“Old Houses, do not belong to people ever,
…not really, people belong to them.”
– Gladys Taber – author (1899 – 1980)
“You will find Weston beautiful.
I marvel whether I shall ever see the like again!”
– Benjamin Disraeli, 8 June 1878
I have had the good fortune and privilege to twice take groups to stay and dine at the beautiful stately home, Weston Park in Shropshire. Mostly we visit stately homes to view their magnificent state rooms and collections and then, sadly, have to leave again. However, at Weston Park we were actually the house guests, staying in beautiful bedrooms and enjoying dinner in the magnificent dining room where the walls are lined with works by Van Dyke, Gainsborough, Reynolds and Stubbs.
From medieval times the house was owned by the family of the present Earl of Bradford. In 1986 he gifted the house with its stunning collections and 1000 acres of ‘Capability Brown’ parkland to the nation, all of which are now vested in the capable hands of the Weston Park Foundation, an independent educational and conservation charity.
During both our stays at Weston Park we were deliciously looked after by the wonderful Barry (the Butler) and his team, and treated to owner-led tours of some of the most interesting and historic private houses in Shropshire. On many tours we were accompanied by the Curator & Head of Learning at the Weston Park Foundation, Gareth Williams, who added his deep knowledge and appreciation of art and architectural history to each visit.
I am delighted to share Gareth’s thoughts about our two visits and about the quietude of the house, closed up for the duration of the current lock-down.
“Weston Park was delighted to welcome Sue Stamp and her travellers for their memorable residential cultural tours of Shropshire in October 2017 and July 2018. The House at Weston, with its renowned art collection that, in turn, sits within a radius filled with some fascinating but very private houses, became wonderfully animated by the group’s presence.
Places like Weston Park were never intended to be simply a museum of great paintings and objects but were designed expressly as places of hospitality and so what better than for the House to host an erudite group who enthused about the Old Masters hanging on the rooms’ walls, the furniture by different generations of royal makers or the eighteenth and early nineteenth century ceramics? For the House, now owned by the independent charity the Weston Park Foundation, the group brought life in every sense, and also knowledgable and pertinent observations about the indigenous collections that fill every room.
External house owners, such as Lord and Lady Forester, who hosted lunch at their rarely-open Willey Park – the masterpiece of architect Lewis Wyatt – relished the opportunity of sharing enthusiasm for their house with Sue’s group. The group were also able to appreciate the inspiration that Shropshire’s country houses give to creativity, in seeing a demonstration by scagliola* maker Thomas Kennedy at his early eighteenth century Acton Round Hall. ( * scagliola is a man-made material made of plaster mixed with glue and dyes which is then painted or polished to emulate the look and texture of marble.)
Shropshire is full of fascinating houses of high quality, all with stories to tell. At the time of writing, Britain is in lock-down for Covid 19 and many of these, including Weston Park, are silent whilst spring creates scenes of magic in the garden and park beyond. Weston should be buzzing with visitors enjoying the spring weather and preparing for the onset of a diverse range of events which bring enjoyment and, for the charity, a vital source of much-needed income which heritage has a relentless appetite for, that no lock-down can pause.
Instead of hosting jollity and laughter, the rooms with their matchless contents, are hushed and have been put to bed, with dust sheets over chairs where guests might sit and acid free tissue protecting the fragile contents. To walk them is a surreal experience knowing that the House was never intended to be like this and that this painful quietude cannot sustain what we all care about. The team are keeping a close and careful eye over the place but, like some fairy tale castle, the House longs to reawaken and extend its warm welcome to guests.”
During our two-night stay at Weston Park in July 2018 we also took a spontaneous visit to the nearby St Bartholomew’s Church at Tong, and were in awe of the stunning tombs and monuments it houses. On our final morning we took a delightful walking tour around the grounds with the Head Gardener followed by a summery buffet lunch in the Orangery of cold salmon, salads, lemon posset and a glass of wine. The perfect end to a perfect stay!
I am hoping very much to take another group to Weston Park in the summer of 2021 – watch this space! https://www.weston-park.com/
Image credits: Main image of house – courtesy of the Weston Park Foundation/images of church – Andy Kennedy and the others – Sue Stamp