From the Norman Conquest until the dissolution of the monasteries[1] a large area of land that stretched from Lichfield to Baswich belonged to the Bishops of Coventry and Lichfield. This included Shugborough, which then contained a moated manor house[2] built by the Bishops near the junction of the rivers Sow and Trent. This was midway between their main dwellings at Lichfield and Eccleshall. The site offered very good natural defences being surrounded on two sides by the rivers, and on the remaining sides by pools and marshy ground, forming a large moat around the Bishops’ residence. These pools and marshes have been drained and filled in. Originally a long wooden bridge connected the residence with the village of Haywood. When this became ruinous it was rebuilt in stone with forty-three arches, although the later draining of the pools considerably reduced the length of the original bridge.


When the Bishops’ residence was first built is unknown. It was in existence since at least the beginning of the 14th century when Walter de Langton built or enlarged the castle at Eccleshall together with the manor houses at Haywood and Shugborough. Many of the letters and Acts of Bishop Robert de Stretton (1358-1385) were dated ‘in the chapel of our manor of Haywood’ or ‘in the Bishop’s chamber at Heywood.’[3] The residence continued in the possession of the Bishops’ until 1546 when it was passed by the then Bishop Richard Sampson, along with Beaudersert and Cannock Chase, to William Paget in exchange for ‘certain parsonages and impropriations.’[4]  The Paget family, however, decided to make the Bishop’s former hunting lodge at Beaudersert on Cannock Chase their main seat.


During the protestant reign of Elizabeth I the Paget family were accused of adherence to Queen Mary and the Catholic Regime. Because of this their property was confiscated. Although the Paget’s rank and honour was restored in 1603 by James I, part of their property which included Shugborough was sold by the crown to William Whitmore in 1613, along with Haywood, Coley and Oakedge. Whitmore in turn sold the estate to John and Thomas Whitbie, alias Whitby, in 1621.[5]

Three years later Whitbie sold the estate to a local lawyer from Dunston called William Anson[6] in 1624. His wife Joan, was daughter of Richard Mitchel (or Whitehall) of Oldbury, Warwickshire.[7] Dunston is situated north of Penkridge, lying in the same ecclesiastical parish and even as late as 1680 there were still only twenty houses in the small hamlet.[8] The Ansons had been resident in Dunston since before the end of the 16th century where they regularly appear in the parish registers.[9] In 1608 John Cooper of Stafford conveyed Dunston Hall with Land to William Anson.[10] Five years later William leased the Hall to Edward Anson for a term of three lives and at a rent of 47s. 6d. However, the Shugborough estate was not the first conveyance between the Whitbie and Anson families. In 1617 John’s father, Thomas Whitby, granted William Anson and his heirs a fishery in the River Penk from Swan Lane to Litty Meadow Ditch.[11]


As well as land and property in Dunston the Anson family also became holders of the manor. In 1602 John Fowke sold his half of Dunston manor to William Anson.[12] This half succeeded from father to eldest son until reaching George Adams Anson sometime between 1785 and 1789. It was at this time that the other half of the manor which had remained in the hands of the Whitby family was sold to George by widow Ann Parker (nee Whitby). From this point onwards the Ansons possessed the whole manor. George also acquired the manor of Norbury and further parcels of land around Shugborough. George’s son, Thomas[13] held court leets and court barons in 1792 and 1811. The manor then passed to his son, Thomas William, first Earl of Lichfield, and remained in the family until at least 1880 along with much of the land in Dunston.[14]


By comparison with their neighbours, the Astons of Tixall and the Chetwynds of Ingestre, the Ansons were a small, relatively unimportant family. They slowly began acquiring the land and property of the other tenants within the manor of Haywood as well as extending onto the wastes of Cannock Chase. The original purchase from Whitbie in 1624 consisted of the stone-built medieval manor house along with eighty acres of land.[15] This initial purchase was not the estate of today and much of the area of the current parkland remained in the hands of others, most notably the Pagets, the Cliffords and the Wrottersleys. Within the park was the original village of Shugborough, the houses running along a street from the Essex Bridge. The name is derived from the Earl of Essex, the favourite of Elizabeth I, who resided four miles away at Chartley Castle. He erected the bridge in order to convey his hounds across the River Trent to hunt on Cannock Chase.[16] An abstract of the original deed records:


John Whitbie of Honslow, Middlesex, to William Anson of Lincolns Inn, Middlesex, for £1,000. The manor house called Shuttburrowe Manor House in Shuttburrowe in County Stafford & all manner of houses, buildings, barns, stables, edifices, dovehouses, orchards, gardens, backsides, courtyard, moat & waters, & fishing.  The House had about 13 acres around it, consisting of the ‘pleasure grounds’ and a portion of the fields in front of the House. Named areas of the estate included Grascroft (12 acres), Shakamore (35 acres – on the banks of the Trent towards the Lichfield Lodge), Okemore (20 acres – on the banks of the Sow at the entrance to Stafford Wood), and one parcel of meadow in Brimsey meadow called Thach Meadow (5 acres). Also mentioned was a Croft called Bearecrofte (5 acres) and a Parcel of land called Vynyard (3 acres, probably to the west of the present house and can perhaps be identified with the long tongue of land). All of these were recorded as being in Shuttburrowe and Greate Haywood in the parish of Colwich. [17]


The estate of Shugborough was originally included in the ancient ecclesiastical parish of Colwich. Great Haywood was not created as an independent parish until 1854. During the reign of Henry VIII the village of Shugborough was twice the size of that of Colwich as the Muster Rolls reveal.[18] Even 100 years later in the mid-17th century, and after the purchase of the estate, there appears to have been twenty-eight houses at Shugborough with thirty-one at Great Haywood.[19]


The purchase of the estate did not result in immediate changes. One hundred years later the village of Shugborough still existed and was described by Thomas Cox in his ‘Compleat History of Staffordshire’ as ‘a village upon Trent Bank where there remain some of the ruins of a goodly house belonging of old to the Bishops of Lichfield and Coventry.’[20] The village contained two mills, first mentioned in 15th century documents. Shugborough Mill – the Lower Mill – ground corn, while the other – the Upper Mill – was for fulling. These were located between the new House and the village. The Upper Mill was located where the farm now stands, and was converted for paper-making in 1670 until its closure around 1800. The Lower Mill was between 150-200 yards from the mouth of the Sherbrook, a stream flowing out of a spring on Cannock Chase, which supplied the power. This ground corn for the village until 1770 when it became a fulling mill when the Upper Mill changed to paper-making. The pool for the Lower Mill covered the greater part of the land between it and the Upper Mill.[21] After its closure in the 19th century the site was occupied by the dog kennels. The fact that no corn was ground at either mill from 1770 suggest the conversion of arable land to pasture. To the east of the Lower Mill pool lay the road to the Essex Bridge which at this point formed the village street.


