Weston Park was gifted to the nation in 1986 by the current Earl of Bradford with the support of the National Heritage Memorial Fund and is owned and maintained by the Weston Park Foundation, an independent charitable trust. During the last 30 years the Trustees of the Foundation and all of the team here have helped conserve, maintain and restore many elements of the estate. These include, more recently the 1767 Granary building and the Temple of Diana. To mark this celebration our Curator & Head of Learning, Gareth Williams has chosen his 30 favourite objects in our internationally important art collection.
1. Sir Peter Lely, Lady Wilbraham Elizabeth Mytton, Lady Wilbraham was the heiress of Weston Park. She married the Cheshire landowner, Sir Thomas Wilbraham, and so became known as Lady Wilbraham as a result of her marriage. Family tradition suggested that she was an architect, although we now know her to have been an enlightened patron who commissioned the architect William Taylor to design the present South and East fronts of the House at Weston Park, together with the overseeing of a rebuilding of the Church of St. Andrew’s and the Stables. She also commissioned a rebuilding of her husband’s seat at Woodhey in Cheshire. Her two daughters, Grace and Mary became, respectively, the heiresses of the Woodhey and Weston estates. Sir Peter Lely was one of the most fashionable portrait painters of his time in the seventeenth century and he depicts her as the noble proprietoress of Weston Park. She elegantly gestures to a Hanmer Agate tulip which was then an expensive flower, suggesting advanced taste and wealth on her part.
2. James Paine’s Presentation Drawing of the Temple of Diana James Paine was commissioned by the 1760s inheritor of Weston Park, Sir Henry Bridgeman 5th Bt. (later 1st Baron Bradford) to make improvements to his London house in St.James’s Square and also to the house at Weston. His designs for chimneypiece, for the Roman Bridge in Temple Wood and for the Temple of Diana were engraved in his book, The Works – two volumes which were essentially a marketing exercise for Paine’s architectural practice. This rare surviving presentation drawing shows the south front of the Temple of Diana which was built for Sir Henry in c.1770-4, depicting the wide arches of the building’s orangery, which were based on an unexecuted design by Paine for the Knavesmire Grandstand at York and which show close similarity to his orangery at Gibside, County Durham. The drawing shows statues, urns and sculptured plaques, which conform to designs in Coadestone – a ceramic embellishment produced by Eleanor Coade – and which are no longer to be seen. On the Northern side of the building, a different aspect of stern Palladian design is presented by Paine, and which is closely based upon a design by William Kent for a Temple at Euston Hall, Suffolk. The Temple’s ground plan, which makes a gentle and highly intelligent play on geometry, reflected the interests of Sir Henry and Lady Bridgeman in containing not only the orangery contained within the south front, but also an octagonal music room, circular tea room, dairies and accommodation for the dairy maid.
3.Chippendale Hall Chairs These handsome chairs were supplied to Sir Henry Bridgeman 5th Bt. and originally bore his painted arms as a baronet upon the backs. When in 1800 he was raised to the peerage as a Baron, the arms were hastily changed from a plain escutcheon of arms to be surmounted by a Baron’s coronet and to be flanked by Lord Bradford’s heraldic leopard supporters. On some of the chairs, the earlier painting can be discerned underneath the later coat of arms. The carving of the chairs is of exceptionally high quality – especially the knurled hand rests, the feet and the hips of the legs – which suggests one of the foremost makers. The lower part of the back of each chair has, at its waist, a small flanking Greek key emblem which can also be found on the hall chairs at Nostell Priory and at Harewood in Yorkshire, which are both documented commissions from Thomas Chippendale and this suggests that the Weston chairs are also from his workshop. Other items in the collection show close similarities to both the designs and the quality of cabinetmaking associated with Chippendale although, as yet, no documentary evidence has been found to conclusively prove his association.
