The first stage of the transformation of Shugborough was completed by late summer 1748. Between May and July Thomas Anson had been in Paris, perhaps while work was carrying on, and in June Thomas Wright reappeared in London after a year or more in which Elizabeth Carter had lost sight of him and for which no evidence remains. There is a door in the house with the date “1748” inscribed on its lintel. This door is now set in part of the house that was rebuilt at a later stage. There are signs that it had been moved from the ground floor when further work was done, preserved, perhaps because it was decorated with that date.
Was this meant to mark the achievement of the rebuilding house and the landscaping of the park, or was the year to be commemorated for some other reason?
The most obvious incentive for the work, which certainly included the new library and drawing room, and, in the gardens, the Chinese House, would have been the marriage of George Anson and Elizabeth Yorke. Was all this work a wedding gift? Was it intended to be the setting for a honeymoon?
This has to be a possibility. George and Elizabeth Anson married in April 1748, but they did not visit Shugborough until September. This was the only visit by George to Shugborough for which there is any evidence. Elizabeth became a regular visitor to Shugborough in the summers from 1748 to 1759 but none of the letters she wrote from Staffordshire to her sister-in-law, Jemima Grey, or to Thomas, give any indication that George was with her on any of those occasions. In most years her correspondence clearly implies that she was alone. She was certainly travelling without George in 1753, when she spent some time in Buxton with Thomas, presumably after passing through Shugborough, from where she wrote to George in London.
(George and Elizabeth did spend a holiday together at least once, staying at the spa at Scarborough with Lady Grey and Philip Yorke in 1752.)
In fact, this visit, in August 1748, is the only occasion for which there is any evidence of George being at Shugborough at any point in his life. It is even possible that it was the first and only time he had been there since he went to sea in 1712.
The marriage of George and Elizabeth might have been a motivation for the developments, but it does seem unlikely that the effort should be made purely for that one occasion, and an occasion that would have been uncertain while the war was still going on.
Shugborough was Thomas’s house, and its transformation must be considered as his personal project, to his own taste. The style of it, with the eccentric and eclectic variety of buildings and water features, while reflecting Thomas’s interests and George’s travels, must have owed much to Thomas Wright, and the opportunity for its construction might well have been the completion of Wright’s “Original Theory” and Wright’s gift of his designs and skills to his patron.
Elizabeth Anson suggested that Jemima Grey and her husband, Philip, Elizabeth’s brother, should visit Staffordshire in the summer of 1748.. Elizabeth and George visited Jemima’s country house, Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, in June. Elizabeth wrote to Jemima:
Lord Anson speaks of everything at Wrest in a manner that becomes one of its warmest admirers.
(From the Bedford Archives catalogue.)
Jemima Grey and her husband, with Jemima’s aunt, Lady Sophia Grey (who was the daughter of Jemima’s grandfather, the Duke of Kent’s, second wife and eight years younger than Jemima) left Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, on July 25th 1748. With overnight stops at Northampton and Coleshill, they arrived at Sugnall, to the west of Stafford, where they stayed with Jemima’s father, Lord Glenorchy. From Sugnall they made excursions to Trentham and Hawkstone, where they saw, as Philip wrote in his travel journal, “the romantic wildness” of Sir Rowland Hill’s spectacular landscape.
After Sugnall they went to spend a few days with Lord Chetwynd at Ingestre, which neighbours Shugborough, on the north side of the River Sow.
Elizabeth had written to Jemima on August 13th (she would have been at Sugnall by then) that her journey to Staffordshire would take in Blenheim, so the Ansons would have arrived at Shugborough shortly before Jemima arrived at Ingestre.
(To be strictly factual, it is only assumed that George had travelled with Elizabeth as planned. He is never mentioned in the letters.)
This was, as far as can be known, Elizabeth’s first visit to Shugborough.
As Philip Yorke wrote –
From Ingestre we went to Mr. Anson’s at Shugborough.
(Joyce Godber, The Marchioness Grey of Wrest Park, Bedfordshire Historical Society, 1968)
Philip and Jemima give us the first descriptions of what the place was like in August 1748.
He has added two wings to his house, in one of which is a fine room of 38 by 24 (ft) with a large bow window in the middle, ornamented in stucco, and with large pictures of architecture painted at Bologna.
