HOUSE TOUR | ROOMS & GARDENS | CABANA MAGAZINE

 

Weston Park was the ancestral home of England's Earls of Bradford, where centuries of decorative arts and family legacy come alive. This countryside estate, now gifted to the Weston Park Foundation, is a rich tapestry of historic English interiors, brimming with stories. Cabana takes a peek inside.

 

BY EMMA BECQUE | ROOMS & GARDENS | 5 JULY 2024

The drawing room's pastel pink walls designed by Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler director, Janie Money, epitomize Victorian elegance © Taylor Hall O'Brien

 

Built in 1671, the quintessentially English Weston Park was the ancestral family seat of the Earls of Bradford. Skirted by an infinite brick wall in the heart of the Shropshire countryside, the quadrangular house exhibits varying decorative styles from centuries of passionate inheritors. In 1986, the seventh Earl of Bradford gifted Weston Park to the nation under the custodianship of the Weston Park Foundation.

Today, visitors can stroll through the storied hallways, uncover architectural treasures and glass greenhouses within its manicured gardens, and ponder the aeons-old collectables of this fascinating art-loving family. 

Unique to Weston Park, each sitting family (Westons, Peshales, Mytonns, Wilbrahams, Newports, and Bridgemans) has conducted their signature style upon the space. The story begins with the young Lady Elizabeth Wilbraham (1631-1705), who hired architect Sir William Taylor in part due to her admiration of his vocation.

A female pioneer of her time, Elizabeth's annotated notes on her cherished Andrea Palladio book are just one of the many unique emblems on display at Weston. Her ambitions led to the demolition of the Medieval farmhouse to create today's handsome mansion. The start of a visionary set of heirs, Elizabeth's son-in-law, Richard Newport, 2nd Earl of Bradford, ignited the ancestral fine art collection.

Amid the vast formal space, a series of commissioned works by master painters, such as George Stubbs, Anthony van Dyck, Peter Lely and John Constable, hang next to complementary Chippendale and museum-worthy antiquities for all to see.

Since Elizabeth, Weston Park has undergone numerous transformations. The Bridgeman Era commenced in the late 16th-century when John Bridgeman, Bishop of Chester, passed the estate to his son, Orlando. By the 18th-century, Sir Henry Bridgeman, fifth Baronet, had inherited vast lands across the Midlands and the North, allowing him to focus on Weston Park's development - one of the most notable figures regarding Weston's opulent design. Sir Henry embarked on creating a spectacle, allowing for vibrant social events and noteworthy soirées.

 

Weston Park is home to a library of historically significant objects, including a burse (bag) that once held the Great Seal of England © Taylor Hall O'Brien

Working closely with gardening landscaper Lancelot 'Capability' Brown and architect James Paine, the entrepreneurial inheritor made Weston a palatial pleasure ground. Such incentives carved out space for a multitude of bedrooms for frequenting guests, a garden theatre, a folly house (Temple of Diana), a Roman Bridge and the model barn and farm at Woodlands (present-day bestowed to Viscount and Viscountess Newport).

In the Victorian era, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Earls introduced the Orangery, Loggia, and East Wing and refined the Library, Drawing, and Tapestry Rooms. The period's gardening trend inspired the creation of the Terrace and Broderie Gardens.

Similarly, some years later, the 5th Earl, Orlando and his glamorous wife Margaret Bruce took Weston's decoration to new heights during the roaring 1920s. They called in some of the UK's most sought-after creators of the time, including the youthful John Fowler and Lord Gerald Wellesley.

The house became a portfolio for inaugural decorators who were sympathetic and adventurous with their patinas—experimenting with colour, texture and form. Later, during the post-war era, the 6th Earl of Bradford and his wife, Mary Montgomery, took note of their ancestors and commissioned a tented room crafted entirely from silken textiles from Sloane Square’s Charles Hammond. Another enhancement by the couple was a Morning Room wrapped in salmon pink damask and an enlisted set of Gobelin tapestries.

After the family ceased to own Weston Park, the entrusted Foundation restored and reignited the historical interiors to spotlight the collected works of art and furnishings. Following in the stylish footsteps of the nobility before them, the Trustees employed only the best artisans to retain the integrity of the historic house with enduring practicalities.

