SHUGBOROUGH ESTATE, Milford, Near Stafford, ST17 0XB
Located on the A513 at Milford Common, between Stafford and Lichfield
Well signed from M6 Junction 13.
By Maev Kennedy, for The Guardian
The Earl of Lichfield’s private residence at Shugborough Hall – and the pictures of the glamorous people he photographed there – are going on display to the public for the first time, six years after his death.
His rooms at the hall in Staffordshire look ready for the kind of weekend party that will never happen again.
The favourite toys of Patrick Lichfield’s dog Drum lie by his chair, his spectacles rest on the catalogue of films in stock on the table by the hearth, the cocktail bar is full, his own-brand colognes and aftershaves are set out in the guest bathrooms and jars of jam from the estate’s gardens line the breakfast-room windowsill.
From the swinging 60s on, an H was often mowed into the lawns to indicate where the helicopters should land. Now, instead of Mick Jagger, Princess Anne (holder of the all-time guest record on the miniature motor bike) Joanna Lumley, Ronnie Corbett and Britt Ekland, the public will be invited to wipe its boots and wander around the private life of the Queen’s cousin.
His cameras and lighting gear have been set up in a recreation of his studio, and the famous guests appear only in a gallery of his photographs. If he had lived, he would undoubtedly have been preparing to record the latest in a long line of royal weddings.
He often shot portraits and commercial commissions at Shugborough, including Lulu doing a twirl in an electric blue gown from the 1976 Freeman’s catalogue, and Little Red Rooster – a distinctly uneasy Mick Jagger clutching an equally nervous-looking hen from the home farm. The naked lovelies in his annual Uniparts calender frequently wandered around in the Shugborough shrubbery.
Lichfield’s family, the Ansons, owned the stately home in glorious grounds at Cannock Chase in Staffordshire for centuries. In good times they added classical porticos, diverted main roads or moved a village to improve the front garden. In hard times the rooms were emptied into auctions – Lichfield once recalled turning over a piece of silver on Aristotle Onassis’s yacht and finding his own family crest on the back.
In the 1960s house and estate passed to the National Trust, because of enormous death duties after his father and grandfather died within two years. It came into the care of Staffordshire county council which has opened it to the public ever since – except the half which Lichfield leased back as his private apartments, until now.
Caddy has worked there for 10 years as a development officer, property manager Liz Carruthers for 14 years, many of the other staff even longer. They all knew Lichfield well. On Friday mornings his elderly butler would climb three flights of ladders to run up the family flag, and some time in the afternoon his chauffeur-driven blue car would arrive at the side door. Ten minutes later the ride-on mower came up from the stables and Lichfield re-emerged in an old jacket and cap, and roared off to do his bit to maintain the immaculate lawns or plant a few dozen more oaks on his private island arboretum which will also open for the first time.
He once trundled on the mower past a group of Japanese tourists, who asked if he would mind taking their picture: he did.
One November afternoon in 2005, the staff watched the shock on the butler’s face as he took a phone call: Lichfield had just died after a massive stroke, aged 66.
When his son ended the lease, Liz Carruthers proposed restoring the rooms as Lichfield redesigned them – his sitting room was once his grandfather’s dressing room, with 365 razors hanging on the wall, one for each shave of the year – and letting the intensly curious public in.
The work has been carried out since last July for a total cost of £11,000, which wouldn’t buy a display case for most museum projects.
The family took their possessions, including Drum the labrador. When Caddy and Carruthers first walked round rooms emptied of everything except curtains, carpets, one four-poster bed and three pictures, they had a moment of panic. Inspired scavenging has filled the gaps, though Lichfield’s own bedroom and private bathroom with its LL-monogrammed tiles will not be ready till next season.
Furniture proved the least of their problems: the National Trust loaned some, more came from Staffordshire museums, and beds from a now-disused circuit court judges’ lodgings.
To dress the rooms Caddy opened every cellar, safe, drawer and cupboard in the building, and extraordinary things tumbled out, a cross between a museum store and an upmarket car boot sale: china and silver, a half-full box of Pall Mall cigarettes and coronation invitations; a round box of his grandmother’s ostrich feathers for formal royal occasions; the solid silver cigarette box awarded to his father for winning the three-legged race at Harrow in 1908; a set of cloisonné enamel bowls which came in the 18th century from the Summer Palace in Beijing. Like his grandfather’s stuffed birds, many were things Lichfield would have known as a child but which have been in store since the 1960s. His partner of many years, Lady Annunziata Asquith, loaned personal possessions including his spectacles and a large box of bubble baths.
“I think we’ve got it right,” Caddy said. “It’s a slightly eerie feeling, it feels as if he might walk through the door at any minute.”