Saturday 5 May 2018

Shugborough Estate

I'd been hearing great things about Shugborough near Stafford. However, the tipping point for me actually beetling up there as fast as I could wasn't the scones or the impressive mansion. It was this photo:

I will explain it to you, just in case your eyes are going wibbly with the whole AMAZINGNESS of it - it's basically Lord Lichfield (aka Patrick Lichfield, fashion and society photographer) with his weather-defying bouffant hair, aviator sunglasses, jaunty scarf, and leather jacket, on a motorbike. With Britt Ekland.

There is a connection, just in case you think I have finally taken leave of my senses: Lord Lichfield's family owned the Shugborough Estate until it was given to the National Trust after his grandfather died in 1960. Our debonair friend above actually had apartments in the house until his own death in 2005.

Shugborough mansion

In fact, Pat's apartments were the highlight of my visit today, so without further ado let me tell you about Shugborough:

1. Patrick Lichfield's apartments
Top tip: make sure you go and get a timed ticket for Patrick's rooms as early as you can. I had been tipped off by one of my tribe of National Trust scone fans, Natalie Randall, that I would need to look lively, and she was right - I was nearly thwarted by a COACH PARTY. I ask you.

Anyway. You can't take pictures in the family apartments but you can see where he lived and worked (including a kitchen that is straight outta 1986). The walls are covered in pictures - of Princess Margaret and her friends on holiday (she is lying on a chaise longue while they all stand around her - I'm going to try that with my own friends at the soonest opportunity), Princess Anne on a motorbike, Patrick himself, other royals, Patrick himself, Mick Jagger, oh look there's Patrick again etc. 

2. The mansion
The Shugborough Estate was bought by the Anson family in 1625 (Patrick Lichfield's surname was actually Anson) but it wasn't always so grand. Two brothers really established the estate we see today; 
  • George Anson (aka Admiral Lord Anson) was a hugely courageous and successful sailor - he was the second British person to circumnavigate the globe (after Francis Drake) on a treacherous journey that took almost four years and ended in 1744. He had 961 men when he set off but his crew was decimated by scurvy and dysentery and all sorts of other disasters. He made a huge amount of money from attacking Spanish ships, however, and it was that money that was used to extend Shugborough.
  • Thomas Anson, brother of George, was the elder son and heir of Shugborough. He spent George's money building and landscaping Shugborough to create an estate fit for a successful family.
Library Shugborough
The Library was one of the rooms built by Thomas Anson - you'll
just have to pretend you can't see the tool box or the table.
  • Thomas was eventally succeeded by his great-nephew in 1789, who worked with the architect Samuel Wyatt to make further improvements to Shugborough
  • But then along came his son, another Thomas, who was made Earl of Lichfield in 1831. He frittered away the family fortune (there's always one), ended up in financial ruin, and had to sell off a lot of Shugborough's furniture, artworks, and books.
  • Subsequent earls tried to manage the debts and keep the estate going, but it was offered to the National Trust in 1960. Staffordshire County Council maintained it for many years until the NT took control in 2016.

4. Highlights of the gardens
Thomas Anson also installed a number of buildings and monuments within the gardens. The Chinese House was probably my favourite - it was built to house Admiral Anson's collection of artefacts that he brought back from China. 

I also liked The Ruins - especially the sign explaining that the Ruins were almost ruined when the National Trust took over and had to be rescued.

It's also customary on this blog that there is always a feature of the estate that I don't actually see and today it was Hadrian's Arch - I did mean to walk up there but somehow the day ran away with me:

Hadrians Arch Shugborough

5. The Cat Monument
The cat momument was slightly disappointing, if I'm truly honest. It's not known if the monument celebrates a cat that circumnavigated the globe with Admiral Anson, or a different cat who just stayed at home. If one cat really did survive four years on a boat, when hundreds of sailors didn't, it deserved more than just a monument.

Cat monument Shugborough

And that's just part of what Shugborough has to offer - it's a big, varied estate that could keep you entertained for hours. I would go as far as to say that it's one of the best National Trust properties that I've ever been to.

But did they deliver on the all-important scone front? Shugborough had been getting RAVE reviews from my fellow scone aficionados - a honey scone that had been on offer last weekend had sent everyone WILD (well, two people). 

So I'm very pleased to report that the Shugborough fruit scone was indeed absolutely superb. Fresh, fluffy on the inside, crisp on the outside, and served with Rodda's that didn't need a pick-axe. Perfect. 

Shugborough scone

BUT! In the words of be-wellied Irish comic Jimmy Kricket, THERE WAS MORE: Lemon & Cranberry scones were also available (next to a copy of the Book of Scones - they know the way to a girl's heart at Shuggers). There was nothing else for it - I had to risk looking like a glutton and try one. It was delicious - light, very lemony, and fresh. They know how to bake scones at Shugborough.

Shugborough lemon scone
I am aware that Patrick Lichfield would NOT approve of this horrendous photo
but I was so keen to start eating that all composition went out of the window
I will close with a mention of Patrick Lichfield's autobiography. I am only on page two but it already promises to be a ripping yarn. Sample line: "Officially he was the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, Viscount Lyon and Baron Glamis, Tannadyce, Sidlaw and Strathdichtie, Baron Bowes, of Streatlam Castle, County Durham and Lunedale, County York. We called him Big Grandpa."

By the way - the book is called 'Not The Whole Truth'. It says a lot about me that when one of the volunteer guides mentioned the book's title today I conspiratorially asked "do you think he made a lot of it up then?" to which he replied, patiently and courteously while probably inwardly asking himself why they let people like me in to stately homes, "I think more likely he left a lot out?" 

Anyway - I'll update late with any fascinating factoids. Stand by!

Shugborough: a resounding 5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Derring-do of Admiral Anson's cat that sailed around Cape Horn and went to China while mine lies on the spare bed all day: 5 out of 5

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