There is no mention of the ceiling at this stage. Philip Yorke did mention the ceiling in his notes of his later visit in 1763, so perhaps the room was unfinished.
The ground which surrounds the house is but a few acres, and disposed in the manner of a ferme ornee.
This is an important point. There was nothing grand about Thomas Anson’s house as it was in the 1740s. The concept of a “ferme ornee” might imply a farm which was intended to be picturesque (in one of her letters Lady Anson mentions visiting Mr Heathcote’s ferme ornee) but it would still have been a working farm, and not just for show. Shugborough, as it was now, rather than Shutburrow Manor, was a modest gentleman’s villa – though Thomas’s unmarried sisters, who lived with him, should not be forgotten.
Jemima Grey wrote:
Imagine a little green spot, the Trent winding along one side of it, and a canal round two others; in the canal a Chinese house and a Chinese boat, very pretty. Your view across the water is bounded everywhere by hills and woods at different distances. The house has some fine rooms lately added to it, and one exceedingly odd and pretty that is the library.
This is exactly what it is, odd and pretty, and designed for comfortable study and recreation, rather than for ostentatious show.
Jemima, Philip and Sophia departed on 23rd August and made their next stop at Lichfield. After Shugborough Elizabeth was at Woburn, where she had received a letter from Catherine Talbot, but “there was too great a crowd to write” at Woburn so she replied on her return to the Admiralty.
Jemima and Philip were back at Shugborough in 1763, after the deaths of both George and Elizabeth Anson. She wrote to her daughter of
Mr Anson’s palace of fairyland
And that the
…apartment in which I am lodged contains best productions of India…
…writing at a rosewood table and bureau that perfume the room.
There was a
…dressing-glass has a beautiful shepherdess and landscape painted upon it.
(From the Bedfordshire Archives catalogue. L30/11/122/14)
Was she actually staying in the Chinese House?
Doctor Sneyd Davies (Rector of Kingsland, Herefordshire and resident as a Canon at Lichfield in the 1750s) visited Shugborough in 1750 and wrote his impressions:
Mr. Anson’s—a beautiful house and river; grounds well disposed; Chinese buildings and bridges; a church-like pigeon-house; excellent modern ruins. — He has erected a pile of broken arches, and of imperfect pillars, to counterfeit the remains of antiquity.—The architect could not perform his part satisfactorily without finishing the whole. Then comes Mr. Anson with axes and chissels to demolish as much of it as taste and judgment claimed; and this without affectation, for he is very disciplined, grave, and sensible.
Of all that I have yet seen, and I have seen almost every thing, Mr. Anson’s place captivates the most. It has the happiest and the most graceful union of Grecian taste and of Oriental magnificence, particularly one room.—I find it thus delineated upon my tablets.
(John Nichols, Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth Century, Nichols, Son and Bentley, 1817)
(This implies Sneyd Davies had included a drawing with his letter. Was it of the library?)
As we meet him frequently upon visits at other houses, I look upon his peep at Kingsland as a lucky circumstance, from the marked notice which he takes of me.
The same Dr Sneyd Davies wrote an elegy for Admiral Anson (after 1762) which alludes to the Shepherds Monument – “Reason’s finger pointing to the tomb.”
A later visitor, John Parnell, whose notes also mention the new cottages in the village, wrote:
I must hasten to describe a Place I never heard of before last night and yet in my opinion Deserves to be accounted one of the finest improvements in England. I mean Mr Anson’s.
(Transcription of John Parnell’s journal, original in the London School of Economics, in the William Salt Library, Stafford.)
Even in 1769, when the house had been further extended by Stuart, it was far from grandiose:
…a convenient moderate siz’d Brick mansion to which…he added two wings and raised the center a story and Plaisterd or stuccoed the whole to give it the air of a uniform stone Building.
The house has some Rooms vastly neatly fitted up tho not Large the Library side of the House very Elegant, the cornices are particularly neat a la grec and the ceiling finished in a very pretty taste.
Parnell describes the gardens dotted with antique statues and herms and sums up the impression of the house:
…this mixture of fine Peces of antiquity with the garden makes it look like an old Roman Villa as I conceive did not the Rich meads on the other side of the River coverd with cattle bring back the English farm to mind.
This is surely exactly the effect that was intended, and, twenty one years after the first descriptions of the estate, the place still brings “the English farm to mind.” This ideal pastoral landscape was also a practical, working one.
