THE MOUNT in Tettenhall Wood in Staffordshire was the family house of the senior branch of the Mander family for just under a hundred years. It was acquired by Charles Benjamin Mander, an established varnish manufacturer, about 1862, and altered by him in the following years to make a comfortable Victorian villa on the highest spot around Wolverhampton, with views of some thirteen counties.
Charles Benjamin Mander's Victorian villa at The Mount painted by his son Jack, aged 14, in 1883
Charles Benjamin Mander by Oscar Rejlander: he purchased the Mount estate in 1862
The present house is largely the creation of his son, Charles Tertius Mander. In 1890, twelve years after CBM's death, the 28-year-old Charles Tertius, by now married with three children, made a family arrangement to acquire The Mount for just £5,000 from ever-cautious trustees. The family obviously thought the price for a large and comfortable house, even then, derisory, and he was nearly 'choked off trading' after haggling with the trustees. He played down its attractions, treating with his younger sister Julia's husband, Robert Turnbull.
Turnbull was the property man of the family, as head agent for Lord Carlisle to the Naworth Castle, Morpeth and Castle Howard estates, a huge tract of land across the north of England. He lived at Four Gables, Brampton, in Cumberland, a model house of the Arts and Crafts movement (dated 1876-8), designed by William Morris's architect friend, Philip Webb. It was through such channels that the Manders developed an informed interest in the new 'artistic' style (as the daughter of the house, Daisy, calls it). Robert Turnbull remonstrated over the price, saying that £7,000 was the lowest price that would be acceptable to his wife.
He wrote in his bumptious manner to Turnbull on 6 January 1890:
As regards the price of the Mount, I am not satisfied with it myself and consider its value is under rather than over £5,000. I should like to know how you can value 5 acres of land and a poor house at more. (The two paddocks of back land are not worth consideration, say £150 an acre, i.e. £300 in all.)
I tell you candidly that if I had been offered the Mount for £5,000 a few months ago, I should have refused the offer, as I was then thinking of going elsewhere.
In the end, he managed to buy the house on favourable terms and feverishly set about altering and extending it, renting Tettenhall Manor meanwhile to supervise his building works.
Alterations of 1891
His father's unremarkable villa was transformed to give a strongly Gothic Revival, fairy-tale impression, 'to [his] own ideas', he said, in 1891. The architect was Edward Ould, of Liverpool, who had just completed work for his cousin and brother-in-law Theodore at Wightwick Manor nearby. The style was Norman Shaw, with an impressive two-story hall, staircase wing, stained glass, rich plasterwork and lofty ceilings, turrets and a tower with his astronomical observatory. Outside there were croquet lawns, balustraded terraces and shrubberies. The latest in comfort and technology was incorporated. As at Wightwick, from the start there was an electric plant, a prototype for the municipal works he had encouraged as mayor of Wolverhampton. It was a novelty whose gleaming dynamos he would show his male guests after dinner. There was a full-time engineer on the staff to maintain them.
The Mount in snow, as altered by Charles Tertius Mander in 1891
CTM often dealt with many of the tradesmen himself, and found it difficult to brook their minor inefficiencies, writing to B. Verity & Sons, of London, for example, on 14 July 1891:
I never had the misfortune of doing business with such disappointing people as you are. You seem incapable of executing an order as given.
The copper tulips to hand today are exactly like the brass ones in shape, whereas I distinctly ordered them to be much shorter & your clerk made a sketch in his order book of what I wanted. The whole house is being delayed in finishing because you will not execute your orders properly. It is most annoying. Kindly put in hand a sample copper tulip for fear you get it wrong again.
He writes to B. Burnet & Co. in London for fittings on 7 June:
I accept your contract for the fittings, which please order at once, also all the curtains, with the exception of the Hall, corridors & stairs & the small bay in the drawing room.
He buys a grate from Bennett Brothers in Liverpool, enclosing one of his own sketches, with which so many of his letters are admirably illustrated:
July 7 91
You may put the grate in hand at once as per sketch enclosed @ £27.10.0 on condition that you take the grate made by Warings into stock at cost price (should they refuse to take it back) as agreed with Mr Ould last week.
