Expanding the Estate

When Thomas Anson succeeded his father in 1720 his house was a fairly modest William and Mary style building built by the wealthy lawyer, WilliamAnson from Derrington, in the 1690s. It would have been impressive in comparisonwith the small village of Shugborough which lay across the meadows near the site of the present farm. The village consisted of cottages, farm and mills (manufacturing paper) and did not form part of William Anson's property. During the course of the 18th century the village and a wide area of surrounding land was gradually absorbed, piece by piece, into an ever growing Shugborough estate. It was a slow process.The old village remained in the landscape throughout Thomas Anson's time and is a feature of several of the landscape paintings in the house. The last cottage was demolished as late as 1805.

The removal of a village and the development of a landscape park began as early as the 1730s. It is impossible to tell at what point Thomas Anson began to plan such a change seriously. The family had not beenexceptionally wealthy, certainly not in comparison with the great aristocratic estates,though Thomas's mother, Elizabeth Carrier, would have brought extra wealth as her dowry. The first property acquired by Thomas was the fulling mill. It had been in the possession of the Dudson family, and the lease was acquired by Thomas in 1731. This mill was some way from the house, and the bulk of the village lay in between. Fulling mills are used to clean woollen cloth. Thomas kept extensive flocks of sheep on his land and had a serious interest in agriculture and the development of modern methods as his connection with the agricultural reformer Nathaniel Kent demonstrates in the later part of his life. The acquisition of a working mill in 1731 may have been simply a practical business investment but it is perfectly possible that he hadbegun to have a vision of a classical landscape park after his Italian travels in the 1720s.

After his voyage to Asia Minor, which may have kept him away from home for a considerable time,he began his large scale take-over of the village. By this time he may well have begun to have grand designs inspired by his travels and enthusiasm for the art and ideal landscapes of Ancient Greece.

Frederick Stitt, whose study of "Shugborough. The End of a Village" is the source of the detailed information about the purchasing of property in the area, pointed out that the evidence suggested that Thomas hadformed a plan for the estate well before George Anson set sail on the voyage that would make him wealthy between 1740 and 1744. Stitt suggestes thatthe "new found wealth created the opportunity to indulge existing ambitions." Now the development of Shugborough can be put into the context of Thomas's unusual travels and interests it is possible to see that these ambitions were more inspired by cultural than a desire for wealth, power or ostentatious property.

The 1741 tax return shows that Thomas had acquired a quarter of the village property before he set off on his voyage to Egypt, whichcoincided with the start of George's great voyage which resulted in his capture of Spanish treasuere and his circumnavigation.

The property acquired between 1731 and 1741 included some land away from the house, including, in 1737, Gillwicket Close, near Haywood Park . In 1739 he had acquired the houses near the millpond and was in occupancy of a peoperty called The Leas.

These were patchy acquisitions but they suggest that the plan was to acquire the entire surrounding land and, ultimately, the whole of the vale stretching south of the house. The large scale purchasing began after Lord Anson suddenly found himself immensely wealthy, with more purchases between 1747 and 1756. There is no way of knowing whether Lord Anson's wealth would have contributed to the purchases. Even by 1747 his elder brother was an unmarried man in his 50s and so the idea that George might have children of his own and finally inherit Shugborough must have been in the air. After George married Elizabeth Yorke in 1748 he bought Moor Park, a very expensive property. His brother advised, says Lady Anson, on "combing", or improving, the grounds. George may have seen Moor Park as his permanent seat. It was a much grander place than Shugborough at that point.

Thomas was buying up property beyond the confines of the valley as early as 1750, particularly extensive estates in Staffordshire and Norfolk which he bought from the 1st Earl of Leicester who probably need the money to pay for his massive house at Holkham.

Elizabeth Anosn died childless in 1760 and George died in 1764 and all the wealth came unexpectedly to Thomas. From that date he was able to enlarge his house, build a grand house in London, and complete the expansion of the estate on a far larger scale than he could ever have anticipated in 1747

By 1773, the year of Thomas's death, most the most of the buildings on the land acquired had been demolished, but it would be wrong to see Thomas as a ruthless developer. The gradual removal of the village was a very different process compared to Lord Harcourt's demolition of a village simply for picturesque effect. The paintings of the park by Nicholas Dall show that some cottages and buildings remained in the late 1760s, visible around the Tower of Winds. These included a row of cottages which had been built new not long before the pictures were painted. These are marked as "Almshouses" on a 1771 plan, but there is no evidence that there was ever a charitable trust in existence to look after the poor and elderly in the village. Stitt wondered if Dall's pictures showed the views as they were intended to become rather than they actually were at the time, but the travel diary of the young Irish MP and lawyer John Parnell described the new cottages as they were in the summer of 1769.

Parnell found two rows of between 20 and 30 small but "very neat" brick houses with a "little street between them." Parnell thought these houses were for estate workers but he found that they were for "poor people who kept little huts bordering on…a common or hearth called Cank."

Parnell says these are the "first thing that strikes you on Entring the approach to his house" and that from the street of cottages you "enter a Plain low farm gate and drive on a gravel'd road open to the lawn" towards the house.

This can only mean that he arrived from the Lichfield Road past the present farm and that these cottages were, indeed, two rows quite close to the Tower of the Winds. Parnell is describing his arrival at the house and there is no reason to question the accuracy of his description, even though it may seem to disagree with Stitt's deductions.

Perhaps against the fashion of the day, rather than remove unsightly poor people from his landscape, Thomas had built new cottages in view of the house, very close to the Tower of the Winds, and had moved people into them from parts of the Chase that he was improving into "as fine a sheep walk as can be wished."

The village, including these new cottages, was demolished around 1800 by a later generation who had grander ideas, removing the more fanciful parts of the park and expanding the house from a villa to a stately home. The old village finally vanished, though the inhabitants were moved to well built new cottages in the nearby villages of Great and Little Haywood, most of which (part from "The Ring" between the two villages) still exist.


1) Frederick Stitt: Shugborough. The End of a Village (Collections for a History of Staffordshire, 4th Series Vol. 6)

2) Extracts from John Parnell's diaries from original in London School of Economics, anonymous transcription, William Salt Library, Stafford