4. Silver Lady Anne Toilet Service The so-called ‘Lady Anne Toilet Set’ is hallmarked 1679 and bears the maker’s mark for the Huguenot silversmith Jacob Bodenick. The set has the initial ‘M’ stamped on it and it is likely that this set in fact belonged to Mary Wilbraham, daughter of Elizabeth Lady Wilbraham. Mary married Richard Newport, 2nd Earl of Bradford in 1681 and this toilet set may have been part of her dowry. The Bradfords’ daughter, Lady Anne Newport (1690-1752) may then have later inherited the set from her mother, at her own marriage in 1719 to Sir Orlando Bridgeman 4th Bt. (1695-1764), hence the traditional name for the service. The double-gourd shaped bottles were for scent, whilst some of the caskets would have contained white-lead which, although now regarded as highly poisonous was considered an essential skin cosmetic by late seventeenth and eighteenth century ladies.
5. Burse of the Great Seal The Great Seal was the silver matrix that was used with wax on official documents to mark the King’s approval, or the Royal Assent. The Seal was traditionally carried in procession before the Lord Chancellor and Keeper of the Seal in a burse, or purse, originally of white leather or linen. The Weston Park example was used by Lord Keeper Sir Orlando Bridgeman, 1st Bt., and has the crowned royal cipher and the letters ‘CR’ (Carolus Rex) for King Charles II. It is amongst the earliest remaining known examples of such a ceremonial burse and its likeness appears in a portrait of Sir Orlando Bridgeman, 1st Baronet, (1608-1674) by Pieter Borselaer which is also held by the Weston Park Foundation. Sir Orlando was the Keeper of the Great Seal of England to Charles II from 1667 to 1672. When he resigned office, the ceremonial bag – or burse – and the seal itself was given to him. The seal was melted to form the stem cup which can also be seen in the silver display room, in a case opposite, and upon which may be seen an engraved representation of the burse.
6. C18 Chinese Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) Famille Rose Decorated Vases and Chargers in Tapestry Room These exceptional pieces were so prized by the 4th Earl and Countess of Bradford that they created the glazed display cabinet in the Tapestry Room for their display in the Edwardian period. The dark ruby ground of each piece contains a number of escutcheons containing paintings of cockerels and fauna which stand out against the dark ground, giving each a striking appearance. In her manuscript book of the porcelain, the wife of the 4th Earl, Lady Ida Lumley, noted that the great art dealer and connoisseur Sir Joseph Duveen had admired these pieces and had offered to find a new home for them. The offer was declined. It is highly likely that Duveen’s intended buyer was Henry Clay Frick, whose Frick Collection in New York contains a number of similar pieces that Duveen had been successful in acquiring, including some vases that had provenance from the collection of the Staffordshire magnate Lord Burton.
7. Coalport Dessert Service A classic Edwardian service made of porcelain at the Shropshire china manufactory of Coalport, these dessert pieces were designed by the wife of the 4th Earl of Bradford, Lady Ida Lumley, who was an accomplished artist. Her drawings for the service, with cherubs supporting armorials, remain in the archives. Each of the armorials shows the coats of arms of different members of the Earl of Bradford’s family and, in particular, the ‘quarterings’ of the coats of arms indicate the families of the different heiresses that have married into the family. The green parrots borne by Lady Ida’s own family, the Lumleys Earls of Scarborough, make a number of appearances. The finish of the service, with gilded highlights and rocaille scrolls, is particularly fine.
8. Clock given by tenants of Walsall Estate The mahogany longcase clock dominates the Marble Hall at the side of the main staircase. It is a fitting position since this handsome clock was a gift from the tenants of the Walsall Estate to the 3rd Earl and Countess of Bradford upon their Golden Wedding anniversary in 1894. Walsall was a crucial part of the Bradford estate; it had been inherited by the 1st Bridgeman Earl of Bradford on the death of his cousin, the last Earl of Mountrath in 1803, and was then developed by both the 2nd Earl and 3rd Earl. Iron ore, coal and limestone were mined, building leases were sold whilst at the same time the Bradfords reinvested in the community with the gift of Reedswood Park, the endowment of churches, schools, the hospital and the Institute of Art & Science.