The street was bordered by sixteen cottages and ran from near the Essex Bridge to the area of the Upper Mill. The junction of this lane with another from Cannock chase about 300 yards from the bridge seems to have formed the southern end of the village on this side of the road which contained six cottages. On the western side were another ten cottages whose crofts ran down to the vicinity of the Lower Mill and its pool. This western side of the street began further south than the east, the buildings commencing at Mill Lane which provided access to the corn mill from near the Essex Bridge and stretching as far as the Upper Mill, again further south than on the other side of the road.


The village suffered from disputes and assaults endemic in social life during this period. The Spring of 1604 saw Thomas Bee of Shugborough charged at the Quarter Sessions with house-breaking and assault and battery on Thomas Nutkyn and his wife Ellen, recently an alehouse keeper. The following year both Thomas Bee and William Bennett were licensed to sell ale.[22] As well as an alehouse the village also possessed a pound, approximately in the vicinity of where the Tower of the Winds was later erected in the 1760s. The Quarter Sessions also dealt with cases of immorality as the following document reveals:


Whereas Grace Tompson of Shuteborough [sic] in the county of Stafford upon her examination taken upon oath before me on ye fourteenth day of novbr last past did charge Henry Vernon of Utoxiter [sic] in ye county aforesaid with being the ffather of a bastard child whereof she was then and now is bigg; and whereas by virtue of my warrant, bearing date this 5th day of decbr 1733 directed to ye constable of Shuteborough of ye parish of Colwich the said Henry Vernon was taken up and brought before me to answer the premises But he hath refused to enter into Recognisance with surities for his appearance at ye next quarter sessions to be held for this county and to give security for ye maintenance for the child when born as ye law in such case directs. These are therefore in his Majesties name to com[] and you the said constable to convey ye said Henry Vernon safely to ye common goal [sic] and to deliver him to ye keeper thereof hereby requiring you the said keeper to receive ye said Henry Vernon into your custody and him safely to keep in your common goal aforesaid till he shall be discharged by due course of law, hereof fail not. Given undr my hand and seal this 5th day of decembr in ye year of our lord 1733.


                                         W: Chetwynd


The document confirms that the original village was still in existence forty years after the building of the Hall.


The extent of the original purchase is shown on a map of the estate labelled on the exterior ‘Shugborough before the attestation’ and showing William Anson’s land in 1693. However, the map was drawn much later, probably at the beginning of the 19th century, and the original village of Shugborough has disappeared. The map shows the kennels on the site of the Lower Mill pool although the Upper Mill is shown where the present farm and mill pond is located.[23]


A later map of the estate exists from sometime between 1770-1800, which appears to have been drawn up to show which parts belonged to the Ansons, the Pagets and the Cliffords. The Temple of the Winds is shown on an island reached by two bridges, one on either side of the top ends of the Mill Pool. The map also shows two blocks of almshouses and the ‘new garden’ (although Shugborough House was not included). The almshouses form a single block erected to the north of the last remaining original cottage in the street – that of Widow Sayers. The row is about eighty yards long and six yards in depth and its frontage broken by what appears to be seven small porches. This suggests either seven double-fronted or fourteen single-fronted dwellings. Between the row and the Mill Pool to the west, and north towards the House are two areas labelled as gardens. Across the road from these are buildings marked as cowsheds. The whole is carefully screened by a plantation of trees both towards the house and at the rear towards the former Mill Pool. Because the map was drawn after Nicholas Dall’s View of Shugborough painted in 1768 this confirms that the earliest date for their construction would have been around 1770. However, there is no other archival evidence suggesting that these ever existed. If Thomas Anson had planned any philanthropic act towards the original inhabitants of the village then his intention appears to have died with him in 1773.


Also visible on the map is the original course of the road from Stafford to Rudgley. Leaving its current position at Milford Common it ran along the foot of the slope below the present Stafford drive where in some places a causeway shows its route. It entered the cultivated land of the village a few hundred yards from where the Stafford drive now emerges into open parkland and appears to have followed the foot of the slope where the Triumphal Arch stands to rejoin its present course in the vicinity of Weetman’s Bridge[24] . In 1750 600 yards of road were diverted. This included the road that connected the village with the main Stafford to Rugeley road which ran across Satnall Hills and then between the upper and lower mill pools across Mill Field. At this time the ford by which this same road to Tixall crossed the Sow at Hollyford was replaced by a bridge and its approach to the river altered.[25] The road to Mill Field was closed, the present road from White Barns across the park to Shugborough Bridge was laid out as well as coal roads to Cannock Chase altered. A short cut into the Haywood road branched off immediately opposite the Arch and it was this which possibly determined the position of the Arch (which now seems meaningless).[26] Other physical alterations included the arm of water reaching the east side of the House which was filled in about 1804, the catalyst probably being the floods of 1795.