The family cousinage worked closely together, sitting in the partnership room, deliberating on many of the same committees, donating to the same causes, shooting and hunting together, often attending the same schools and Cambridge colleges, and were involved together in their many charities, and house building and gardening projects. CTM is found supervising work on the Wightwick estate for his cousin, Theodore. He wrote to the architect, Edward Ould, on 3 April 1891:
I have seen Bishop [head gardener at Wightwick] this morning & he is much pleased with the plans of cottage His only comments were that he thought the rooms should not be less than 8 feet high & that the living room (on the east side) was possibly larger than necessary.
On 17 April he is writing to Henry Willcock, the builder, to accept his price:
I beg to accept your tender to build a cottage at Wightwick manor for £468 & shall be glad if you will at once order the bricks.
When the works to The Mount were nearing completion in October 1891, he must have thought his improvements were reflected by an increase in value, and he arranged insurance of the buildings with the Atlas Fire Co. for £10,000 and the contents for £4,000 through F.W. Smyth :
I am not at all satisfied with the Policy of the Atlas Fire Co.
There is some error in the contents of stables. I keep no Harriers. The last sum is ridiculous The value of the whole electric plant is at least £1,000, & the bulk of the wires, electroliers, fittings etc. are situate in the house & of necessity a part of the buildings included in the £10,000 on the House. Your Company seem to ignore the fact that there is less risk on a house lighted by electricity & should consequently be done at a cheaper rate.
I may mention that you say the house is heated by hot water apparatus. It would be well to consider that there are ordinary coal fires in all the rooms with the exception of 5 or 6 which have gas fires.
I herewith return the Policy for correction & reduction of Premium. In case your company cannot see their way to make a substantial reduction I must look elsewhere.
Later in the year he is evidently furnishing the enlarged house, writing to a Miss C. Cromonchin in London on 25 November:
Referring to our conversation about the real old Chippendale wardrobe which I told you I thought was oak but you said was mahogany. I have carefully examined it again & find it is made of walnut; well, I don't like walnut & in fact shall have no room to put it in.
Under the circumstances, I must ask you to take it back again, especially as I bought it from your description & sketch only. It is undoubtedly a very fine piece of furniture, but made of the wrong wood to suit me' I am really sorry to have to give you so much trouble.
The finished house was illustrated with engravings of its towering halls and languid bystanders in the architectural journals of the day, as a fashionable example of the high Victorian country house. The staff was growing with the evident success of his business. The census on 1881, in his stepmother's day before he took over the house, shows just five indoor servants, when CTM is recorded as a 'varnish maker' employing 91 men, 30 women and two boys. His licence of 1893 shows a much more substantial establishment: by then he had eight male servants, five carriages and six dogs; the females did not need a licence. By 1899, his daughter records: 'We have about ten dogs, one cat and fourteen horses.' Pictures included a developing collection of old masters, like St Sebastian attributed dubiously to van Dyke and an Old Man with a tambourine to Gerard van Honthorst, which had no doubt been the victims of confident if unscholarly 'improvements' by his father, and an early Renaissance Florentine 'portrait of a lady' which Mary Mander bought later in Messina.
Alterations of 1908
Tapestry picture of the Mount by Daisy Mander, 1920s
He was restless and far from satisfied, and altered The Mount again, much more radically, in 1908; again under the supervision of Ould, who had by then completed a successful second phase of work for his cousin Theodore at Wightwick. Ould seems to have become something of a family friend, his spidery signature occurring in the autograph book. But he was obviously not given a free hand when he superintended the 1891 works, as CTM had his own strong opinions on matters architectural. We know Ould wrote complaining when the new additions and alterations were proposed in 1908:
I hope you are going to let me have a chance this time of doing some thing that I need not apologise for, and if you will only leave it to Mrs Mander '& me, I will promise that you shall have something that you will be proud of, & your son after you.
The main work was the addition of a 55-foot 'Jacobethan' library; in fact a two-story Edwardian living hall with a sprung floor for ballroom dancing, a cabin and music gallery with a secret staircase 'carried up in the fireplace recess'. The ceilings are again by Leonard Shuffrey, all pendant bosses and armatures on wood bracketing, and there are armorial carvings by Edward Griffiths of Chester (who carved the drawing room chimney panelling at Wightwick), Jacobean-style panelling with pillars and balusters (proposed) in rosewood by the Liverpool artist James Parkinson, and heraldic glass from the Stourbridge firm Bryans & Webb. The new room and improvements were completed at a cost of £6,251. This compared to the cost of Wightwick of £8,630 for the first phase of 1887, including renovating the Old Manor and outbuildings’–always built out of income, of course.