9. Pietro Rotari, La Penitent One of the best loved pictures in the collection, La Penitent depicts a young girl in an attitude of penitence after she has been chastised and, from the appearance of the cat-o-nine-tails, punished. It is the work of the artist Pietro Rotari (1707-1762) who had been born in Verona and went on to live and paint in Venice, Rome, Naples, Vienna, Dresden and St.Petersburg. His work is comparable in its subject matter to the great French genre paintings of the late eighteenth century by artists like Chardin and Greuze and it is likely that Sir Henry Bridgeman, 5th Bt. – an acknowledged Francophile – may have acquired this picture for the collection at Weston Park.
10. Columbo, Portrait of Mary Yates This portrait is one of the most unusual in the collection and an extraordinary representation of a local lady of comparatively low birth by a highly cosmopolitan artist. Giovanni Battista Innocenzo Colombo (171-1801) was born at Arogno in Switzerland and had a career which took him to Frankfurt, Manheim, Vienna, Hamburg, Prague, Munich and to Stuttgart – where he remained for eighteen years as Court Architect. From 1774-80 he was Painter at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London and it was here, seemingly, that he encountered Sir Henry Bridgeman, 5th Bt. who shared a love of theatre. Columbo is said to have painted sets for the Weston Park theatre, certainly painted the decorative paintings of the Tea Room at the Temple of Diana, and was also the artist of this charming picture of Mary Yates. Mrs Yates lived, as the pictures inscription tells, until the age of 127, much of her latter years being under the patronage of the Bridgeman family, and on her death in 1776 she was commemorated by a memorial panel in St. Andrew’s Parish Church, Shifnal.
11. Doncaster Cup The 3rd Earl of Bradford maintained a racing stud at Stanton near Shifnal where his horses were trained by Thomas Wadlow. The stud had a slow start but later enjoyed a number of successes that culminated in his horse Sir Hugo winning the 1892 Derby. The Doncaster Cup was won ten years earlier by his five year old, Retreat, ridden by Charles Wood. The Doncaster Cup was first competed for in 1766 and is still run today, making it is the oldest continuing regulated horse race in the world; it was recognised as one of Britain’s leading events for “stayers” – horses which specialise in racing over long distances. Of silver gilt, the giant cup in the revived style of Robert Adam, bears the marks of Goerge Angell, a London silversmith who had exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851 and died in 1884.
12. Thomas Weaver, Portrait of John Gee and the Ploughing Match The artist Thomas Weaver hailed from Brockton to the South West of Shrewsbury and built up a substantial patronage as a painter of portraits, horses, livestock and rural scenes. He painted over nine pictures for Orlando 1st Earl of Bradford including horses, dogs, pigs, sheep and cattle, staff portraits and this fascinating picture of a ploughing match. Erroneously sometimes called ‘The Cruckton Ploughing Match’ – although the Cruckton competition only began in 1927 – the discovery of the painter’s diary in the hands of his family has revealed that this was a match between Lord Bradford, Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, P.Owen and Richard Lyster in 1813, whilst the Weston Park archive retains the bill of 14th January 1813 from Weaver who described it as ‘Plowing group John Gee & Pair of Horses £31.10s’. John Gee came to Weston Park from the Mountrath Estate at Weeting in Norfolk in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Each successive generation has lived and worked at Weston Park and Weston Park’s current Head Gardener is Martin Gee, a direct descendant.