Nicholas Dall’s view of Shugborough from 1768 records the scene looking up the Sherbrook at its junction with the Sow. The pagoda and cascade are visible but the Lower Mill is not, despite the fact that three years later Thomas Anson signed a lease in which he covenanted to maintain the building.[27] Possibly Dall had anticipated the removal of the Mill by exaggerating the greenery in that area. The painting also shows a group of sixteen houses[28] grouped around the Temple of the Winds, along with other isolated dwellings along the lanes leading to Cannock Chase. These buildings are consistent with the Paper Mill, the Sayers house and adjacent buildings. However, between this area and the Essex Bridge the view is clear, without buildings or trees, and this is the area where all existing earlier evidence indicates that the village was situated. On the right-hand side of the painting can be seen a large dwelling with two gables with other, smaller buildings in the nearby woods. The painting is also useful in showing the locations of Tixall (left) and Ingestre (right) in the background. However, as with the Mill, other anomalies exist, including the Essex Bridge not strictly in the position which it should be.


When Thomas Anson died in 1773, and the estate inherited by his nephew George Adams Anson, the court roll made reference to twenty-eight properties. However, as the roll repetitively states that none of these were in existence confirms that the village had disappeared by this point.[29] A conveyance of 1781 also confirms that the Lower Mill had also been demolished.[30] This theory is supported further by William Pitt in his ‘Topographical History of Staffordshire’ published in 1819. There is no mention of the village, unlike Cox in his account of 1730, although Pitt referred at length to the House, farm and idyllic parkland.[31]


William Anson III


It is unknown if the Ansons actually lived in the original house that William purchased in 1624. Upon William’s death in 1644 he was succeeded by his son, William (II), born in 1828 and who married Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Stafford of Botham Hall, Derbyshire.[32] It was not until 1693 that William’s grandson William (III) began erecting a new house. This William married Isabella, daughter and co-heiress of Charles Carrier of Wirksworth, Derbyshire[33] and had three children, Thomas, George and Janette. This seventy-year period between the purchase of the estate and the building of a new house may be attributable to the growing unrest in England during this time. This manifested itself in the Civil War of 1642 which was followed by a period of uncertainty as the country entered into an eleven-year Commonwealth, ending with the restoration of Charles II in 1660. By building a new house William was simply keeping pace with his neighbours. During the calmer climate towards the end of the 17th century the houses at Tixall, Ingestre, Beaudersert and Wolsley were all rebuilt. Shugborough differed, however, as William decided to build a new house rather than enlarge and adapt existing houses which was the case with his neighbours.


The new house was built a short distance from the original manor house.[34] Two suggested reasons for this are that the original moated manor house was nearer to the river and therefore at greater risk of flooding, or due to its close proximity to the river it would have been impossible to have a rear garden. An alternative suggestion is that William may have favoured the relatively new material of brick (which the original central portion of the house is) rather than continuing in stone.


The original house was demolished and stones from this used in the foundations of the new house. Building commenced on 10th August 1693 and was not completed until December of the following year. Bricks were brought in from various local brickworks because the quantity required could not be produced at once. William organised the work himself, engaging his own craftsmen and labourers and purchasing his own materials. He was not excessively wealthy as his income was mainly derived from farming.


From the original house 350 loads of stone were used in the foundations of the new house, along with thirty-five pieces of timber, seven door cases and thirteen lintels. Materials that were not required were sold including window frames, wood, tiles and plaster. William controlled labour costs by paying workmen by the day, meaning that he would not be liable for periods of non-production due to bad weather.


No maps or plans survive for the building of the house, with the exception of a small sketch by William. This shows the overall measurements of 65ft x 47ft on each side, except in the centre where there was a small yard. The House had two main storeys with cellars in a basement and garrets under the roof. The Hall, or central houseplace, was 21ft by 25ft. To the right of this was the Little Parlour 14ft by 14ft, and a small room beyond measuring 8ft by 14ft. To the left of the Entrance hall was the Great Parlour (now the Library) 22ft by 21ft. The difference in depth on the other side was made up by a passage with staircase 7ft wide. On the other side of this passage was the kitchen, measuring 22ft by 28ft, and beyond this a Scullery and Larder. The Pantry was at the rear of the Hall, and behind this a passage before reaching the back yard. A passage with another staircase filled the space corresponding to the Pantry at the back of the rest of the Hall and also by the side of the Great Parlour. A room for servants occupied the rest of the space on that side, corresponding to part of the Kitchen, Scullery and Larder on the other side. No plan exists for the upper storeys but the first floor probably contained six family bedrooms, and the garrets above being the servants’ sleeping-quarters. At this date William and his wife Isabella had just one child and three female servants so the house would have been more than adequate for their needs.


The 1693 sketch-plan shows a large fireplace arch in the kitchen which was then in the centre of the main block. This would have housed an open fire, with cooking being carried out by spit-roasting or in suspending cauldrons above it. During the first extensions to the house c.1745 this area became part of the new Dining Room, the kitchen being moved to a separate wing attached to the side of the building, as was typical of Palladian planning.[35] No mention is made of fireplaces in the 1694 building accounts, but by 1773 the household inventory lists a steel stove and fire irons for each room, the fireplace being the focal point of a room, its importance shown by the elaborate marble chimney pieces and decorative overmantels found throughout the house.[36]


The bishops had sited their house at the junction of the rivers Trent and Sow, and where the latter is joined by the Sherbrooke. This enabled them to use the clear spring water for drinking and the river to carry away their waste, and the first secular owner, Lord Paget, continued to use this same system. William also used the same water supply and accounts reveal payments for piping, suggesting that the kitchen had a piped supply. For drainage the Sherbrooke was channelled beneath the cellar floor with an outlet to the river behind the house. The sanitary arrangements included a ‘necessary house’ which may also have been linked to this drainage.

References in William’s notebooks reveal the house to have been finished by December 1694 although workmen were still being paid until June 1695 regarding interior decoration and furnishings.[37] Minor alterations were made shortly after completion. This included a stable wall built in 1701 and a new garden layout in 1714.


