Thomas Noel Hill, 2nd Baron Berwick, inherited Attingham at the age of nineteen in 1789. He soon went on a grand tour of Italy, where he acquired a taste for acquiring works of art. On his return to England he went into politics, but ‘entertaining’ the local Shrewsbury electorate turned out to be so ruinously expensive that his brother bribed him not to stand a second time.
The 2nd Lord Berwick also employed John Nash to create a magnificent Picture Gallery in the centre of the house. An example of the contemporary vogue for top-lit galleries, Nash designed a unique glazed coving for it set in a cast-iron frame. It does a good job in lighting the pictures, but like so many ground-breaking architectural features it almost immediately began to leak, and has proved problematic ever since.
The pattern of extravagance was continued with the 2nd Lord Berwick’s marriage, at age 42, to the seventeen-year-old courtesan Sophia Dubochet. Although Lord Berwick lavished gifts and money on his wife, the marriage was not a happy one. The daintily feminine card racks surviving at Attingham may have been one of Sophia’s impulse buys when on a shopping spree in London.
Inevitably, Lord Berwick eventually ran out of money, and two great sales of the contents of Attingham were held in 1827 and 1829. His brother William inherited the title, house and estate in 1832 and refurnished it with the collection of furniture, pictures, ceramics and silver that he had built up during his tenure as a diplomat in Italy. Attingham is still a vivid example of Regency style.
Glimpses of Attingham can also be seen in the second episode of Dr Lucy Worsley’s BBC series on the Regency.