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DiCamillo tour to Country Houses of Shropshire, 2019

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Weston Dining Room

Photo by Curt DiCamillo

Biographies of the Tour Leaders

Curt DiCamillo

Curt is an American architectural historian and a recognized authority on the British country house. He has written and lectured extensively in the U.S. and abroad on the subject and has taught classes on British culture and art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Providence Athenaeum, and Beacon Hill Seminars. Curt regularly leads scholarly tours that focus on the architectural and artistic heritage of Britain and its influence around the world. Since 1999 he has maintained an award-winning database on the web, The DiCamillo Companion to British & Irish Country Houses (TheDiCamillo.com). The database seeks to document every English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish country house ever built, standing or demolished, together with a history of the families who lived in the houses, the architects who designed them, and the history of the houses’ collections and gardens. 

In recognition of his work, Curt has been presented to the late Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and The Prince of Wales. He is a member of The Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain and is an alumnus of both the Royal Collection Studies program and The Attingham Summer School for the Study of Historic Houses and Collections. Curt is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, is listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World, is a Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and a member of the Council of the American Museum in Britain.

Curt serves as Curator for Special Collections at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, before which, for nine years, he was Executive Director of The National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA, based in Boston, where he was responsible for raising over $7 million for the Trust (he currently holds the position of Executive Director Emeritus). Previously he worked for 13 years for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A native of the Philadelphia area, Curt grew up in Central Florida with his sister, the award-winning children’s book author Kate DiCamillo. 

 

Gareth Williams

Gareth holds degrees of BA (Hons.) and MA, both in the History of Art from the University of Manchester. He has over 25 years’ experience with historic houses as a researcher and architectural historian and through professional work within the auction world and is passionate about financially sustainable heritage.

From 1992 until 2003 Gareth was a furniture and works of art specialist for Phillips and Sotheby’s, ending his auction career as Sotheby’s Regional Director based at Chester.nIn 2003 Gareth left Sotheby’s and initially engaged as a consultant working with Shrewsbury Town Centre Management Partnership and liaising with English Heritage, the Natural History Museum and other stakeholders on plans for Charles Darwin’s Bicentenary in 2009. 

From January 2004 to June 2006, Gareth worked with the National Trust at Nostell Priory in West Yorkshire, with curatorial and conservation responsibility for the highly important contents of the house, a part of which constitutes the most important collection of furniture and decorations by Thomas Chippendale to remain in their indigenous setting.

In June 2006, Gareth was appointed curator to the Weston Park Foundation at Weston Park on the Shropshire/Staffordshire border. Besides curatorial and conservation management, he also oversees the property’s Learning Department and is in charge of developing international cultural tourism. In this capacity he was awarded an Excellence in Tourism Award for Outstanding Customer Care in 2008. He was responsible for the property’s HLF-funded award winning Granary Art Gallery, which opened in 2009. Gareth also offers his skills as a consultant at other sites, ranging from ducal palaces to modest private estates, for the financial benefit of the Weston Park Foundation.

Gareth sits on the Heart of England regional committee of the Historic Houses Association and the Shropshire committee of the Art Fund. He is also a trustee of a number of private heritage properties, and, in 2011, jointly opened Millard & Lancaster in Shrewsbury.

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Curt (left) and Gareth at Wightwick Manor

Warwickshire, May 2012

Itinerary

English ​Elysium

B = Breakfast | D = Dinner | L = Lunch | R = Reception | T = Tea

Day 1

Monday, May 13

L, R, D

 

Meet Curt DiCamillo and fellow tour participants at 9:30 AM at the Rembrandt Hotel in Knightsbridge, after which we’ll leave by private coach for Cottesbrooke Hall, one of the most delightful country houses in England! Here we’ll have a tour of the house and gardens (winner of the Historic Houses Association/Christie’s Garden of the Year Award in 2000), followed by lunch. Reputedly the inspiration for Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, the lovely red brick Cottesbrooke is a near-perfect example of Queen Anne architecture. With the exception of some minor changes, the House has remained virtually unchanged since it was built in the early 18th century. 

We’ll depart Cottesbrooke and head to Weston Park, the magnificent Shropshire country house that will be our home for the next six nights! After our arrival there will be time to settle into the stunning bedrooms, followed by drinks and a tour of the house with Gareth Williams, Curator and our cicerone for the week ahead, before dinner in the sublime Weston Orangery. 

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Stanley Hall

DAY 2

Tuesday, May 14

B, L, T, R, D

 

We begin our second day with a visit to Millichope Park, a private house that’s never open to the public. Here we’ll have a tour with owners Frank and Toni Bury, followed by a bit of time to wander the garden. Millichope is a grand Greek Revival style house that was built between 1835 and 1840 to the designs of the Shropshire architect Edward Haycock. 

Next up is Stanley Hall, a sweet 17th century timber-framed stone and brick house that’s also never open to the public. We’ll begin with lunch, followed by a tour hosted by owners Michael and Clare Thompson.

Burwarton House is our last visit of the day. One of the highest country houses in Britain, Burwarton sits at an extraordinary 780 feet above sea level on the slopes of the Brown Clee Hill. Here we’ll have a tour hosted by Lord and Lady Boyne. 

Tuesday ends with drinks and dinner at Weston Park.