13. Morel & Hughes Seat Furniture In 1806 the 1st Earl and Countess of Bradford embarked upon a redecoration and refurnishing of the main rooms at Weston Park. They used the company of Morel & Hughes to undertake this work. Nicolas Morel and Robert Hughes were the partners the cabinet-making and upholstery business, which was located at 13 Great Marlborough Street, London, from 1805 until 1826. Their commissions included work at Carlton House, London, for the Prince of Wales – later the Prince Regent – and for several aristocratic clients. This set of furniture was part of a large commission of furniture, upholstery and decorative items for Weston Park in the early years of the nineteenth century. This suite can today be seen in the rich decorative surroundings of the Tapestry Room, where it was first placed in the latter Victorian period
14. Claude Joseph Vernet, Calm and Storm These two beautiful contrasting scenes were painted in the latter eighteenth century in Rome by the French painter Claude Joseph Vernet. They were souvenirs of the Grand Tour – the great journey across Europe which usually involved a prolonged stay in Italy – which marked the end of a young noble man’s education. In this case they were acquired by the Earl of Mountrath, a cousin of the Bradford family who, on his death in the early nineteenth century left the paintings to the Bradfords.
15. Apollo Clock and candelabra This astonishingly rich clock and candelabra garniture was acquired for Weston Park by the 1st Earl of Bradford of the second creation in the early 19th century. It was probably purchased from the French dealer or “marchand-mercier” Martin-Éloi Lignereux, who was a popular source for furniture and decorative items acquired by the Prince Regent and those of his circle such as Lord Bradford. Lord Bradford’s brothers-in-law, Lord John Russell (later 6th Duke of Bedford), and the Marquess of Bath also acquired items from Lignereux. The clock represents to Roman god of learning Apollo, suggesting that it might have been intended for the Library. The movement is the work of Charles-Guillaume Manière, a notable French horologist, whilst the case is almost certainly the work of Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751 – 1843) a French sculptor, who was the most prominent bronzier, or producer of ornamental patinated and gilt-bronze objects and furniture mounts of the First French Empire. The detail of its casting is breathtaking.
16. Disraeli’s Parrot This Brazilian Conure parrot was a gift from the one-time Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli to Selina Weld-Forester, Countess of Bradford who, together with her husband, the 3rd Earl, were regular hosts to Disraeli at Weston Park. It spent nearly thirty years prior to its death in 1903 living in the Orangery at Weston where it was presumed to be a male bird. In the last twenty three days of its life, though, it laid an egg each day before falling from its perch. The taxidermist Rowland Ward preserved the bird and it may be seen today in the drawing room with a small case containing some of its eggs.
17. Anglo Indian Ivory Cabinet Richly decorated, this small piece of furniture is a miniaturised version of a George II bureau bookcase. It was made at Vizagapatam on the East Coast of India and is typical of the form of pieces made there, being of sandalwood veneered over in ivory and with incised surface decoration that has been filled with dark lac. Similar pieces were often collected by members of the East India Company and this piece may have been made for one of their officers or for the English market in circa 1770-80. The polychrome decoration of the exterior, showing a Bacchic procession is later and may have been added for the Chester dealer, Sherratt of Bridge Street, who sold the piece to the 1st Duke of Westminster. His Grace acquired it with the purpose of giving it as a gift in 1894 to the 3rd Earl and Countess of Bradford on the occasion of their Golden Wedding Anniversary. In 2011 it was extensively conserved and restored with funding provided by the Pilgrim Trust, having suffered badly due to low relative humidity in the early twentieth century following the installation of central heating in the House.
18. Gobelins Tapestries Weston Park’s Gobelins Tapestries which fill one of the ground floor rooms of the house, creating almost a fantasy tented effect, were acquired by Sir Henry Bridgeman, 5th Bt., (1725-1800), having been woven between 1766 and 1771. They are one of only six sets of similar tapestries commissioned from the Paris tapestry manufactory for English Country houses – one of which (that made for the Coventry family of Croome Court, Worcestershire) is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Woven under the direction of Jacques Neilson, the tapestry panels have medallions based on paintings by Francois Boucher (1703-1770), with ‘damas cramoisi’ surrounds (-or “alentours”) by Maurice Jacques which have depictions of looped floral garlands, all in elaborate woven golden picture-frame borders. Birds appear to fly across the damask grounds, whilst the medallions themselves show scenes from the lives of the Roman gods, including Venus rising from the sea, Venus and Vulcan, and also Cephalus and Aurora, plus Vertumnus with Pomona. Commissioned by Sir Henry Bridgeman, who had a passion for French furniture, the tapestries are thought to have originally been made for the family’s London house in St.James’ Square where it is believed that the architect Robert Adam created a special room, with elaborately decorated plaster ceiling for the tapestries’ reception.