Thomas Anson emerges an adventurous traveller, a man of quiet humility and discretion. He may have been a man of secrets – at least legal confidences. He was interested in new ideas until the end of his life, in the arts and sciences, and yet he stood a little to the side, listening but saying little – though what he did say tended to be remembered.
If it may be assumed for the moment that Wright was the architect and landscape designer involved it becomes possible to imagine the world of ideas that inspired the place. It is not a building or garden project which exists purely as a visual spectacle, it is an expression of the ideas and imagination of its creators.
In the cases both of Thomas Anson, whose overall vision it must have been, and Wright, who would have been a leading figure in a “committee of taste” (as Laura Mayer has called it) their imaginative world is unusual, unconventional and unexpected. A close look at the work that was planned in that period reveals something of the concept behind it, making Shugborough a world in miniature.
It was a complicated project. A number of different artists and craftsmen must have worked together, particularly on the extensions to the house. It is hard to imagine Thomas Wright passing through and making a few sketches. The Library and Drawing Room would involve careful structural planning. The Library, eccentrically and attractively, is half within the old house and half in the link between the old house and the extension. It’s a very clever use of space. The extensions also created the absolute minimum of disruption for the house guests and the sisters who lived there.
The plaster decoration of the Drawing Room has, we assume, details that are purely Thomas Wright’s design – those that Eileen Harris found in his drawings for Nuthall Temple, six or eight years later. It may have features that are purely the work of the plasterer, Francesco Vassalli. Philip Yorke mentioned in his journal in 1763 that Vasalli lived “in the neighbourhood” and he worked in many West Midlands houses including Hagley Hall for Lord Lyttleton. Vassalli later worked with James Stuart and the accounts clearly charged separately for parts that were Stuart’s design and parts that were his. It seems reasonable to suppose that Thomas Anson brought Vassalli to England and launched his career here.
In the library there are paintings designed to fit the space by Nicholas Dall. There would be the commissioning and management of builders and craftsmen. Over all of it would be the guiding imagination of Thomas Anson, who would have to explain and discuss his ideas with his team.
There is no doubt that the scheme was personally supervised by Thomas Anson. It is very individual and has unique features of significance to himself. Where else in an English country house will you plaster images of Isis and Serapis, which reflect Thomas’s Egyptian journey and his membership of the Egyptian Society.
The ceiling of the Drawing Room (now the Dining Room) is decorated with a plaster copy of Guido Reni’s Apollo and the Hours. There are four roundels. Two of them are representations of Isis (with her sistrum, which was the symbol of the Egyptian Society) and Serapis (with a corn measure on his head), alluding to Thomas’s Egyptian trip. The iconography of the later period Isis and Serapis rather than the ancient Egyptian Isis and Osiris is possibly derived from Plutarch. The third shows a Maenad, one of the wild followers of Dionysus with vines in her hair. The fourth, above the window, shows Confucius, bringing into the house the Chinese theme in honour of George Anson’s travels – though it is possible that Thomas took an interest in the Chinese philosopher.
The ceiling may not have been there when the Ansons and the Yorkes visited, though it is hard to imagine what the room would have looked like unfinished, or how the library could possibly have appealed to Jemima as “odd and pretty” without its ceiling, showing Greek poets and philosophers.
How long had the work taken? When did it begin?
The only building mentioned in 1748 is the Chinese House. There was no mention of the elaborate lakes and water features. Work was still in progress. The overall landscape scheme, which would have required detailed surveying for the creation of the lakes, and the design of the first group of follies, is almost certainly Thomas Wright’s, but Wright need not have been at Shugborough in person after 1748. As he did with Tollymore and Dundalk in Ireland, in 1746-7, he might have left a portfolio of plans and designs which would be executed over several years.
THE CHINESE ISLAND
The Chinese House is still the centre piece of Shugborough’s most photographed view, even though the course of the river has changed and the original bridges have been replaced by a nineteenth century iron one. The simplicity and lack of unnecessary detail of the Chinese House give it a pure and timeless quality. This is due to its origins in drawings made in China by Captain Piercy Brett. It has an authenticity quite unlike other 18th century pastiches of Chinese style.
Thomas Pennant is the only source for Piercy Brett’s involvement.
The Chinese house, a little farther on, is a true pattern of the architecture of that nation, taken in the country by the skilful pencil of Sir Percy Brett: not a mongrel invention of British carpenters.