Details of fenestration were modelled on Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire, where, Ould wrote, you will see 'all my windows and other absurdities in an old semi-ruinous building'. This had been a key building in the English Renaissance from Sir Thomas Graham 'Anglo' Jackson's use of a Jacobean hybrid of Gothic style and classical orders in the Oxford Examination Schools (1876-82), another well-lit building. In the search for national prototypes, rooted in English domestic architecture, the Jacobean was becoming a standard solution, marking a different eclecticism in the transition from Old English to Edwardian baroque, with its imperial styles and neo-classical monumentality.
Ould refronted the garden side of the house with the hard Ruabon brick he had used at Wightwick, altering the dormers to shallow-pitched Jacobean gables and inserting more 'correct' mullion windows and leaded lights, with string courses, coats of arms and CTM's omnipresent monogram, stone dressings and pattern-work banding. The result was to integrate the whole untidy facade, setting off the more-glass-than-wall library and transforming the effective statement of the house from Gothic Revival to a quieter, more dignified English Renaissance. When shown the plans, CTM was obviously complaining that the proposals were still too much in the neo-Tudor style of his father's time. Ould wrote back on 3 December 1907:
There is no Tudor or Plantagenet architecture about our design. It is not Early Victorian but it is the same as your Dining Room, Porch, Staircase and Tower. I prefer that it should match these rather than the sad display of architectural fireworks on the West Front.
|Charles Tertius Mander by John Collier, 1897. He extended the Mount to the designs of Edward Ould in two phases.||Oriel bay in The Mount library in the 1930s|
The library was an impressive room, like one of Ould's Cambridge college halls, with its oriel bay and heraldry stained in glass and carved in wood, and 41 pairs of curtains. Its very name suggests the centrality of bookish self-improvement–though the bookcases were concealed behind panelling. It was admired by contemporaries. This time it was illustrated in The Studio, the Bible of the Arts and Crafts architect-designers, praising Ould's work for 'the refinement and distinction reminiscent of the stately halls of Tudor times, characteristic of this and similar interiors designed by Mr Ould'. But for the rest it is clear that Ould was not as assured or energetic as he was in his crafted half-timber mode, and it tends to the later classical swagger of the Lutyens of Empire. It was to be his last work, for Ould died the following year, in 1909.
The Mount from the Mawson terraces, after the alterations by Edward Ould of 1908, including the addition of the Library (left)
There is evidence that Thomas H. Mawson advised on works to the gardens, designing arched shelters and terraces with sandstone balustrades; steps led down to a pond with an island at the bottom of the hill, where skating was a popular pastime in the winter. A coracle and Canadian canoe were kept. A favourite ploy of his meaner grandchildren later was to row unsuspecting guests out to the island, and leave them stranded.
The Mount when completed is remembered as light, lavish and convenient, the interiors furnished and decorated in the 'Old English' revival style’–like Wightwick. The two houses used the same architect and builders, and many of the same craftsmen, and both had the Mawson terraces. But there are striking contrasts between Wightwick's best room, the Great Parlour of 1893 in eclectic Cheshire vernacular, with its timbering, colour highlights and Kempe frieze to Ovidian themes, and The Mount's Library of 1908 in purer English Renaissance, more restrained, with baroque Mannerist conflations.
The Mount is well sited on the top of the sandstone ridge, while Wightwick is set near the bottom of the hill, by the old canal. The Mount was a grander house of a bluffer, military, hunting Tory, a clubbable patriarch and paterfamilias, extrovert, stylish and competent, where Wightwick, was Whig-Liberal, brooding, refined, intellectual, more intricately wrought and ultimately astringent. The Victorian dream-houses–even Wightwick–with their picturesque revival of details and precious, self-conscious historicism, tend towards a ponderous churchy gloom, even if such was 'not sadness', but what Morris called (writing of Kelmscott) a 'melancholy born of beauty'.
