Rowland Hill a Draper did well for himself, so much so that he became the first Protestant Mayor of London. He needed a country property to bolster his new found prosperity. He bought Hawkestone Park. After a few generations a Richard Hill obtained the post of Deputy General Paymaster to the Army. He did very well, though his activities came under scrutiny as did the Paymaster himself. The Paymaster was taken to court but was acquitted.
As a result of this increased income and position Richard decided to expand his country property so he bought the Attingham estate. He died without issue and the estate devolved to a nephew Thomas Harwood.
Thomas Harwood changed his name to Hill. When his father died he inherited money so built himself a nice little property on the Attingham estate, Tern Hall. He then let a nearby property to an Iron master to build a forge, seemingly having no idea what sort of impact this would have on his own property. He promptly moved back to London. He married twice when he died Noel the son of his second wife inherited.
Noel went into politics and supported Pitt, as a result of this was raised to the Peerage as Lord Berwick. He took the name of a small hamlet near Attingham for his title. As a result of this advancement he decided he needed a bigger house in keeping with his title. He employed George Stewart to design and build him one at Attingham.
From the Shrewsbury Road the house is very impressive but in fact is all frontage incorporating Tern Hall, even the cladding is thin like tiles. He saved his money for the interior. Dorothy’s pictures showed plaster mouldings in the drawing and dining rooms. These were similar in both rooms but the roundels which were filled with paintings in the dining room were empty in the drawing room. Did guests only see the dining room? The carpet in the dining room is one of the best in the National Trust Collection, this is fading so that the Trust is now forced to keep the shutters closed and as a result display the room as it was meant to be seen. There is a boudoir which also has a fine 18th century wall paintings.
Up to now it seemed that this family had a series of sensible hard working successful people accumulating wealth now Dorothy told us about what must be their black sheep.
Thomas Noel Hill inherited and set out on the Grand Tour. He avoided France and Bonaparte and headed for Italy where he spent and spent on paintings, sculpture and ceramics. On his return he had so much that he could not house it. He needed somewhere to display it he asked John Nash to provide him with a gallery. Nash may have been the pre-eminent designer of his time with imaginative designs, but it seems his workmanship was less so. His scheme for a gallery for this house involved knocking through two rooms and the staircase, leaving a gallery in the middle of the building with no windows. To provide light he cut through the earlier roof and installed a skylight. In doing this he cut through the roof beams leaving the roof partially unsupported. My Uncle had a saying “It can’t fall down there is nothing holding it up” seems to apply here. The skylight was made of the new ’in’ material cast iron but twelve months after it was finished it leaked when it rained. This was 1805 the leaks were not stopped until the1970s when the National Trust set about installing another skylight over the original.
Thomas Noel had run himself into debt which he was only able to clear by selling the contents of the house. The sale took 16 days but at the end he was solvent. Just to add to his problems he had taken a wife Sophie De Bouchet. In his forties he had fallen head over heels for this pretty 16 year old courtesan who was already being kept by another. He proposed but she was not keen, but to marry a title and a comfortable income was a better bet than her current situation so she accepted. She was, incidentally, the sister of the notorious Harriot Wilson who tried to blackmail Wellington, among others, when she threatened to publish details of their affair only to receive the reply “Publish and be damned.” They moved to Italy and when he died she was supported with a pension from his younger brother William, the heir. He went into politics he spent a fortune in election costs, £6000 in pubs alone. He appears to have made a name for himself and was made ambassador to Sardinia. He then went to Naples. This was 1815 and Napoleon’s general Murat and his wife Caroline had just left. He shipped all their furniture back to Attingham. He also used some of his ambassadorial funds to buy himself a very expensive silver dinner service. When his term of office ended he returned to England bringing his silver service with him. He was allowed to keep it, it is rumoured, because Palmerston wanted the place for a nephew. It is now on display in Attingham. William died at 42 with no legitimate heirs so his brother, Richard who had gone into the Church inherited. He was a notorious drinker. He chose to live in Cronkhill, a John Nash house on the estate, Attingham stood empty. The next three Lord’s Berwick chose also to live there as a result it remained a Regency House unchanged by successive wives or wrecked by children.
Thomas 8th Lord Berwick moved in after World War 1 but did not have a lot of cash. His wife was painted by Sir Gerald Kelly and later in a more modern style by Walter Sikert. This latter was not well received and was rumoured to have ended up in the boiler room, but it seems this is not true.
The house was passed to the National trust in 1947 on the death of the 8th Lord but as the building was being used as an Adult Education College the Trust could do nothing other than maintaining it till 1970, but now it has a new dry skylight.
Dorothy now showed pictures of the work on the roof and skylight and the complex scaffold needed to support the cast iron skylight whilst the new one was fitted, as well as the viewing platform to enable the public to see where their money was being spent.