Thomas Anson (1695-1773)


After the death of William (III) in 1720 the estate was inherited by his son Thomas. He studied at St John’s College, Oxford, between 1711 and 1714, and it was probably Oxford that ignited his interest in the arts. He qualified as a Barrister-at-Law of the Inner Temple in London in 1719.[38] During 1724-25 he undertook an extended Grand Tour. He became a member of the Dilettanti Society in 1730, founded to promote serious interest in the arts of the classical world. He later travelled in Asia Minor and Egypt in 1740 and 1741 respectively, the latter spent discovering the coastline as well as sailing a ‘considerable’ length along the Nile.[39]


Thomas became MP for the borough of Lichfield from 1747. Both he and his brother George began political campaigning and succeeded to the Lichfield seat for the Whigs in alliance with the Leveson-Gowers. This necessitated extensive purchases of burgage property that were divided between the two families, until the Ansons bought out the Leveson-Gower interest in 1826. In addition Thomas also purchased property in Rickerscote and Knightly as well as acquiring the manor of Rugeley. 


Thomas was responsible for making the first series of improvements to both the House and Park.[40] The first major alteration was the addition of a pair of two-storeyed wings in 1748 on either side of the 17th century House, connected by single-storeyed links. Both of these wings featured a domed semi-circular bow on the main (east) front. The northern wing contained what is now the Dining Room although this had previously been the Drawing Room.


The bare brick behind the large paintings in the Dining Room suggests that these were installed when the room was first built in c.1748. These are frescos on canvas, probably brought by Thomas on his travels in 1740 and it is thought that the room was built to house them. The paintings either side of the fireplace appear to have been enlarged c.1794 when the room was converted into the Dining Room after the addition of the Red Drawing Room. The enlargements were thought necessary to conceal a pair of blocked-up doors which had previously opened into a former State bedroom suite which the new Drawing Room replaced.


This belief is based on an entry in a travel journal of Philip Yorke (later Lord Hardwick and related by marriage to the Anson family), dated August 20th 1763, in which he described ‘the Great Room in which is a copy of Guido’s ‘Aurora’’, as having ‘an apartment within’ which was furnished in Chinese style. An ‘apartment’ then normally consisted of a bedroom and a dressing room and was usually on the ground floor with a communicating drawing room, as would appear to be the case here. Other sources of information suggest the blocked-up spaces, not being doors, but windows, which would not allow the existence of an apartment. In his ‘Observations, relative chiefly to Picturesque Beauty, made in the year 1772’, William Gilpin, after describing the ‘ruins in distemper by Dahl’ noted that the windows of the room in which they hung ‘looked towards a pile of artificial ruins’. This appears to refer to those built on the riverbank at the rear of the house, which could only have been visible from the now Dining Room through windows on the fireplace wall.[41] This theory is supported by a reference in the report on the dry-rot repairs of 1920-1924 to ‘two blocked-up windows.’ Whichever of these theories is correct, there is little doubt that the parts added to extend the paintings are in a different hand to the originals. They are more linear and delicate in execution, the figures showing less movement and having more subdued colours in their clothing.[42]


In the south wing the Library was extended from the point of the deep segmental arch and is therefore a combination of the original and new house. The existing small room here, which was called the Great Hall on the 1693 sketch plan, was extended through into the single-story link with the southern wing, to create a large area. The height of the ceilings (12ft) is the height of the original room before alteration. The room was furnished with blue silk-damask curtains and upholstery, a bureau and a secretaire of rosewood, a French clock, china figures and plaster of Paris figurines, and a carpeted floor, but only two bookcases and two bookshelves were then listed, the majority being later additions. At this time Thomas and his family were sharing the house with his three unmarried younger sisters, so the household would have been quite large, especially when visitors were also present.[43]


The extensions may also have been added to create a more imposing and spacious house for the extra entertaining necessary after Thomas’s election as MP for Lichfield in 1747.[44]


It also made a fitting setting the following year to welcome Lady Elizabeth Yorke, daughter of Lord Hardwick, when she became the bride of his younger brother George. The Admiral was now a national hero and had acquired a vast fortune following his circumnavigation and capture of Spanish treasure ships. At this time George had no estate of his own, so it is thought probable that he provided some of the funds for the building at Shugborough.


It was the fortune of Admiral George that financed the next period of alterations to the house after his sudden death in 1762. Being childless and predeceased by his wife, George’s substantial estate was left to Thomas. With such a fortune at his disposal Thomas was able to embark on an even more ambitious programme of improvements. Although now in his sixties and still a bachelor, he had lost none of his enthusiasm for the arts and almost immediately began spending on a very large scale. He commissioned the architect James Athenian Stuart to further enlarge Shugborough by adding an upper-storey to the links to increase bedroom accommodation and probably converting the garrets into a second floor by raising the roof-line of the central block. It is highly probable that the 1693 house had a hipped roof with dormer windows to the garrets and a central balustrade leaded flat roof with a small cupola. However, no pictures confirming this exist, the earliest being the Dall views of 1768. In addition to this he also entirely rebuilt his London house at 15 St James’s Square.[45]


The second storey links were added sometime between 1768 and 1780. Dall’s view of 1768 shows them as single-storied, but watercolour sketches by Moses Griffiths for the topographer Thomas Pennant carried out about 1780 shows the addition of an upper floor. These paintings also show the addition of the stable block. The clock and bell on the roof are dated to 1767.[46]


To accommodate the increase in household size Thomas Wright also built a new dining room at the rear of the house by filling in the central courtyard and adding a semi-circular six-pillared bay. Although no documentary evidence survives the bay is shown on paintings of the house during the second half of the eighteenth century. In addition to Dall’s  View of Shugborough from 1768 (already mentioned) this shows that the east front of the house still had its central pediment built in 1693, but there was also now a small service block attached to the end of the south pavilion. The domestic offices, previously at the centre of the main block, were now in a separate wing, as was customary during this period. Also visible are the rounded bays and domed roofs of the flanking pavilions.[47]Another view of the west front shows the circular bay and also the roof of the house was now that of the flat, balustrade Palladian type although the linking sections to the wings were still only of one storey. The upper windows above the Dining Room and Red Drawing Room were built as dummies to give symmetrical order as the extra height given to these rooms only allows for empty roof space above them.[48]


Other alterations by Thomas were removed at the end of the 18th century with remodelling by the first Viscount Anson. In the grounds the Chinese House was built c1747 by Thomas to commemorate his brothers’ visit to Canton. Its original purpose was to display the Chinese porcelain, painted mirrors and other artefacts brought back to England by the admiral.