The Mount was High Anglican, establishment, where Wightwick was nonconformist; The Mount was built for comfort and entertaining, reputed for its French food and wine, where Wightwick was austere and all but teetotal. The Mount had a tradition of 'punishing the port', where at Wightwick Rosalie Mander would dispense Cornish mead, or Sunday morning sherry in jars saved from potted shrimps, as Ricketts himself might have done.
Both Wightwick and The Mount were technically advanced and comfortable by the standards of the day, with central heating, electric light, above all ingenious planning; the admirable domesticity of the Arts and Crafts style is often emphasised.
At Owlpen, the heights of seventeenth-century children are inscribed in graffiti on door jambs and fireplaces. An Edwardian tradition at The Mount was for the gentlemen to record the variations in their weights as meticulously as their billiards' scores, on the cloakroom Avery scales. Before and after dinner or before and after a 'Friday to Monday' house party, they noted the percentage of total weight gained, sometimes with curious results. Arthur notes that he put on more than average (at 2.87 lbs. per day) one Sunday in 1907: 'On Sunday, eat invariably less, so must have drunk more!' The cloakroom had patent 'voider' basins, without plugholes, which pivoted on gimbals to spill the dirty water down the drains.
The Mount library is often described as one of the finest Edwardian rooms in the Midlands. With its sprung floor in Canadian maple, it was a magnificent setting for hunt balls, fancy dress balls, bals poudres, still (just) remembered between the wars.
The Edwardian heyday
The Mount was designed for entertaining on the grand scale, officially as well as privately. CTM had been raised to a baronetcy for his public services in the Coronation Honours of 1911. His Times obituary records: 'It often fell to him to entertain political speakers at his residence'. Many national figures stayed or visited, including Queen Mary (twice) and numerous public figures on their visits to the Midlands. Lloyd George was his guest as prime minister within a fortnight of the Armistice in 1918, when he announced the 'coupon election' campaign on 24 November.
Now honours 'rained gold boxes' on Lloyd George–as they had on Pitt–and he was in Wolverhampton ostensibly to receive the Freedom of the borough. He seized the occasion to throw down the gauntlet with his postwar manifesto, seeking a mandate to negotiate the Peace and for a programme of reconstruction –although his demagogic conduct of the election campaign did his reputation permanent harm. The Wolverhampton speech of that day turned out to be the most quoted of his career: 'What is our task? To make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in!'
Daisy Mander, about 1900
Daisy, the daughter of the house, catches the spirit of the occasion in a letter to her brother, Charles Arthur, who was still on service with the Yeomanry in Palestine, waiting for a boat back from Haifa:
Meant to write you from London, but hadn't time. We–Madre, Louise [Hellier] and I–went up to London by the one o'clock train on the Wednesday Nov: 20th and from Oxford on it was most fearfully foggy, and by the time we did get to London, an old fashioned fog was on, yellow, but not quite so bad as when you got home two years ago. L. had never seen a yellow one before, and thought it a novel experience. Worst of it was taxis vanished, and we actually had to take bus, so the time lost was appalling. Mollie Hay nee Lysaght lunched with us and her vivacious daughter about 18?–such a nice girl full of life and great chatterbox. She is very keen on Art and wants to have a studio at Chelsea, but her mother says she must first have a season in India, where she hasn't been since she was a little girl.
Then C.T.M. got word the Prime Minister, Mrs Lloyd George, Captain Guest,Coalition Whip, two secretaries, valet, two detectives, were turning up on the Friday, so L. of course decided to stay over the week-end.
We took first train Friday a.m. and arrived about two hours or so before they all did, so had time to do flowers, change books in their rooms and rush around! M. was quite excited; she said it really was rather thrilling to hear the crowd cheering outside before he arrived at the door. C.T.M. came up with them, secretaries followed, all having been met at the station by the Mayor and Town Clerk, etc. Mr Bantock lent us his closed car, had three Sunbeam men working on it for him, rather disappointing for Storrar [the chauffeur], but everyone got tipped £1, Mrs Allum included, so that the P.M. must be popular when he stays about. But the secretary dished it out.
