In the course of the past year the National Trust has completely buggered up Shugborough.
This is typical of the mayhem they have wrought. They have taken a beautiful period room and filled it with packing cases, because before cardboard boxes things were shipped in packing cases. Look, we know that. These are not even antique packing cases. They are modern reproduction packing cases, good only for kindling.
Then there’s the idea of putting Patrick Lichfield’s photographic equipment in front of his photographs so you can’t see them properly, or displaying paintings in huge sheets of plywood in the middle of the room so you can’t see the other paintings behind them.
The Lichfield’s thirty-seven room apartment, which we toured the last time we visited, is closed because of this balustrade, which though terribly ornamental is structurally unsound.
I used to go with a girl like that.
Since the house was a bit of a disappointment, I spent more time touring the grounds. This is the Chinese House.
I would tell you all about it, but the National Trust did non condescend to unlock the doors so I could read the signs.
I can tell you more about the Shepherd’s Monument, though.
The bas relief is a mirror image copy of the Poussin painting Shepherds of Arcadia and the tomb they are admiring bears the inscription ET IN ARCADIA EGO which if you know your Stoppard (or even O level Latin) you should be able to translate.
However, below the relief is a far more enigmatic inscription.
O U O S V A V V, between the letters D and M. Nobody knows what it means, but lots of people have tried to decipher it. Here are some extracts from the Wikipedia article on it.
Josiah Wedgwood, Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens are all said to have attempted to solve the enigma…
… Optimae Uxoris Optimae Sororis Viduus Amantissimus Vovit Virtutibus (“Best of wives, Best of sisters, a most devoted Widower dedicates (this) to your virtues”)….
…Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity… Orator Ut Omnia Sunt Vanitas Ait Vanitas Vanitatum
… Oro Ut Omnes Sequantur Viam Ad Veram Vitam (“I pray that all may follow the Way to True Life”)
… Out Your Own Sweet Vale, Alicia, Vanishes Vanity. Twixt Deity and Man Thou, Shepherdess, The Way
… Orgreave United with Overley and Shugborough, Viscount Anson Venables Vernon
… a polyalphabetic cipher was used to encrypt the name “Magdalen”
… the letters stand for numbers which sum to 2,810, the distance in miles from Shugborough to the so-called “Money Pit” on Oak Island, in Nova Scotia, Canada
… pronouncing ‘UOSV’ as ‘Iosef’
… ‘VV’ should be read as ‘TEN’, with reference to Roman numerals, and the 10 letters then read as an anagram of ‘DEVOUT MASON’.
… the latitude and longitude (alphanumerical code) of an island on which was buried a huge Spanish treasure
… Jesus H Defy
… and the Holy Grail
Then there is the Tower of the Winds.
Originally purely ornamental, it was remodeled as a multi purpose structure, with a working dairy in the cellar, an ornamental dairy where Lady Anson could play dairymaid on the ground floor, and a banqueting hall upstairs. I’m not sure I would like to have a banquet a quarter of a mile from the kitchen and with a pervasive spell of cow dung, but the Earls of Lichfield were hardy stock. Either that or they wanted to have banqueting rooms that they never got around to using, just to show off their obscene wealth.
Up the hill is Hadrian’s Arch.
Sadly there is no way that could ever be remodeled into anything useful. Or ornamental. Maybe the National Trust could put a big packing case over that, and put the furniture back in the breakfast room.