Upstairs / Downstairs: Life at Colwick Hall


From Dr Robert Thoreton's Antiquities of Nottinghamshire, edited and enlarged by John Throsby (1790-6)

At the end of April 2015 Ordinary Culture visited the University of Nottingham’s Department of Manuscripts and Special collections to find out more about the history of Colwick Woods and Colwick Hall.  We were able to view historic maps, images of the hall and the landscape, and the papers of the Chaworth-Musters family, who owned the house (or hall) and the surrounding woodlands.  One intriguing document was a sales catalogue listing ‘the valuable contents of Colwick Hall, two miles from Nottingham’, which were sold at auction in December 1850.  The house, which had been built in 1775-6, was no longer used regularly by the family, who were planning to rent it to tenants.  In preparation, the sale was to dispose of all the furnishings in the house, from kitchen implements and bedding to the collections of art and books.  The sales catalogue shows that the hall was luxuriously furnished, and gives a fascinating glimpse into the everyday life of a gentry family in the mid-nineteenth century.

The contents are listed room by room, from the scullery (two kettles, two dressers, a frying pan, a saucepan, two pudding tins, an iron pot and a fish kettle) to the ball room (settees, chairs, an oval dining table, fire screens and a ‘rich cut-glass chandelier’).  The furnighings of the other ‘upstairs’ rooms provide insights as to how the family entertained themselves.  As anyone who has experienced a power-cut of more than an hour or two will know, evenings without electricity are not exactly exciting once the initial ‘candlelight is so romantic’ euphoria has worn off.  In order to stave off the boredom, there were card tables for games and a billiard room, complete with table.  The well-stocked library included books of history, art-history, poetry, classical and ecclesiastical works and instructional manuals on topics such as gardening and hunting. 
The house was well equipped for entertaining, with champagne glasses, wine coolers, claret jugs, ‘an elegant china dinner service, beautifully painted in flowers’ and even a ‘curious antique teapot’.  There were numerous musical instruments including a grand piano, and the collection of paintings featured works by Caravaggio, Rubens, Reynolds, Canaletto and Gainsborough.  In the dining room there was a magnificent painting by George Stubbs of John and Sophia Musters riding at Colwick Hall, which shows the house in the background. All this luxury, however, was largely confined to the family.  The servants’ bedrooms were sparsely furnished and even the housekeeper had to put up with a mangle in her room! 

This document provides a remarkable snapshot of life at Colwick Hall, and is all the more interesting because all of this was soon to disappear.  The contents were sold, and the house itself was rented out.  The family never lived in it again, and it eventually fell into disrepair, before being renovated and turned into a hotel in 2003.  

Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be finding out more about the history of Colwick Hall and the surrounding landscape, and will be running a series of events where you can find out about our discoveries.  Find out more here

With thanks to the Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University of Nottingham.  The sales catalogue discussed here is Manuscript ChM/I/3

Louise Stewart, Ordinary Culture Curator