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2 Responses to Aristocratic tenants of the National Trust; Shugborough House, Staffordshire

  1. Andrew says:

    It would be interesting to know why Thomas (Tom) Anson, the 32-year-old 6th Earl of Lichfield, surrendered the private apartments lease to the County Council, rather than sub-letting it back, and whether that has now closed the door on any future Earls taking up residence again in Shugborough Hall. Some press has given the reason as the Earl wishing to “move south with his new bride” of 7 months, but I can’t help wondering if the real reason is his lack of interest and connection to the house, along with the limited privacy during the periods when the house and grounds are open to the public (March to December). The 5th Earl lived down ‘south’ in London and still managed the 3-hour drive to use Shugborough as a weekend retreat. However, the 5th Earl had grown up at Shugborough Hall while it was still completely a family home, so would have fonder memories of the house as it was in its grander private days, whereas the 6th Earl was born 12 years after the Hall had been given to the NT, thereby never having that experience or an opportunity for a stronger attachment. It is doubtful the reason would be the high cost of leasing the private apartments, as the Earl’s uncle is the 6th Duke of Westminster, ranked no. 3 in the Times Rich List 2010 with £6.75 billion, and his father-in-law the 8th Marquess Conyngham of Slane Castle in Ireland. However, with the Earl’s simple wedding in December at the Chelsea Register Office, you may wonder if pomp and grandeur are not his thing, or perhaps he has other priorities for his time, especially as his new wife is a holistic massage therapist, so at least this story has a happy ending!

    Further details about some of the rooms to be opened for the first time next March –

    http://www.shugboroughrevisited.com/shugrevisited_Explore.html

  2. Andrew says:

    Following on from Matt’s Shugborough Hall tweet yesterday, about the Staffordshire County Council copying the National Trust by creating a ‘just lived in’ look in the new rooms, here are some recent photos of its Private Apartments, including the Green Sitting Room, the Boudoir and the Breakfast Room, which open to the public from 18 March. But regarding the “riding boots … casually left in a corner” of the Green Sitting Room, I really do wonder who in a stately home keeps their riding boots in a sitting room, rather than a boot room or dressing room? There is ‘lived in’, and then there is just plain silly!

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