Thomas died unmarried and childless in London in 1773. He was brought back to Shugborough for burial in the family vault at Colwich parish church, described by Thomas Pennant as a catacomb. In his will he left his estate to his sister Janette and her son George Adams of Orgreave Hall, Alrewas, with annuities to his other two surviving sisters.


Thomas’s involvement with the Dilettanti Society has been adequately covered in an article ‘Thomas Anson and the Greek Revival 1756-1773’ (www. accessed June 2010) although reveals little of the man himself. The article concentrates upon his involvement with the society, his association and support of James Athenian Stuart, and reveals that the pair knew each other as early as 1755 (seven years before the publication of Stuart’s influential ‘The Antiquities of Athens’) or even as early as 1751 before Stuart’s expedition to Greece. The article also provides useful information on the rebuilding of the house at 15 St James’s Square in 1763 and the input of Stuart, the contents of the library at Shugborough before the sale of 1842, and suggests that the gardens were full of genuine classical sculptures as well as 19th century copies.


The article also reveals how Shugborough contributed to the development of the canal network, and Thomas’s support of the Trent and Mersey. This was because the canal passed through the estate alongside the River Trent, and Thomas became one of the ‘Company of Proprietors of the Navigation from the Trent to the Mersey.’ An initial meeting was held on December 30th 1765 at nearby Wolseley Bridge. A fellow proprietor was Josiah Wedgwood, who by December 1770 had also become acquainted with James Athenian Stuart, possibly through an introduction by Thomas. Wedgwood, through playful boasting to Matthew Boulton at his Soho works in Birmingham, proposed to produce a large bowl which had been causing problems for Boulton. This was to be placed upon a large tripod made by Boulton to sit on top of the Demosthenes Lanthorn in the Park. A letter from Josiah Wedgwood to his business partner Thomas Bentley reveals that Wedgwood, in the company of Boulton and Dr. Erasmus Darwin, were to dine at Shugborough with Thomas on New Year’s Day 1770. However, Wedgwood was unable to attend and the meeting did not take place, nor a second one that had been planned later the same month.


The majority of personal information in the article about Thomas is drawn from various eulogies after his death. These include Thomas Pennant, who in his ‘Journey to Chester’ described him as preferring ‘the still paths of private life...with the most humane and the most sedate disposition, he possessed a mind most uncommonly cultivated. He was an example of true taste.’


Lord Admiral George Anson (1697-1762)


Thomas’s only brother was George, baptised at Colwich on May 27th 1697, known as ‘the father of the British Navy’ through implementing effective administration and strategic reforms. These included victualling the navy, sanitary arrangements on board, coding the Articles of War, signalling, creation of a new standard uniform for officers, improvements to the design of ships to enable them to travel faster, and the institution of a permanent corps of Royal Marines. He joined the navy at the age of fourteen, was commissioned lieutenant at nineteen, and took part in the battle of Passaro at twenty-one. He was successful in suppressing piracy and smuggling. He is best known for his four-year circumnavigation of the world between 1740 and 1744 aboard HMS Centurion (only the second Englishman to achieve this after Sir Francis Drake in the 16th century). His exploits helped to expand the British Empire.


When the voyage began in December 1739 the Centurion was equipped with 600 guns and 400 men at the head of a fleet of eight ships – six warships and two victuallers. They disembarked at St Catherine, Brazil, to clean and refit the vessel as well as to allow the health of the crew to recover with the opportunity of fresh meat, fruit and vegetables. In January 1741 they set sail around Cape Horn. Harsh weather and rough seas resulted in men being thrown against the ship breaking bones, or overboard, and the fleet became scattered. There were outbreaks of scurvy where the worst cases were confined to hammocks and deaths began to increase. In April forty-five men died aboard the Centurion, followed by a further eighty the following month. By mid-June the death toll had reached almost 200. Admiral George recorded the conditions in a letter stating ‘I have but five and forty men before the mast and some of them have not recovered their senses, for numbers turned mad and idiots with the scurvy. I cannot pretend to describe that terrible distemper, but no plague even equalled the degree we had of it, after the fatigues of this long voyage I flatter’d myself we should find some refreshments here and a respite from our labours for we have been paid put to it to keep a leaky ship.’[49]


In May 1741 the Centurion reached the agreed rendezvous at Socoto. Admiral George waited two weeks but none of the other ships arrived so the Centurion sailed to the island of Juan Fernandez off the coast of Chile. Tents were erected on the shore and the sick carried in their hammocks. Fresh fruit, vegetables and the meat of wild goats, sea lions and fish helped to improve the health of the crew. Admiral George also planted lettuces, carrots and other vegetables with seeds brought from England. In return he brought home the blue sweet pea which is named after him. Two of the eight accompanying ships arrived in equally poor states and eventually the three set sail, capturing several small Spanish ships, despite a crew of only a third that had left England. They successfully took the town of Parita on the coast of Santa Fe and £30,000 worth of treasure. They captured another Spanish ship with £12,000 and Admiral George gave up his own share to suppress squabbling among the crew.


Admiral George then sailed across the Pacific to China, putting down prisoners from Parita and the captured ships, who he treated with fairness and humanity. He scuttled the two remaining ships of the fleet and the remaining crew transferred to the Centurion which then continued alone. More bad weather and sickness necessitated going ashore at Guam on Tinian to revive the health of the sick before departing for Macao in October 1742.


The Admiral’s original mission had been to capture the Acapulco treasure ship, the Nuestra Senora de Covadonga. This he finally accomplished in less than half an hour on June 20th 1743. The Centurion only lost three men while the Spanish lost sixty-seven with a further thirty-four wounded. The value of the captured treasure amounted to £400,000 and it was the Admiral’s prize as captain and commander of the fleet, entitling him to 3/8 of the total, which made the family fortune.