19. Van Dyck, Hanmer Van Dyck rose to prominence in England as a portrait painter in Charles I’s court and he painted the portraits of many of the most notable courtiers and aristocrats of the time. This picture, which is one of a group of portraits by van Dyck at Weston Park, shows Sir Thomas Hanmer, a Flintshire landowner, one-time Cup Bearer to Charles I and a talented amateur gardener who developed the costly Hanmer Agate Tulip. An especially fine work of van Dyck, the painting is perhaps the most travelled in the collection at Weston Park, having been to exhibitions in Tokyo, Washington D.C., Amsterdam, and London.
20. Thomas Gainsborough, Portrait of Lady Lucy Boyle Viscountess Torrington (1744-1792) The sitter was the wife of George, 4th Viscount Torrington and mother of Lucy Byng, the 1st Countess of Bradford, of the second creation. She was painted by Gainsborough during his Bath period and is shown as in mourning, probably for the death of her father, John 5th Earl of Cork and Orrery (d.1762). The brilliance of technique in the painting of the lace and the hauntingly beautiful expression render this an exceptional portrait
21. John Constable, Henry Greswolde Lewis We tend to think of John Constable as a landscape painter, but this is one of two of his portraits that Weston Park has in its collections. The sitter, Henry Greswold Lewis had married a daughter of the house at Weston and was, himself, the owner of an estate called Malvern Hall in Warwickshire where Constable painted the House and its park. A view of Malvern can be seen today in Tate Britain’s collections in London
22. Wedgwood Encaustic Vases in Dining Room These handsome vases were almost certainly part of a larger set that were supplied to Sir Henry Bridgeman for his Library. The remaining three, which depict the Labours of Hercules, are in what Josiah Wedgwood described as his ‘Encaustic’ method, which he developed with a view to emulating ancient classical vases. Wedgwood had ready access to the designs of ancient originals from his volume on the ancient Greek and Roman vases that belonged to Sir William Hamilton and so the designs of these eighteenth century ceramics are likely to have been inspired by original classical pieces.
23. Matthew Boulton Candelabra in Drawing Room Elegant and highly sophisticated, this pair of white marble and ormolu neo-classical candelabra were made by the Birmingham manufacturer Matthew Boulton at his Soho Works. Sir Henry Bridgeman’s wife, Elizabeth Simpson Lady Bridgeman, was a keen client of Boultons, purchasing a number of pieces from him. In an act of flattery, Boulton named a particular type of candle stick the ‘Lady Bridgeman’ design. This pair of candelabra, which use advanced neo-classical designs that would have been highly fashionable when created in the 1780s, and would have probably been placed in front of one of the rooms’ mirrors to magnify their light in the evenings.
24. Stubbs, Two Horses This masterful depiction of two horses communing in a landscape is believed to have been originally commissioned as an overmantle picture, which would have been framed above a chimneypiece. Commissioned from the artist by Sir Henry Bridgeman, it is the work of George Stubbs, the greatest of Britain’s equestrian artists, whose understanding of anatomy stemmed from the dissection of horses. It is the finest of Weston Park’s sporting art collection, which also includes paintings by Ferneley, Thomas Weaver, John Boultbee and other notable equestrian painters.