(Thomas Pennant, The Journey from Chester to London, Wilkie and Robinson, 1811)
Sir Piercy Brett (1709-1781) sailed on Admiral Anson’s circumnavigation, becoming Second Lieutenant on Anson’s ship “The Centurion”. His drawings became the basis of the illustrations in the best-selling account the epic journey published in 1744.
The Chinese House would have reminded Lady Anson of the island of Tinian which Lord Anson visited on his circumnavigation.
Tinian was uninhabited at the time, and “Anson’s Voyage” described it as a green and lush place, stocked with fruit and vegetables and, surprisingly, a large number of small cattle which may have been left by Spanish settlers.
The cattle of Tinian certainly had a place in Lady Anson’s mind. She wrote to Thomas on December 29th 1749 . As she wrote in this letter “it is the fashion to go out of Town for the Holydays” and she had made her second visit to Shugborough in September, as her letters to Thomas and Jemima Grey confirm.
Next to my Enquiries after My Friends at Shugborough, I desire to ask after Their Friends the Cows, whose Sickness I hope does not damp the mirth of Christmas amusements. – I hope they are ell, and likely to remain so, I desire to recommend a Companion to them, who is, I am told, and indeed am much inclined to believe, from the acquaintance I have had with her Family, very worthy of that honor, both as to Beauty & Merit. She is about six months old and according to the description I have had of her will very well deserve to be called Tinian, being White, with coloured Nose & Ears…..So much for Moggy who waits your command.
(Staffordshire Archives. Anson Papers. D615 P (S)/1/3)
The description of the island of Tinian had a curiously roundabout influence on garden design. The hero of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s novel “Julie ou la nouvelle Heloise” (1761) sails with Anson, and on his return finds that the heroine has created an idyllic, English style, garden which reminds him of the wild paradises he had seen with Anson, Tinian and Juan Fernandez.
I was looking at the wildest, loneliest spot in the whole of Nature, and I seemed to be the first mortal who had ever penetrated within this wilderness.
(David Jacques, Georgian Gardens, the Reign of Nature, Batsford, 1983)
This Rousseau garden, of deliberate natural simplicity, then became a model for real English gardens. Viscount Nuneham, the son of Thomas Anson’s Dilettante Society friend (and fellow patron of James “Athenian” Stuart) Lord Harcourt, designed just such a garden at Nuneham Courtney with William Mason, author of an epic poem on “The English Garden.” Viscount Nuneham was a keen supporter of Jean Jacques Rousseau.
Many original editions of Rousseau’s works, including Julie and the “Discourse on Inequality” were in Thomas Anson’s library. Was Thomas an enthusiast for this revolutionary thinker and extremely difficult, crotchety, man? Rousseau lived for a year at Wootton in the Staffordshire Moorlands in 1766, with an easy ride of Shugborough. It is tempting to think of him visiting the house that commemorated Anson’s voyage, which he had used as such a convenient plot device in his novel, and seeing a distant relative of Julie’s garden and the flower garden at Nuneham Courtney.
With any garden of the 18th century it is important not to think of buildings as things apart from the overall design. The garden is a carefully harmonised mix of natural features, careful planting and structures which complement the “Reign of Nature”, as David Jacques subtitles his excellent book on Georgian Gardens.
Thomas Wright’s later work at Stoke Park, which dates from within a few years of Shugborough, was more fascinating for its planting than its garden buildings – in fact many years after he first worked there he wrote Lady Beaufort, to recommend that a particular structure should be removed. Wright’s later sketches include detailed plans of planting. There is no evidence at all that he had designed planting schemes before Shugborough. Where did he learn such skills? Perhaps over many years staying in some beautiful country estates during his summers he had developed an enthusiasm, and with it a knowledge, of flowers and shrubs and the ways in which they could be composed for appropriate effect.
At Shugborough there must have been very expert gardeners. Thomas Anson’s interest in botany is visible in his brief notes in the diary of his 1740-1 voyage. He had the opportunity to bring back plants himself – a cheaper alternative to the endless classical remains or Egyptian mummies his Divan Club acquaintances brought back from their travels. In later years there was a grand greenhouse at Shugborough, and perhaps a completely vanished Thomas Wright predecessor. He sent pineapples to London for Lady Anson and Joseph Banks, the leading botanist of the late 18th century, saw an unusual means of growing peaches on his visit in 1767.