We hadn't time to get anybody extra in for dinner, so L. sat on his other side, a thing she could never have done in London had she dined out to meet him at any time. She was afraid Lady Dartmouth might have come! However I had him next day at breakfast, which fewer still can say they have done! And he took quantities of sugar in his coffee, and had 1a cups!
Louise made a great hit with him and he asked her questions nearly all evening. He is really awfully nice to meet, one quite forgot he was P.M., he had such a sense of humour and was so jolly and amusing.
Capt. Guest seemed very preoccupied and self important, but I suppose his job is wearing, as he must know everything that the P.M. may wish to find out about. Louise was awfully sick at Capt. G.'s democratic views, such rot a man talking so big with a millionaire for a father-in-law, a house in Park Lane, etc. We both felt rather antagonistic to him, although he really made himself very pleasant.
It really was too amusing to think of such a party in this house [which was of course Conservative], and the P.M. thoroughly appreciated the fact and rotted C.T.M., and they got on awfully well together!! C.T.M. simply would say his say and the P.M. always listened to him and told others to, in fact we had a very jolly evening all snugly by the Library fire, as we had it specially heated for him, and it really seemed quite pre-war. The dinner too was perfect: so hot, thick soup, fried sole, turkey, cream mould (you know the kind of thing) and excellent bonnes bouches of cheese. But what the P.M. really enjoyed were muscats.
He signed three books for me, and wrote his signature for Mrs E.B.'s autograph collection. There were 25 at lunch next day at the Town Hall, L. and I being there, but Miss Bird pushed in uninvited, and Sir Horatio refused to squeeze himself in, although we begged him to’–far too old fashioned and polite to do such a thing, we were annoyed. I was not thrilled by the great speech at the [Grand Theatre], though expected to be. General Hickman got the applause with his Alien policy, a dash of clapping, and he spoke very well and to the point, and his voice sounded delightful, place jammed with people. L. and I sat a little to the left, front row, so saw everyone perfectly far better that having a back seat on the platform. G.P.M. hadn't a ticket, so got in with Mr Davies, the secretary, as of course he had to be there, and sat just behind P.M., as so did the valet!!
Then after lunch the Freedom was given and I never heard a more appalling voice than the poor Mayor had, it simply could not have been worse, and he looked such a squirt too, poor man, almost his first appearance and such a big occasion for him, it was hard lines. The P.M. spoke quite differently from the morning and I am sure people enjoyed it.
Then we all went off to tea in the Mayor's parlour whilst the P.M. rested (incidentally, had a sketch made by Phoenix) and we messed about till five, and then accompanied them off to Lower Level for 5.22 back to town (though personally I think they would have stayed the two nights had C.T.M. not pointed out Sunday trains were not so good as the others, stupid of him). Such a lovely saloon, a drawing room in pale grey, detective's room, kitchen and dining room, just the five of them.
Left to Right: Margaret and David Lloyd George, CTM, Mary Mander at The Mount on the occasion of calling the 'coupon' election, 1918
The group taken by Bennett Clark is excellent–even Gerald came over for it with his kids. It is so nice of M[adre]. I am having her head taken out and enlarged and, of course, heaps of copies will be ordered. In fact, the whole visit was a great success.
I shall be glad when Christmas is over. I seem to have such a lot to do, have hardly read a thing, and feel I would do anything to be abroad somewhere and laze.
There were 24 comfortable bedrooms for the Friday-to-Monday house parties of the fin-de-siecle era, which have made it adapt well as a hotel. William Peveril Turnbull, Julia Mander's brother-in-law and a fellow of Trinity, Cambridge, seems to have stayed at The Mount on several occasions, before it was extended, in the 1880s. He records in November 1881: 'I was at the Mount lately. Never was such a house for rotation of bedrooms; I daresay I have had nine.'