25. Wood’s Palmyra (book) This enormously influential volume is one of a number of eighteenth century architectural books in the Library at Weston Park which show Sir Henry Bridgeman to have been an enlightened architectural patron. Its author, Robert Wood, together with the antiquarians John Bouverie and James Dawkins between 1749 and 1751 undertook an expedition to view the ancient sites of the Eastern Mediterranean which had previously been considered inaccessible to eighteenth-century tourists. Bouverie died in 1750, but Wood and Dawkins travelled on to Syria and the Levant to the ancient cities of Baalbek and Palmyra. There they found the ruins well preserved due to the desert climate and unlike previous writers, Wood not only drew the buildings but undertook measuring and the recording of proportions of columns and other features. Robert Wood was a friend of the architect Robert Adam and his engravings of Baalbek and Palmyra came to influence Adam’s unique style, most notably at Osterley Manor and Syon House.
26. Hans Holbein the younger, Sir George Carew Admiral Sir George Carew was the commander of the Royal Navy flagship Mary Rose when it sank in 1545 and this handsome portrait presents a strikingly realist impression of the man. A drawing of the same sitter by Holbein – presumably a preparatory sketch for this painting – is in the Royal Collection.
27. Gillow Chairs in Morning Room This important set of eight shield shaped backed chairs are attributed to the Lancaster cabinet makers Gillows and are possibly based upon a design by a member of the Wyatt family of architects who often worked with Gillows. Dating from the 1770s, they are made of beechwood which has been gessoed and then gilded to give the rich surface finish. Chairs of this type would have been used only on very special occasions and yet, in the twentieth century, regular use had resulted in the chairs’ surface decoration becoming damaged. This was addressed in 2013-16 with remedial conservation funded partly by a generous grant from the Pilgrim Trust, following which the chairs were reupholstered in a striped fabric which is similar to that which they would probably originally have been covered in.
28. Refectory Table in Hall Bearing a date of 1649 and initials, this table has given rise to a number of apocryphal stories – largely due to the fact that it is amongst the very oldest pieces of furniture in the collection. It had previously been thought that it was from the earlier house at Weston Park, although a recently discovered inventory note made by the Hon. Margaret Bruce, wife of the 5th Earl of Bradford suggests that it was in fact at Great Lever Hall, Bolton, Lancashire – a house acquired by Bishop John Bridgeman in the early seventeenth century – and was removed to Weston Park prior to the sale and subsequent demolition of that house. Although the top has been altered, it remains a treasured piece of vernacular furniture and a complete contrast to the rich pieces of English and French furniture that are displayed with it in the Entrance Hall.
29. John Ferneley, Interior of Stables at Melton Mowbray This masterful depiction of horses that belonged to Orlando, 3rd Earl of Bradford, captures the brilliance of the elder Ferneley as an equestrian artist. It shows two of the favourite hunters, Tom of Lincoln and the Engineer, together with two other horses, groom and two dogs, in the setting of the stables of Newport Lodge, Melton Mowbray. Newport Lodge was the family’s hunting box in the town of Melton which, in turn, was set at the heart of some of England’s finest and most fashionable hunting country. Here Ferneley had established himself as the finest sporting artist and the Bradford family were important patrons as this work amply demonstrates.
30. Lady Lucy & Lady Charlotte’s Photography Lady Lucy and Lady Charlotte Bridgeman were two daughters of the 2nd Earl of Bradford and his first wife. Almost constant companions, as Lady Charlotte’s diaries show, they moved in the society of their father and brother, visiting many of the finest English country houses, places in the neighbourhood of Weston Park and Castle Bromwich Hall and also frequent visits to London. In 1855 they were introduced to the then new art of photography and took to it with gusto, basing their dark room in the cellar of the Temple of Diana and capturing scenes of people and places that were familiar to them . Their often candid images were made into albums as gifts to friends and besides those images that survive in the Foundation’s collection, their albums may also be found today in the collections of the V & A, Philadelphia Museum of Art and in the collection of Princeton University. Tragically their photographic careers were cut tragically short when in 1858 a cinder from the fire in the Drawing Room (now the Tapestry Room) resulted in the eventual death of both sisters.