The importance of botany, as well as the seriousness of the interest in Asia, at Shugborough is demonstrated by the catalogue of the library as it was when it was sadly sold in 1842. Books on Chinese, Japanese or oriental culture, and particularly botany, included:
M d’Herbelot Biblioteheque Orientale -1697 –
Chisull Antiquitates Asiaticae – 1727
Père Louis le Compte’s Memoirs and Observations made in a late Journey through China – London: Tooke, 1697 / translated from the Paris edition.
(From a copy of the 1842 Shugborough Sale Catalogue in the William Salt Library, Stafford
Le Compte was a Jesuit missionary. The volume includes “memoirs and observations, topographical, physical, mathematical, mechanical, natural, civil, and ecclesiastical; made in a late journey through the empire of China and published in several letters, particularly upon the Chinese pottery and varnishing, the silk and other manufactures, the pearl fishing, the history of plants and animals … the state of Christianity, with many other curious and useful remarks.”)
Engelbert Kaempfer’s Amoenitates Exoticae 1712 which included two hostas: Joksan, vulgo Giboosi and Giboosi altera.
(Kaempfer’s drawings of these species are now in the Sloan Collection of the British Museum . He was the first to mention hostas in Western scientific literature.)
Engelbert Kaempfer’s History of Japan 2 v. 1728 (giving an Account of the ancient and present State and Government of that Empire; of Its Temples, Palaces, Castles and other Buildings; of its Metals, Minerals, Trees, Plants, Animals, Birds and Fishes; of The Chronology and Succession of the Emperors, Ecclesiastical and Secular; of The Original Descent, Religions, Customs, and Manufactures of the Natives, and of their Trade and Commerce with the Dutch and Chinese. Together with a Description of the Kingdom of Siam . Written in High-Dutch by Engelbertus Kaempfer, M. D. Physician to the Dutch Embassy to the Emperor’s Court; and translated from his Original Manuscript, never before printed, by J. G. Scheuchzer, F. R. S. and a member of the College of Physicians, London. With the Life of the Author, and an Introduction. Illustrated with many copperplates. Vol. I/II. London : Printed for the Translator)
The Chinese Island, and the rest of the Garden, would have featured whatever viable oriental plants were available. It was not simply an exotic scene but a living celebration of the world’s variety.
The eclectic nature of Shugborough, and other gardens by Wright, might also have a philosophical purpose, in demonstrating the universal nature of Truth and Wisdom.
There was a serious interest in the thought of Confucius at the time. Thomas Anson’s library contained the 1687 Latin edition of the works of Confucius, “Confucious Sinarum Philosophus”.
The frontispiece of this book is the source of the portrait of Confucius which appears in a roundel in the plaster ceiling of the Drawing Room.
At the same time as Thomas Anson and Thomas Wright were creating the Shugborough landscape, Frederick Prince of Wales was developing his botanical garden at Kew. He built a “House of Confucius” in 1749, a year or so after the Shugborough Chinese House. T
The Kew structure was far more ornate and less authentic. It was designed by Joseph Goupy and the decoration featured illustrations of the life of Confucius.
(The head gardener at Shugborough in the early 2000s, Joe Hawkins, researched the 18th century planting and believed that there had been close links between the gardeners at Shugborough and Kew.)
There was also a Chinese House on an island at Wroxton, Oxfordshire, the seat of Lord North. This may have dated from the end of the 1740s and may have been built by Sanderson Miller, who “advised” on the construction of some buildings at Shugborough, according to his diaries. From the illustration in David Jacques’ “Georgian Gardens” it could be a copy of the Shugborough pavilion.
John Parnell, writing in 1769, described part of the planting around the Chinese House. He uses the words Chinese and Indian interchangeably.
I must observe that around the Chinese temple there are abundance of fine Larch which are here Justly placed as being Indian trees…from the Chinese House the walk passes by Riverside with an Edge of flowering shrubs and exotic trees to the Left screening the garden wall.
(Transcription of extracts from John Parnell’s Journal in the William Salt Library, Stafford)
(“Indian” could be used to describe things from any part of the exotic east.)
(The walled garden survived near the house until the farm was built at the end of the century. The Doric Temple was originally its entrance.)
