Tour a Victorian Home at Wightwick Manor

by JoHarrington

Decorated throughout by William Morris and filled with pre-Raphaelite paintings, this manor house near Wolverhampton is worth a visit.

When Theodore and Flora Mander decided to decorate their new manor house, no-one was really that interested in the pre-Raphaelites.

Fortunately for the newly-weds, Flora had a very good eye for art. She snapped up a painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti for just 17 shillings. That's about 70p in today's money, but it is worth millions.

This became the first of dozens of pre-Raphaelite paintings, which adorn the interior walls of Wightwick Manor, near Wolverhampton, in the West Midlands. As for the wallpaper, that's not too shabby either. The house is decorated on all floors with original William Morris designs.

Image: Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton
Image: Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton
Jo Harrington

Poster Print of Wightwick Manor

It might look Tudor, but it's actually Victorian. Welcome to an architectural masterpiece of the Aesthetic Movement.
Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton, West Midlands, England, United King...

Art and History go Hand in Hand at Wightwick Manor

Incidentally, that is pronounced Wit-tick Man-na. You are contending with Black Country accents here!

Wightwick Manor is a Victorian house and gardens owned by the National Trust.

This isn't to say that the Mander family have actually moved out.  A portion of the old bedrooms were converted into a self-contained flat, cunningly concealed in the center of the house. On the day that I visited, Sir Charles and Lady Karin Mander were in residence. We didn't see them.

Wightwick Manor is an unusual National Trust property.  For a start, it's not as Elizabethan as it looks. When it was donated to the heritage organization, in 1937, it was only fifty years old.

As part of his generous gift, Geoffrey Mander included 20,000 shares in his company. The proceeds from that would cover the upkeep of the house.

Theodore (pictured) and Flora Mander began work on the house in 1887. Around the same time, Theodore happened to catch a lecture given by the playwright and poet Oscar Wilde. He talked about 'The House Beautiful', which argued that there should be nothing in any home which is not either functional or beautiful.  For preference, it should be both.

Theodore Mander took him at his word. He and Flora immediately altered the building plans to ensure that every inch of their home fit the bill. They embraced the Aesthetic Movement with all the passion in their souls.

The result is truly impressive, with secret staircases and boudoirs; a great hall and gallery; ornate passageways and themed bedrooms.

And that's when Flora Mander started buying the artwork.

Learn more about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Fellow Wizzley author Brenda Reeves has written this introduction to Flora's (and my own) favorite artistic movement.

Some of the Pre-Raphaelite Artwork at Wightwick Manor

The originals are just there, on the walls! I've seen them! If you're a fan of the Brotherhood, you are going to love this place!

I love the pre-Raphaelites. I might know very little about art, but I know that I'm fascinated by anything drawn by that brotherhood (and sisterhood, in the case of Elizabeth Siddons et al).

So imagine my face when I'm confronted by a whole wall covered in handwritten letters and notes from Maddox Brown and Hunt; and personal photographs offering a glimpse into their world.  This after meandering around a house where their artwork is on display, seemingly in every nook and cranny.

The tour guide gave her introduction in a room with an original portrait of Jane Morris by Dante Gabriel Rossetti on the wall. It wasn't one that I'd seen before. I was transfixed.

I know I was being told about history.  But I could look that up later.  For now I was staring at the walls and there were such treasures to see! 

For example, here are just a couple of the pre-Raphaelite paintings found at Wightwick Manor.

A Little Painting with a Big Story Behind It!

Respected art critic John Ruskin could make or break an artist with his reviews. Of all the pre-Raphaelites, the only one he really liked was John Everett Millais.

He liked his work so much in fact, that he invited the artist to draw his own wife.

Millais and Euphemia 'Effie' Chalmers Gray, aka Mrs John Ruskin, sat alone for hours in her drawing room, while he painted her with foxgloves in her hair.

Three years later, she left her husband and married Millais shortly afterwards.

They lived happily ever after; John Ruskin regretted commissioning the portrait; and Flora Mander bought it very cheaply.

How a Painting Came Back from Destruction

In 1893, Love Among the Ruins was being toured from gallery to gallery, when it was taken to the Champ de Mars in Paris for an exhibition.

In preparation for a photograph, curators there covered the painting in egg whites, not realizing that it was a watercolor!

Edward Burne-Jones's most famous piece of art was ruined.

The artist himself immediately rushed from his own holiday to measure what was left. He then grumpily installed himself in a studio in London and repainted the whole thing. This time it was in oil.

As a friend of Burne-Jones, Flora Mander snapped up the second version to hang on the walls of Wightwick Manor. He was probably glad to entrust it to her, after the Fate of the original!

(Incidentally, many years later, he did find a way to remove the egg-white from the watercolor. Then painted over all of the damage, so that the painting was restored to its former glory.)

William Morris Decor Throughout the House

Wightwick Manor boasts one of most complete Arts & Crafts interiors surviving in the world today.

During the late Victorian period, only the rich and fashionable could afford William Morris designs. Theodore and Flora Mander were exactly that.

The Mander family had begun as yeoman farmers, but they had made their fortune in the Industrial Revolution.  Their paint factories employed a significant number of the Wulfrunian population!

So when the couple wandered into the Morris & Co shop, in London's Oxford Street, they could pretty much buy whatever caught their eye.  So they did.  The entire of Wightwick Manor is decked from basement to attic in his designs.

It was this collection of wallpaper and tiles which contributed greatly to their son, Sir Geoffrey Mander, persuading the National Trust to take the house off his hands!