The drawing room is an exquisite example of such an endeavour with posy pink walls - a splendid display of the design director at Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler, Janie Money’s work. Plucking palettes from Victorian colourways, the plush peach and pink tones manifest femininity. And rightfully so, given the room occupies exclusively female portraits - one depicting Charles II's mistresses, another, a masterpiece by Peter Lely of Weston's visionary owner, Lady Elizabeth.

Equally shimmering are the swagged curtains casting a marvellous glow upon an array of table-talk totems. Perched within a glass case sits a canary yellow parrot. An object of affection, the stuffed taxidermy tells the story of an esteemed guest, Benjamin Disraeli. The Prime Minister of England was a frequent visitor, gifting the family with the once-living bird, which resided in the orangery for 30 years.

Believed to be male, the parrot astonished onlookers by laying 24 eggs in 24 days and promptly dying due to the effort. The fragile eggs, regarded as a work of art, are still in situ with the exotic pet, displayed in the jewel-box space.

The elongated library is equally grand and has remained frozen since the 1930s when elaborate socialite parties were underway. Showcasing the work of interior decorator and architect Guy Elwes, the grainy-hued walls were created to imitate pine with his brief to cultivate an intimate ambience for drinks and dancing.

 

With each turning century, a new addition precluded creating a historic narrative throughout the landmark house's decor © Taylor Hall O’Brien

 

Yet underscoring the warming charm of such a space is the tragic tale of two sisters decades prior. In 1858, while enjoying post-supper drinks, Lady Lucy Bridgemans dress caught fire from an ember while sitting close to the burning fire.

Consequently, her brave sister Charlotte Bridgeman lept to her rescue, which resulted in them both passing away due to their severe injuries. Today, tucked away in the Woodlands, is a terracotta trinket house, Charlotte's Folley - a personal creation and pink rental cottage by the current Viscount and Viscount Newport in homage to the unforgotten Lady Bridgeman.

Janie Money oversaw the transformation of the Marble Hall into Victorian living quarters. Antique rugs were introduced to cushion the stark monochromatic terrazzo tiles, and the walls were coloured with soothing eucalyptus green.

Etched in history is the unmissable cascading marble staircase. An 1899 commission by the fourth Earl of Bradford, George Bridgeman, and Lady Ida Lumley, whose ambitions to create a marvel with distinctive wrought iron handrails and graceful curves continue to exceed expectations.

Another keepsake during the restoration to illuminate the Weston repertory is Lady Ida Lumley's porcelain collection. A close friend of Queen Mary, she shared a mutual admiration for porcelain, an affection shared with her present-day grandson, Alexander Newport, who is also an avid enthusiast. Visitors can find her exquisite Coalport-designed dinnerware and ceramics enshrined in peach-alcoved display cabinets along the ingeniously reinvented entryway.

The coral-pink dining room was one of the last to be decorated. The space was a formal delight, enveloped in Cole & Son Trieste wallpaper using a bespoke colorway with gilded flecks - a lower dado framed by a draped frieze and urn created by Jacksons. The space has evolved to become a gallery wall for the six pieces by van Dyck, with decorator Lucinda Griffiths (Sibyl Colefax & Fowler) at the project's helm.

 

The 17th-century Weston Park features 1000 acres of land transformed into pleasure grounds by Lancelot Capability Brown in 1765 © Taylor Hall O’Brien

 

Utilising expert colorist Charles Hesp, a deep shade of pink with contrasting lime white serves as the canvas for the art. Paying homage to Weston's Italian Gardens, on which the dining room overlooks, the windows are dressed with draped Italian curtains in tones of taupe with green trim and pink passementerie.

In the 1930s, the stark white Regency stucco covering the house was stripped away, revealing its original brick elevations, akin to many Shropshire properties. This transformation marked a new era, culminating in the 1986 donation of the property to the nation and its evolution into a versatile venue.

The Weston Park Foundation has meticulously preserved the past while embracing the future. It showcases the estate's rich history without a red rope and creates spaces like the art gallery for all to enjoy.

 

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