There was a gothic Pigeon House behind the Chinese House. It is one of the vanished buildings. It may have been damaged by floods or removed when the river was redirected at the end of the century. The gothic and the Chinese often sit side by side in rococo gardens. Sometimes the two styles merge into a single blend with pointed arches and Chinese ornament. The most effective example of this is the light and airy interior of Shobdon Church, Herefordshire, built in the 1750s. Thomas Wright’s Irish designs include a mixture of gothic features and Chinese.
The Pigeon House, at the start at least, failed in its purpose. Lady Anson wrote to Thomas on November 1st 1749:
Sorry was I to hear so indifferent account of the Pigeons, whose having so little Taste would almost make one suspect them to be of the same Race with those Birds upon the Tuscan Altar you and I contemplated so long, of which it is doubtful whether they are Doves of Crows…they had so little sense of the many Beauties of their new Palace that you cannot wonder if Lady Grey and I durst not trust ourselves to the conduct of such simple animals…
(Staffordshire Archives. Anson Papers. D615/P/S/1/1/17B)
The Chinese House (and possibly the Pigeon House) sat on a small island linked to the main garden by a Chinese Bridge. A second bridge led to further woodland a boathouse. This would have had a matching boat for rowing, or sailing, along the river and the canal. The boat would have been an essential part of the garden concept, and the view from a gently moving craft would have been part of the intended effect. The placing of some features may have been decided according to the view from the river. This is most likely the case with the last of the structures built some twenty years later, The Lanthorn of Demosthenes, which is placed on a bank above the River Sow.
Jemima Grey mentioned a “Chinese Boat.” This is as good a place as any to introduce another of Thomas’s friends, satirist and gardener, Richard Owen Cambridge.
Cambridge had been a member of the Divan Club with Thomas until it folded a few years before. He was one of the writers, with Horace Walpole and George Lyttelton, of “The World”, a journal that specialised in the latest ideas of landscaping.
Lady Anson dined at Cambridge’s house, Mount Ararat. at Richmond, in April 1750:
Mr Cambridge will make his Place very pretty; he has a charming view of the River now he has opened it.
(Staffordshire Record Office. Anson Papers. D615 P (S)/1/3
Cambridge was neighbour of James Mytton and the antiquarian Daniel Wray, a regular at Wrest Park. Mount Ararat was often the out of London base for James Harris, the most important thinker of the Greek Revival. Harris praised Cambridge in his last book, “Philological Enquiries” which goes out of its way to celebrate his friends, and is also the source of the anecdote about Thomas Anson on Tenedos.
Cambridge was a notorious gossip. Lady Anson writes:
Mr Cambridge has just stepped in with news of new government appointments.
(Staffordshire Record Office. Anson Papers. D615 P (S)/1/3
He wrote of himself:
My body light, my figure slim,
My mind dispos’d to mirth and whim.
Boats were Cambridge’s particular hobby and he eagerly discussed ideas with Lord Anson. He built a thirty seat pleasure boat in Venetian style, a twelve oared barge, and a successful boat with a “flying prow” based on descriptions from Anson’s voyage. He specialised, at his seat at Whitminster on the Severn, in “promenades en bateau” where he once entertained Frederick, Prince of Wales on the river.
(Austin Dobson, Cambridge the everything – quoted on: http://126.96.36.199/spenser/BiographyRecord.php?action=GET&bioid=34067)
With his connections to Thomas through the Divan Club (his father had been a “Turkey Merchant”), through Lord Anson, and through James Harris, Cambridge remained a friend over thirty years. He was one of those on the list of friends and political neighbours who received a mourning ring at Thomas’s death. He was also one of the subscribers to Thomas Wright’s beautifully produced but financially unsuccessful “Universal Architecture” (only the first two books, Arbours and Grottoes appeared) in 1755.
Lady Anson enjoyed a “navigation” on the river on her last visit to Shugborough in 1759. She wrote to Lord Anson (she was certainly visiting alone that year):
We had the finest navigation these two days upon the River that is possible. Every new point one sees this place from it appears in a new light of beauty; and I should be very sorry to leave…
(Staffordshire Archives D615 P (S) 1/2/28)
Sneyd Davies, quoted above, mentions “a pile of broken arches, and of imperfect pillars, to counterfeit the remains of antiquity” in 1750. “A tour through the whole Island of Great Britain” published in 1748 also mentions the ruins, and the Essex Bridge that links Shugborough to Great Haywood. This guide must have been extremely up to date when it was published unless the ruins had been built before the rest of the landscaping. They seem, though, to have been very much part of the overall scheme.