The house gathered the huge collections of the grand Victorian country house. Mary Mander was described by Edward Ould, a little obsequiously perhaps, as having 'more taste than any lady I have met'. Her collections were voraciously catholic, if indiscriminate. The 'Ould English' aestheticism of the 'nineties fell victim to successive reorderings, and it became increasingly over furnished. The rooms were more cluttered and fussy than Wightwick–at least the Wightwick of today, which has been simplified since Victorian times along the lines of a purer Morris-inspired medievalism. Collections consisting of innumerable objets and bibelots (as they were called) covered every surface. Chinese and Delft blue-and-white porcelain, maiolica and faience, textiles, over 200 fans and quantities of dolls, snuff and tobacco boxes, curios from foreign travels–all was carefully dusted by a retinue of parlour maids. There was a special emphasis on objects of Midland manufacture: enamels from Battersea and Bilston, Staffordshire china ornaments, the polished steel jewellery, misers' purses and 'toys' of Wolverhampton, japanned ware made by the old family firm, a Stuart horn book found 'tucked away in the wall of an old house in John Street which was being pulled down' in 1862–all lent about periodically to exhibitions, from the Midlands to 10 Downing Street.
Drawers were stuffed till they were wedged tight shut; with textiles, examples of needlework, lace, beadwork, tatting, antique costumes. Chairs were upholstered and tapestries worked at leisure by the hands of Mary and Daisy Mander. The Library windows had antique Indian cretonne curtains, but there was a good deal of carpets and curtains supplied by William Morris & Co., mainly in less grand upstairs bedrooms, as well as Morris furniture and upholstered chairs, mixed with the antique furniture and rugs. As at Wightwick, there was early Continental furniture and more exotic acquisitions: Mary Mander's annotated inventories list the prices paid to dealers for seemingly untransportable items, huge armoires and chests, culled on travels energetically pursued in Taormina, Granada, Russia, Cairo, Tunis, Khartoum, Fez, Cuba and Brazil, many long before the first world war.
Mary Mander, collector, in the Library of The Mount, c. 1935
The sequel at The Mount, too, was happier than Wightwick. Theodore and Flora of Wightwick both died aged 47, in 1900 and 1906 respectively. The house was shuttered and for long periods little used, or loved. It was advertised for sale in 1920 as a genuine old Tudor house, with no takers. Eventually, Geoffrey Mander set up house, as a political fortress, or a retreat for weekends away from his London parliamentary interests, although locally he was chairman of Mander Brothers, the family business, for 33 years. His second wife Rosalie Mander admitted she never liked Wightwick. She later described how, finding Wightwick 'a monument to Victorian standards of practical inconvenience', they looked for a smaller house in the countryside. But they developed an interest in and sympathy with the house, forming a collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and Arts and Crafts furnishings of national importance. A happy solution was found when Sir Geoffrey gave the house to the National Trust in 1937, at a time when Victorian art was little esteemed, the first house to be donated under the Country Houses Scheme.
Meanwhile, at The Mount the Victorian era survived another fifty years. CTM was always a county or Midlands figure, popular, hale and active, who lived, in spite of an appalling hunting accident, to 1929. Then his widow, Mary, presided as the grand dowager with a retinue of footmen, reduced in the lean war years to a cockney cook and butler, a chauffeur, and daily help. 'Rochester used to drive very badly in a temper, if he had been done out of a cooked lunch and only had a sandwich. But at the end he and his wife were the last people to stay and look after my grandmother. No domestic chore was too belittling for them', recalls Mary's granddaughter, Hilary.
Mary Mander lived on in slowly-fading splendour into her dotage, holding court with her spinster daughter Daisy in the 'big room', as they moved with their tapestries from windows east to west with the sun. When she died aged 92 in 1951, she had outlived her sister, Flora, of Wightwick, by two generations. By this time, The Mount, too large for post-war servantless living, and the country house way of life it represented, seemed doomed. The next generation were not keen to continue, and Victorian fashion was utterly out of favour. Monica, her daughter in law, always hated The Mount, making it a condition of her marriage to its heir, Charles Arthur, that she would never have to live there. However, he had predeceased his mother, and never inherited.
Finally, in 1952 the house was sold by Charles Marcus Mander, the third baronet, after being in the family for just ninety years, with a three-day sale of contents. But the surrounding agricultural estate at Tettenhall, Perton and Wrottesley was prudently kept. Part of it had been requisitioned and blighted by the building of an aerodrome during the War. As the suburbs swelled around Wolverhampton, much of the land was developed for housing by him in the Sixties and Seventies, when Perton village was built, today with a population of some 11,500 people. The Mount itself continues its traditions of hospitality, having adapted well to its afterlife as a hotel, with 52 bedrooms.