The Centurion again sailed to Macao and Admiral George visited the Viceroy leaving his First Lieutenant Piercy Brett in charge. While in Canton a serious fire broke out which his crew brought under control. As a reward the Admiral was given a Chinese export porcelain dinner service by the European Merchants[50] as well as provisions for the homeward journey. This began on December 7th 1743, reaching the Cape of Good Hope the following March, and arriving in the English Channel on June 10th. Due to fog the Centurion sailed through the middle of a hostile French fleet without being recognised, finally disembarking at Spithead on June 15th 1744 after an absence of three years and nine months. The cargo, the largest ever taken, required thirty-nine wagons to convey it to London.[51] The Chaplain aboard the Centurion, the Rev. Richard Walter, later published an account of the journey that was so popular it ran through fifteen editions.


The Centurion was completely refitted after the voyage, including the removal of the lion figurehead. George III gave this to the Duke of Richmond and somehow it later became used as a sign for a public house. Later still it came into the possession of William IV who presented it to Greenwich Hospital. After falling to pieces it was stored in an outhouse until being retrieved by a family member and brought back to Shugborough.


Four days after his return on June 19th George was promoted to Rear-Admiral of the Blue. However, he rejected the position because the Admiralty refused his recommendation to make his First Lieutenant on the Centurion, Piercy Brett, a captain. Changes in government brought in the Duke of Bedford and the Earl of Sandwich as First and Second Lords of the Admiralty who appointed George Vice Admiral of the White in 1745. It was the combined efforts of all three of these individuals who made vast improvements to the navy.


In 1747 the Admiral was in charge of the Prince George, protecting shipping in the English Channel and capturing French privateers. On May 3rd he won the battle with the French fleet off Cape Finisterre taking money and stores intended for their forces in Canada worth £2m. As a result he was given a peerage, being created Lord Anson, Baron of Soberton (Southampton) on June 13th and promoted to Vice Admiral of the Red on July 15th.


In April 1748 he married Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of Philip Yorke, the first Earl of Hardwicke, Lord High Chancellor of England, of Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire. He spent most of his time either at his London home at 15 St James’s Square or his villa at Carshalton, as well as visits to his brother at Shugborough until acquiring his own country house at Moor Park in Middlesex.


The Admiral and his wife travelled to Scarborough at the end of July 1751, mainly for the opportunity of ‘taking the waters’, which Elizabeth wrote involved both bathing in and drinking warm water. Her husband returned to London on business leaving her in the company of her brother and brother-in-law, along with other acquaintances. On August 6th she wrote to her husband from York, where there was ‘no venturing to cross the country to Mr Aizleties’s’. She continued:


You will be surprised too to find that Johnny & I are by ourselves. Mr Yoke & Lady Grey parted from us at Malton yesterday morning, not that I could find he had any material complaints to make thereof, but he was afraid he might be ill (which heaven knows anybody may be) & thought travelling would heat him, & was so unhappy & so I did not attempt to persuade him, but wish he may be better & easier when he gets home, but at present he is vastly to be pited, & I do not know what to think of him. If they would have been so good to know their own minds, or inform us of what they intended sooner, I would have set out much earlier in the morning yesterday, but as their irresolution & the looking them out a little wine out of my coach & other such trifles after breakfast (which was the first time they mentioned parting) just as we were setting out, delayed us near an hour, we did not set out from Malton for Helmsley  ‘till nine o’ clock; the road was very indifferent & we were very near five hours driving it, & found George at Mr Duncombe’s, who was come back from Thirsk on purpose to tell us he had in going & coming tried both the roads, & that neither were in the best state, nor he believed passable for wheels; Mr Taylor & I therefore very prudently considered that it was better to go round than run the risk of demolishing horses & coach by attempting so desperate a project, & as it would have been more than enough for the horses to have returned those five hours drive in the afternoon, we accepted of Lady D: Duncombe’s most pressing invitation, which indeed it was almost impossible to get clear of, & stayed dinner & the evening there. Mr Duncombe came home from these races to dinner with Lord & Lady Byron. We were very obligingly received & were much struck with both the terraces:- you know the place & besides I have travelled too far, & have too far to travel to attempt description tonight, but I must ask you, if you remember the place enough to know, whether you agree with me in thinking, that the situations of Duncombe Park and More [sic] Park are a good deal of the same kind.


We set out from Mr Duncombe’s this morning, before any of the family were up, & saw a very pretty place belonging to a Mr Worsley in the way & came thro’ Castle Howard Park hither. Tomorrow we propose setting out very early for Rippon & Mr Aizleties, & the rest of our journey must be regulated by weather & roads, the first has favoured us hitherto since we set out, but the latter are abominable. My curiosity is certainly strong, but I do not intend to gratify it at the expence of the means of getting to my friends, for  the sight of whom my impatience is much greater than for that of any place whatever. Forgive this vile servant my dearest love, but I could not help leaving this account of our motions hitherto to set out tomorrow. Adieu mon tres cher – continue to love me as it is my only happiness. I hear the Duchess of Norfolk is ill & sees no company.


During September 1751 Elizabeth and her companions had reached Buxton. Her letters to her husband show her dissatisfaction with the Derbyshire spa town. Many of the letters were prefixed with ‘Purgatory’ rather than Buxton:


Purgatory, Sept 22 [1751]



