In preparation for our level 5 Scholarly Research Project module on the Gothic, the Pre-Raphaelites and visual culture, a group of Humanities students travelled north to beautiful Wightwick Manor and Gardens (National Trust) near Wolverhampton, shortly before the end of term. The house wore its Christmas decorations and was enchanting.
The Mander family bought the old manor house in 1887 and refurbished and extended it in the ‘Old English’ architectural style. The Great Parlour with its wooden minstrels gallery restored medieval domestic aesthetics, and the stained glass windows, tiled inglenook fireplaces and Jacobean-style wooden carved furnishings add rich darkness to the interiors. Yet Wightwick Manor was from the first a high-tech house, lit and heated by electricity, and with all modern comforts. The house was also ‘modern’ in that it drew on William Morris’s Arts and Crafts notion that houses should be useful and beautiful, and is a glorious example of Morris & Co.’s design as it was meant to be used. Morris’s textiles, wallpapers and carpets, William de Morgan tiles, and Leonard Shuffrey’s plasterwork, such as the friezes in the Great Parlour and the Billiard Room, combine to create what Oscar Wilde called ‘the House Beautiful’, a total design environment. The house is also a gallery of nineteenth-century art, with paintings and drawings by Rossetti, G.F. Watts, Elizabeth Siddal, Ford Maddox Brown and, of course Edward C. Burne-Jones, whose Love Among the Ruins hangs like an altarpiece at the end of the Parlour.
Wightwick is a wonderful place to visit all year round, but it’s especially magical during these quiet Advent weeks. We had the place largely to ourselves and were free to wander around the house and gardens. The superb docents and volunteers know absolutely everything about the house and family history, and we learned so much. But the visit was more than just a study trip; we spent a magical day among art, remembering the pleasures of escape. The low winter sunlight added to the intense beauty of the house and gardens.
You can see more pictures at our Flickr gallery. Thanks to Harriet Heathman for most of these fantastic photos; and thanks to all the students who came on the trip and made it the success it was. Merry Christmas.