 

 

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Burwarton House

Photo by Curt DiCamillo

DAY 3

Wednesday, May 15

B, L

 

Tuesday commences with a visit to Downton Hall (not Downton Abbey, but the real thing!). At Downton we’ll be given a tour by Philippa Wiggin, the owner of this never-open house that’s notable for its lovely plasterwork. 

 

 

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Downton Hall

Photo by Gareth Willians

Then we’re off to nearby Cronkhill, where we’ll be hosted for lunch by Rupert Acton. Cronkhill, designed to look like one of the Quattrocento Tuscan farmhouses depicted by Claude Lorraine or Poussin, is an internationally famous Italianate villa built by John Nash in 1805 in the cottage orné style as the home for the manager of the Attingham Estate. 

After our return to Weston you’ll have the rest of the afternoon and evening on your own.

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Cronkhill

DAY 4

Thursday, May 16

B, L, R, D

 

We begin today with a visit to Onslow Park, where the Wingfield family, who’ve been seated here since the 18th century, will give us a tour of their home. The current house, built in 2013, is the third on the site and is a fine example of the glorious trend of classically-inspired new country houses in England. Next up is Whitton Hall, a 1731 red brick house that feels as though it has changed remarkably little since the 18th century. In the immaculate garden is a rare treat--a circa 1760 timber Chinoiserie garden house. Kate Boscawen-Halliday will host us for lunch and a tour of her lovely home. We end our day with a visit to Loton Park, where Sir Michael Leighton, Guy Ritchie’s stepfather, will give us a tour of his family’s ancient home (the Leightons, who are descended from Welsh princes, have been here since the 14th century). Loton is notable for its Janus-like appearance: Tudor on one facade and Baroque on the other. Dinner tonight will be in one of the splendid rooms at Weston Park. 

DAY 5

Friday, May 17

B, T, L, T, R, D

 

We’re off this morning to see Rode Hall, the substantial and elegant Georgian home of Sir Richard and Lady Wilbraham (the Wilbraham family has been here 1669), where we’ll begin with tea, followed by a tour of the house. Rode has large and fine collections of paintings, furniture, and porcelain by Chelsea, Bow, and Royal Worcester.

Our next stop is the Wedgwood Museum, where we’ll be welcomed by the director, Gaye Blake-Roberts, followed by lunch and a private, guided tour of the museum. The Wedgwood Museum’s origins can be traced back to the company’s founder, Josiah Wedgwood I, who began showcasing a collection of his company’s wares in a museum setting in 1774. The museum today houses the largest and most important collection of Wedgwood in the world. To the left is a tri-color portrait of Josiah Wedgwood that was made in 1984 to commemorate the 225th anniversary of the founding of the company. 

 

 

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Rode Hall

Photo by Ian Greig

Our final Friday visit will be to Combermere Abbey, where we’ll have a private, guided tour, followed by tea. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s the Cistercian abbey buildings at Combermere were converted into a private country house, which is what we will have the privilege of experiencing. 

We’ll end the day with drinks and dinner at the fabulous Weston Park.

 

 

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Combermere Abbey

Photo by Sarah Callander Beckett

DAY 6

Saturday, May 18

B, T, R, D

 

Our last full day together begins with a tour of the circa 1560 Pitchford Hall, one of the finest Tudor houses in England. After tea, the owners, Rowena Colthurst, and her husband, James Nason, will give us a tour of their astonishing house. The grounds contain the 17th century Pitchford tree house, believed to be the oldest in the world. 

 

 

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St. Chad's, Shrewsbury

Photo by Steve Aze

Next we head into Shrewsbury, Shropshire’s county town (county seat), where you’ll have time on your own to explore the historic town, shop, and have lunch. An essential stop is St. Chad’s, a rare 18th century church in the round that has a tombstone in its graveyard for Ebenezer Scrooge!

Willey Park, our next visit, is possibly the grandest home in Shropshire. This breathtaking house is never open to the public, so it’s a rare treat to have Lord and Lady Forester give us a tour, followed by tea and coffee in the Orangery. One of the last and most impressive revivals of the Palladian style, Willey Park was built in 1812 to the designs of Lewis Wyatt for Cecil Weld-Forester, later 1st Lord Forester (the name Forester comes from the family’s ancient land holdings in nearby Wrekin Forest). At the end of a drive that lasts for miles, the sublime setting of the house is revealed, soaring high above a valley. The great classical portico is complemented by the half-round bow library, grandly supported by a hemicycle of Corinthian columns topped with a saucer dome. The hall, redolent of ancient Rome, is a galleried basilica of enormous proportions: 40 feet long by 30 feet wide, with a ceiling that soars to 28 feet. Fourteen-foot-high columns of yellow Siena scagliola with white capitals support the gallery and two semicircular staircases, the entire space all gloriously lit by skylights in the segmental vault ceiling. We’ll end with a farewell dinner at Weston Park.

 

 

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Willey Park

From an 1847 engraving in the collection of The DiCamillo Companion

DAY 7

Sunday, May 19

B

 

Following check-out, we will depart Weston Park by coach to London, dropping off passengers at Heathrow Airport by 1:00 PM for anyone with an afternoon flight. The coach will then continue from Heathrow into central London to drop-off at the Rembrandt Hotel those who are extending their stay.