The ruins may have changed over the years. The artificial-stone Druid appears in some of the paintings by Dall but it does not appear to have been there in pictures from Thomas’s lifetime,
THE CAT’S MONUMENT
Lady Anson, in Bath on 16th August 1749, wrote to Thomas to suggest a stone quarry which could make the Cat’s Monument. The idea had obviously already been discussed. The eccentric nature of this structure could be accounted to Wright, in which case it is likely that he had supplied a drawing. She calls it “Kouli-Kan’s Monument”
(Staffordshire Archives D615/P(S)/1/310A)
The most likely source of the name, usually spelled as Lady Anson spells it, is the 18th century Persian Emperor Kouli-Kan – the European name for Nadir Shah, emperor of Persia and conqueror of India, who died in 1747. It seems most likely that the eccentric looking cat was one of Thomas’s Persians and named after the Emperor. Was this before or after the emperor had burned one of the Shariamans family at the stake?
Descendants of Kouli-Khan were still there nearly twenty years later.
The botanist Joseph Banks visited Shugborough in 1767 and mentioned that he saw two animals new to him, Persian Cats and Corsican goats.
Thomas Anson told Banks that his cats had died of distemper apart from one last survivor, which was pure white. Perhaps all the cars had been descended from Kouli Khan who had, presumably, died twenty years before.
The Cat’s Monument was altered later. The artificial stone panel on the front is almost certainly designed by James “Athenian” Stuart. It seems to be identical to panels he made for the marble room at Wentworth Woodhouse, one of his very earliest projects in 1755. It may be, in effect, a spare, which was added to the Cat’s Monument a few years after it was originally built. This may be evidence that Stuart’s connection with Shugborough began as early as 1755.
The Corsican goats, (which John Dick supplied to Anson in 1760) are also represented on the monument. These creatures seem to have been “Muffoli.” James Boswell mentions them in his “Account of Corsica”. He probably heard of them from Banks as he did not meet Anson until 1772.
…there are now two of them at Shugborough in Staffordshire, the seat of Mr. Anson, who has a rich assemblage of what is curious in nature, as well as of what is elegant in art.
(James Boswell, An account of Corsica, Edward and Charles Dilly, 1768)
There were other curious creatures. In 1769 John Parnell described:
…a Bird from the India’s calld a crown Bird which makes a Beautiful Appearance in shape like a Heron with a tuft of feathers on the Head like spun (?) glass so fine very tall and oddly shaped – has lived there ten years.
(Transcription of extracts from John Parnell’s Journal in the William Salt Library, Stafford)
Joseph Banks saw this bird two years earlier:
From thence we went into the Kitchen garden where we saw the Pavonina or Crown Bird who had lived here for some time upon sea Biscuit and what he could pick up which the Gardener said was a good deal especially when dung was brought into the garden.
(From Joseph Banks’s Travel Journal)
THE PAGODA AND PALLADIAN BRIDGE
Lady Anson also mentions the long vanished wooden pagoda under construction in November 1752. This was the first pagoda in England, predating the pagoda at Kew by ten years. The architect Sanderson Miller mentions in his diary that he “advised” at Shugborough in1752 and this may well have been advice on a practical realisation of a Wright sketch. The Palladian Bridge and cascades were part of an elaborate water scheme that has completely vanished.
Parnell writes of a
…fine Peice of water falling from a still finer and realy noble Peice of water above it at one End is a Pagoda very Pretty at the other a Palladian Bridge from the arch of which falls the water.
(Parnell op. cit)
Also built around this time was a wooden obelisk on the hill, perhaps not far from the junction of the farm drive and the Lichfield Road. This blew down in the nineteenth century. It is visible in Dall’s pictures of the landscape but impossible to date.
There may have been other features that have been lost. It is possible that the caves at Haywood Cliffs, probably produced by quarrying, were originally part of the landscape, as a hermitage. They have acted this role recently as the home for a modern-day hermit as an art project. There is a curious horned face carved in the sandstone that resembles those on the Shepherds’ Monument – but that raises several questions of that most puzzling of all the features – When was it built? Who designed it? What does it mean?