Learn More About William Morris

Buy these books and catalogs to discover the beauty of his designs. The National Trust also have a William Morris shop now on the premises of Wightwick Manor.

Not to Mention the Architecture...

This is a huge house (big enough to conceal an apartment at its heart). The rooms are stunning to behold.

I have focused on the art and decor so far, but that isn't nearly all there is to see at Wightwick Manor.

This was a home in its entirety until 1937.  When the Mander family sold it to the National Trust, they moved only their personal effects into the apartment nestled at its heart. The rest, including all of the furniture and fittings, were left in situ.

I've said at the beginning of this article that Wightwick Manor is unusual as a National Trust property. One of the other main reasons for this is that you don't have to guess what it would have looked like when people lived there. It looks like they only just moved out.

Moreover, when the Trust decided to restore the day and night nurseries, they didn't have to guess where everything went. They simply called in two members of the family who had been raised in those rooms, and were still living, to point out what went where.

The room which really took my breath away was the Grand Parlour.  It's not medieval, but it was built to look like the Great Hall in a castle. You can stand on the gallery, or wander through the room itself, and you can see what it must have been like to live in a place like that.  Not only at Wightwick, but in the endless castle ruins themselves. 

Artists will adore the house, but historians shouldn't be too sniffy about its modernity. It certainly kept me fascinated and intrigued!

Books about Wightwick Manor near Wolverhampton

Buy these guides to learn more about the house, its art and its history.

A Final Word About Wightwick Manor's Gardens

Apparently they're amazing! So much so that they were included in that Good Garden's Guide there.

I would like to mention the gardens at Wightwick Manor, but I didn't really see much of them!

Obviously I walked through part of them to get to the house and it all looked gorgeous. To my left were sweeping lawns and woodland, with a distant glimpse of a huge lake.  To my right were manicured gardens and flowers all in bloom.  Ahead of me were signs to the rose garden and the delights beyond.

However it was also tipping it down with torrential rain. I decided to come back another time to check out the land around the house. For now, shelter was my priority!

Find Wightwick Manor on the Map!

Buy a Poster, Tile or Coaster Showing Wightwick Manor

It's not exactly William Morris, but these would still be stylish additions to your home!
Updated: 11/20/2012, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 11/20/2012

Very knowledgeable ones too! It's great to hear what Dave has to say, because he's right there.

Mira on 11/20/2012

Wow Jo, I see great comments in this section!:)

JoHarrington on 11/20/2012

You certainly know how to entice a girl over to your manor, Dave! Yes, I certainly would like the opportunity to hear about the pre-Raphaelites, and even more so to actually view and touch items not usually on show.

Consider me stalking the Wightwick Manor webpage for more information. I have a friend whose birthday is in January, who loves art. This may be an idea for an outing treat for her.

Thank you!

Dave Bruton on 11/20/2012

Hello Jo

If you are local to the area you may be interested to learn than every couple of months or so there are talks on the pre-Raphaelites at Wightwick. The next one I believe is in January and will be about William and Evelyn de Morgan. During these talks there is the opportunity to see some of the archives from the Wightwick collection which are rarely on display.
Our last one was about Edward Burne Jones where some of his pocket sketch books, notes, letters and other personal items were displayed. To acutally pick these up and turn the pages was like turning back the pages of time and giving you the feeling of being in his company. I was almost expecting to hear him to say ''Put that down!!!.
Contact the Manor for further info.

JoHarrington on 11/20/2012

Hi Dave,

How lovely of you to pop in and say hello. I'm glad that you liked the comments. I did thoroughly enjoy looking around Wightwick Manor.

Thank you too for the corrections. I'll amend the article to reflect those. It's also good to hear about the extended opening days. There seems to be a few houses doing the same this year, which is great for my National Trust pass!

Dave Bruton on 11/20/2012

Hi Jo

I'm a guide at Wiightwick Manor and I like your positive comments about it. Just a point to note though. Geoffrey Mander did not sell Wightwick to the National Trust, he gave it to them along with 20,000 shares of his company Mander Bros. He and his 2nd wife Rosalie continued to live in the house and added many of the beautiful pre-Raphaelite artwork whilst still living there. Sir Geoffrey died in 1962, Rosalie in 1988. Descendants of the family still occasionally visit and stay in the private apartments that you mention there. A couple of other points. Wightwick will be shown on BBC's Antique Road Show on December 9, 2012 with a further show probably in the Spring. And Wightwick has now extended it's opening times and is open most days throught the winter ( heck website for details).

JoHarrington on 11/09/2012

Public transport is all good. It's not far out of the city of Wolverhampton; and it's located on the main road into Bridgnorth. There's information on the National Trust page:

If it's a clement day, then it's not a bad walk up the canal from Wolverhampton city centre. That's a few miles though, so only for the fit and hail!

Otherwise the 890 bus from Wolverhampton to Bridgnorth will pass outside it.

Mira on 11/09/2012

Hi Jo, this article felt so good! I would love to see something with Morris designs and lots of paintings and photographs of the Pre-Raphaelites. Also the architecture. I do hope I get to visit someday. How does one get there though without a car?

JoHarrington on 07/11/2012

It was your Wizzle on the pre-Raphaelites which reminded me that I hadn't written this one yet! Thanks for the inspiration (and for the link back). <3

I think that you'd adore Wightwick Manor, especially as you love the art.

BrendaReeves on 07/11/2012

Oh, how I wish I could visit that place. I love old Victorian homes. I love old homes period. Thank you for linking to me. I'll link back to you.

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