Expectation had I thought prepared me for finding this much the worst place I was ever in, but it turns out to be so much worse than I ever expected, that I am quite off my bias: miserable I am to the utmost, angry at & ashamed of myself for being so, but miserable still. Scarborough with all its evils was a palace of delights to this place. Constant stinks all over the house, an absolute destruction of breakfast from the badness of butter, with the like, are among the trifling inconveniences: but the two capital grievances, & which I do not think I shall ever be able to endure are the bathing & the noise. The first unites all the inconveniences of hot & cold bathing as it is necessary to dip over head, & feels very cold while one is in the water, where one is oblig’d to stay several minutes (tho’ I could not bear it the presented eight minutes this morning) & then one comes out with the chillness of warm bathing instead of the glow which makes one pleasant instant in coming out of cold water. But if this could be submitted to, the other I doubt will really have very bad effects, I mean the almost eternity of the noise. I lost one nights sleep at Ashbourne, & yet the inn there was the cave of quiet compared with this; last night I could not get to sleep till one o’ clock, & then rather because I was tired down than because there was any cessation of walking over my head, talking of each side, rambling chairs & table all round, all of which waked me at half an hour after five this morning & continues still, & I have now the head-ach, & am like a person quite stunned & unable to understand anything I attempt to read, which yet is the only amusement I can propose as there can be no such thing as walking without the temptation of prospect, or the shelter of trees, in both which respects Stilton & Newmarket have the advantage of this place: and any partys from it are impossible from the distances, nature of the country &c. In short I am in such a situation as to be sorry for having the only comfort possible, I mean the presence of some friends, as I am ashamed & vexed to lose so much in their opinion as I am sensible. I am doing every minute & therefore tho’ I own obligation to Mr Anson beyond all power of return, for exchanging his own Elysian for this worst of purgatorys, yet I am concerned he ever came, for my own sake as much as his, & could wish he would leave me, & forget he has ever seen me here. Mrs Anson who was so good to intend coming, was prevented by a cold, which turned to something of Mr Dennisis complaint, the name of which I do not write because I cannot tell how it should be wrote. I ought to tell you that we dined at Mr Vernons’ on Wednesday & saw Dovedale & Mr Okeover’s Raphael yesterday which is by far the finest picture I have seen, but even the agreeable impression that made is now effaced with every other, except what are owing to your kind letter & the news of your safe arrival in town. I hardly know who is here, & as I do not eat at the Ordinary I hope to escape acquaintance as I really do not at present deserve good company & am not able to make the right use of what is indifferent, for which & all other follies I am reproved by my angry friends, who have however I think rather more patience with me than I have with the place, or with myself. They send many complements to you. I am hardly able to smile at the astonishing match you mention of the lady should be thought to deserve any worse punishment than the consequences of her choice. Let it be her fate to be sent hither. As to the value of members of White’s, whatever my general opinion I entirely agree with you in particular instances, one at least I know who greatly underrated himself when he bestowed himself on so troublesome & so useless a creature as


your most faithful


and affectionate wife


E Anson


Mr Anson allows the description of the place to be strictly just, & as to myself, besides what I have said, I am the reverse of myself at present in every thing that is ever tolerable in me & to shew [sic] how totally I am altered I must mention two circumstances, the one that I think time moves much too slow, & wish to add wings to him which is against my constant principle and practice, & the other that for the first time in my life since I have known my dearest Lord I cannot wish him with me. Adieu love & forgive me, for I am very naught & your brother is very angry with me.[52]


Three other letters exist from Buxton, the first two both headed ‘purgatory.’ The first, written on the following day, September 23rd, remarks that ‘I exist, which is as much as one can do in this place....I could go on with a second chapter of the lamentations of Jeremiah....’ [53] The next, dated the 25th of September, is headed ‘purgatory, the 5th day of suffering’ and mentions ‘this vile place...which affords nothing new, not even the newspapers for we cannot get any.’[54] Her mood is lifted on the third and final letter, dated October 2nd, no doubt with the thought of leaving Buxton.


Lady Elizabeth returned to Buxton eight years later and while there wrote three letters to her husband. On September 30th 1759 she wrote: ‘I imagine now that you are at Moor-Park, where I hope you have better weather than we have. Nothing is more usual nor more unfortunate than bad weather here where we are among our enemies, all Lichfield foes and Manchester Jacobites, &c, &c; but we expect a recruit of friends headed by Lord Stamford in a day or two. Besides bad politics we deal very much in scandal, & in cause for it, & in short a worse place cannot be.’[55] She also wrote on October 5th and 7th, the latter stating: ‘Tomorrow morning, as early as we can, no accident happening, we shall leave this vilest of places with a most real pleasure; & by Tuesday we hope to find ourselves happily returned into a land of quiet, cleanliness and humanity.’[56]


In 1751 he was promoted to First Lord of the Admiralty, a post he held until his death eleven years later. He was also Vice Admiral of the UK, Master of Trinity House 1752-56, and a member of the Privy Council from March 1750. His influential position meant that he was able to increase naval power so that at the outbreak of the Seven Years War England had 130 ships as opposed to the French with sixty-three. His wife Elizabeth died on June 1st 1760.


The Admiral’s last sea voyage was in July 1761 escorting Princess Charlotte as the bride-to-be of George III. His death on June 6th the following year came suddenly while walking in his garden at Moor Park. Neither he nor his elder brother Thomas had any children. His brother outlived him for eleven years and inherited his fortune (but not the title, the barony became extinct), including the house in St James’s Square and Moor Park, the latter of which he sold for £25,000, as well as property at Bentley and Willenhall in south Staffordshire and substantial estates in Norfolk.[57]


[1] Between 1536 and 1540.

[2] For the manor of Haywood.

[3] King John is supposed to have visited Shugborough on November 19th 1200 and signed a Royal Order at Haywood while returning from Wales. This is given in ‘The History of Pirehill Hundred by Walter Chetwynd of Ingestre 1679’ reprinted in ‘Staffordshire Historical Collections’ vol.1914, p129-132. Chetwynd explicitly stated Shugborough. Other royal visits to haywood (possibly including the Bishop’s residence at Shugborough) included Edward I on 15th September 1275 while travelling from Chester to Lichfield, and again on 4th March 1284 when travelling from Burton on Trent. On this occasion the King went to Stone but returned again to Haywood on March 6th before proceeding to Chester (Chetwynd, p130). Edward II visited Great Haywood on 4th July 1309 from Chester, having passed through nine days earlier on June 25th when on a journey to Coventry (Chetwynd, p131). Richard II visited Great Haywood on 21st February 1399 and signed letters (SHC vol.1910 p309 and vol.1914 p131).

[4] ‘History of Pirehill Hundred by Walter Chetwynd of Ingestre, 1679’, reprinted in Staffordshire Historical Collections, vol.1914, p129-132.

