Today we decided to go to Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire, on yet another quest to cram in some heritage, tick off another place of interest, and get Jason’s opinion on the tea rooms of Britain.
Shugborough is actually pronounced as it is read, which is unusual for a British place name. I thought at the very least it would be pronounced shoo borough, but no, it is shug borough, just in case you ever need to ask directions there.
Place names in English are not straightforward. I have never known the right way to pronounce Shrewsbury. Some people pronounce it shrews bury. Some people pronounces it shrows bury. Then there is Leicester, which is pronounced Lesta, but some people try to pronounce Lye sester. Loughborough is pronounced Luff borough. The first ever package tour by Thomas Cook was to take some poor Americans to Loughborough. I can only imagine their disappointment, although the fact that they pronounced it Luga bra hoogah still tickles me pink. And then there are the really complicated places like Alnwick, which is pronounced Annick, and Happisburgh, which is pronounced Hays borough.
Anyway, whichever way it is pronounced I can highly recommend Shugborough, although with a caveat. You should definitely take sandwiches. The catering was not up to much frankly.
If you are a National Trust Member the main house and gardens are free. The car park however, is not, despite the fact that most Trust property car parks are. The reason for this is that only the house and gardens are owned by the National Trust. The rest of the property, which is extensive, is owned by Staffordshire County Council. It costs £3.00 to park.
If you want to see all of the estate, and we suggest that you do, then it is £19 for a family ticket. You can redeem your parking costs against the entrance costs if you like, so it actually cost us £16 for our ticket, which we thought was very good value. There is a lot to do, and the best bits of of what you can do are included in the price of entry, not in your National Trust entry, so splash out.
The estate, according to all the signage, is the biggest working estate in the UK.
There is a cracking kitchen garden, which is in full use. You can buy a wide variety of the produce they grow at very reasonable prices, and it all looked mouthwatering:
There is a working forge within the walls of the garden, and you can commission them to do everything from ornamental gates to pokers. In the outside walls are bothies. These used to be sheds that under gardeners would use to sleep in when it was their turn to keep the furnaces going and do other night time jobs in the grounds. They are now used for craftsmen, and are currently occupied by candle makers, wood turners and a glass workshop. Everyone was totally friendly and very hands on, and happy to have the children looking around and asking questions.
There is a farm which has a water mill, a dairy and lots of rare breed animals.
There were some particularly fantastic pigs. One breed were called Mangalitsa. Tallulah misread the sign, thinking they were called Magician pigs and she and Oscar shot off to see if they could do any impressive tricks. Sadly, apart from being bred for their exceptional lard giving qualities, they did not do anything to put Paul Daniels out of a job.
I wonder if you rendered down Paul Daniels, if he would produce as much lard? I wouldn’t mind finding out. It would be the most useful and least annoying he has ever been.
There were some spectacular chickens. I loved these:
The children loved these:
which they insisted on calling disco chickens, probably because they look a bit like John Travolta in Saturday night fever.
I was particularly smitten by this hare:
which is exactly like the painting of a hare by Albrecht Durer I once saw, which has given me a newfound respect for Durer, and an increased enthusiasm for hares in general.
The farmhouse is a model farm. Not a teeny weeny one like that bit in the film Zoolander where Derek worries about his Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good:
It was set up in about 1805 to embrace new farming technologies, to improve yields but also to show other farmers what innovation could do for their farms. Most of the rooms in the farmhouse are accessible and are also working, so you can go and experience some of what life was like. All the staff are re-enactors and were brilliant, informative and entertaining. The children learned how to make harvest sheaves in the kitchen, and how to make butter and cheese in the dairy. It was great fun.
You can buy food for the animals, and there is a petting zoo, where they had the strangest guinea pig enclosure I have ever seen. The guinea pig’s hutch was a replica of a Georgian mansion, and next door were a rabbit and a guinea pig shacked up in a bed and breakfast. They even had toy cars:
The children were wildly impressed.
We had to drag them away.
As well as the farm house, there is also a section at the back of the main house which is set up as the servants quarters, but which also has replicas of shops and entertainments from the Nineteenth Century. These are also staffed by re-enactors.
The main house is very nice, but if you have seen one grandiose Georgian mansion house, you have seen them all, I am beginning to realise. The library is fabulous, and has a secret door which has false books on it, which we approved of highly. The upstairs rooms are reasonably interesting if you are a fan of either a) minor royalty or b) photography, as they are the suite of rooms used by Patrick Lichfield before his death in 2005.
The gardens are vast, and we didn’t spend much time exploring, as we were busy with other things, but there is an arboretum, a secret island, follies galore and a sculpture trail, all of which are accessible with your NT ticket.
The things we enjoyed the most were the non National Trust bits. The servants quarters were fantastic. There were people dressed up in Victorian garb in every room, each of them behaving as if the house were still occupied, and answering questions and allowing the children and us to join in with various activities. We had a blast in the Victorian School Room where we spent twenty minutes doing lessons with our teacher, a rather formidable lady who had two canes prominently displayed from her teaching lectern.
The children helped with the laundry, using the dolly tub and the wash board, as well as the smoothing irons. They ground sugar in the kitchens and tested biscuits. They wrote their names with a real ink pen in the visitors ledger in the servants dining hall, and then Jason subjected them to a puppet show as a reward:
No wonder they’ve grown up so strangely.