[5] Why the ten-year delay between the Paget’s partial reimbursement and a portion of their original estate being sold by The Crown is unknown. Thomas Whitby had been an attendant on the Lord Chancellor Egerton.

[6] This individual is the patriarch of the Anson family, also known as William Anson of Lincoln’s Inn. This William died in 1644. His son William (II)(1628-d.after 1663) inherited the estate, as did his son William (III)(1656-d.after 1720).

[7] Burke’s Peerage, 1922, p1393

[8] Victoria County Histories: A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 5: East Cuttlestone hundred (1959) pp143-148.

[9] The Penkridge parish registers, in which Dunston was situated, commence in 1572.

[10] SRO. D615/D/57. Dunston Hall conveyance. Whether the Ansons occupied the property on purchase is questionable as the conveyance contains a clause ‘void if Anson disturbs the present tenant.’

[11] VCH pp143-148.

[12] William’s son, also named William, also bought part of the manor of nearby Acton in 1658.

[13] Created Viscount Anson in 1806.

[14] VCH pp143-148.

[15] Anson also acquired the manor, along with those of Bolehall and Glascott, Warwickshire. Burke’s Peerage, 1922, p1393.

[16] Clifford, History of Tixall, p28.

[17] SRO. D615/D/1 Transfer of sale from John Whitbie to William Anson 1624. The 3rd Earl also abstracted the deed claiming that John Whitbie purchased the estate from William Whitehurst, who John Verdun purchased ‘before that time of the King’s majesty (in 1613) as by letters patents doth and may appear.’

[18] Staffordshire Historical Collections, vol.1914, p131.

[19] Hearth Tax Returns 1666 in Staffordshire Historical Collections, vol.1921, p60-61, 64.

[20] Thomas Cox, ‘A Compleat History of Staffordshire’ (1730). For some reason Cox neglected to mention William Anson’s new house which was then less than forty years old. Chetwynd, in his ‘History of Pirehill Hundred’ in 1679 noted that the ruins of the former Bishops’ residence were still visible (SHC vol.1914, p129-132).

[21] Its broken dam can still be identified on the ground.

[22] F B Stitt, ‘Shugborough : The End of a Village’, in Staffordshire historical Collections, vol.1970, p97.

[23] SRO D615/M/6/44 Map showing parts belonging to Anson family in 1693.

[24] Until the 19th century the lane from Little Haywood crossed the river by a ford at this point.

[25] F B Stitt, ‘Shugborough : The End of a Village’, in Staffordshire historical Collections, vol.1970, p104.

[26] SRO D615/M/6/43. Map of Shugborough c.1770, additions 1820.

[27] F B Stitt, ‘Shugborough : The End of a Village’, in Staffordshire historical Collections, vol.1970, p104.

[28] Interestingly the sixteen dwellings correspond to the same number of properties built for the displaced tenants at The Ring in Little haywood.

[29] SRO. D(w)1734/2/1/593 Court Roll 10 July 1773, in F B Stitt, ‘Shugborough : The End of a Village’, in Staffordshire historical Collections, vol.1970, p102.

[30] SRO. D615/D10(2).

[31] William Pitt, ‘A Topographical History of Staffordshire’, section 1, p443-445, section 2, p90-94.

[32] Burke’s Peerage, 1922, p1393.

[33] Burke’s Peerage, 1938 Coronation Edition, pp1550-1551.

[34] In Sambrook’s thesis it is thought that the site of the original house was where the present building is with the stablemen’s bedrooms on the first floor. The lower parts of the walls on the side facing the river, and near the water tap, contain stonework. This supposedly formed part of the walls of the original house. Old workmen alive in February 1895 remembered previously discovering old foundations near the ruins when the terrace was made about 1680. Clifford’s ‘Parish of Tixall’ mentions that the present ruins were erected in the same position as the original house.

[35] Johnson, Constance, ‘The Evolution of Shugborough’, p92.

[36] Johnson, Constance, ‘The Evolution of Shugborough’, p91.

[37] Johnson, Constance, ‘The Evolution of Shugborough’, p14.

[38] Johnson, Constance, ‘The Evolution of Shugborough’, p19.

[39] Clifford, ‘History of Tixall’, p62.

[40] The architect is unknown although judged to be Thomas Wright on stylistic evidence.

[41] Alternatively, were these pictures ever hung in what is now the Red Drawing Room?

[42] Johnson, Constance, ‘The Evolution of Shugborough’, p20-22. These paintings have been attributed to Thomas Dall. Dall was known to have made designs for pictures in the Greenhouse and Library during 1770, at the time of later additions to the house by James Athenian Stuart. The Inventory made after Thomas Anson’s death in 1773 listing the rooms of the house, includes one with the description ‘Mr Stewart’s [sic] painting room.

[43] Johnson, Constance, ‘The Evolution of Shugborough’, p23-24.

[44] Johnson, Constance, ‘The Evolution of Shugborough’, p26.

[45] Johnson, Constance, ‘The Evolution of Shugborough’, p26.

[46] Johnson, Constance, ‘The Evolution of Shugborough’, p27-28.

[47] Johnson, Constance, ‘The Evolution of Shugborough’, p24-25.

[48]Johnson, Constance, ‘The Evolution of Shugborough’, p25

[49] SRO D615/P(S)/1/10/4a. Letter from Admiral George Anson, unknown recipient and undated.

[50] Now on display in the Blue Drawing Room.

[51] Lichfield, Patrick, ‘Not The Whole Truth’, p70.

[52] D615/P(S)/1/1/37a Letter from Lady Anson in Buxton to Admiral George Anson.

[53] D615/P(S)/1/1/38 Letter from Lady Anson in Buxton to Admiral George Anson.

[54] D615/P(S)/1/1/39 Letter from Lady Anson in Buxton to Admiral George Anson.

[55] D615/P(S)/1/? Letter from Lady Anson in Buxton to Admiral George Anson.

[56] D615/P(S)/1/? Letter from Lady Anson in Buxton to Admiral George Anson.

[57] Pamela Sambrook, ‘Aristocratic Indebtedness’, p8.