Shropshire Star

Mansion dismissed as 'dull and uninteresting' was actually a house of treasures

Badger Hall, architect Anthony Minoprio told the public inquiry into its proposed demolition, was architecturally "uninteresting to the point of dullness."

The fine wrought iron staircase. From left, Mr H G Warren, his assistant Mr C E Scanlon, and estate worker Edwin Jones.

Any case for preserving it, he said, had to rest on the merits of the 18th century mansion's interior, including the saloon, the library, the dining room, and a very fine wrought iron staircase.

It wasn't enough. By December 1952 demolition was under way and another English grand house, once the venue for parties, balls, and splendorous living, disappeared forever.

A truck from R H Mansell of Cartway, Bridgnorth, is loaded up as demolition gets under way in early December 1952.

Nobody had lived there for years. In the weeks before the hall was pulled down there was still time for one last sale to flog off fixtures and fittings, which attracted a large crowd out for bargains.

One of the most interesting lots in the sale by auctioneers Perry and Phillips of Bridgnorth held on November 20, 1952, was the West room, offered as a whole, including the oak floor, a white marble mantelpiece, and early Georgian white painted panelling. It realised £330. A carved stone fountain realised £30. A marble octagonal font did well. It sold for £130.

A dummy bookcase gets a polish on the eve of the last sale of interior fittings in November 1952.

The white marble mantelpiece in the dining room fetched £90, an oak staircase went for £26. And so on and so on.

In total the sale made around £4,000. Buyers were mainly antique dealers, who came from all parts of the country, but a number of smaller lots went to private buyers from the neighbourhood.

Where are those treasures now? Surely there will be folk in the area who, knowingly or not, have a little piece of Badger history in their homes.

The fate of Badger Hall, roughly between Shifnal and Bridgnorth, was one of those tragedies played out again and again in the 1950s when so many big country houses, impossibly expensive to maintain, let alone staff, were knocked down.

Gareth Williams, author of the definitive 750-page book 'The Country Houses of Shropshire,' has said: “Badger, in the late 19th century, contained one of the most remarkable collections of Renaissance art collected by the Cheney brothers. Had it survived intact, it would have been one of the most important treasure houses in Britain.”

So what went wrong?

In March 1949 an Express & Star man went to Badger to investigate and found the older villagers mourning the end of a benevolent squirearchy. The hall was being used as a paper store, with bales of paper stacked against marble pillars and reaching the ornate ceiling.

At the time this photo was taken in March 1949 Badger Hall was being used to store paper.

"Before Mrs Capel Cure died in 1937 nearly everyone in Badger worked at the hall," lamented Mrs Grace Wootton, who had for some years been a maid to Mr and Mrs Francis Capel Cure at Badger Hall.

"Nowadays ex-footmen, ex-gardeners and ex-chauffeurs have had to seek employment elsewhere."

She recalled the golden wedding celebrations of the Capel Cures in June 1930 when the ballroom was full of guests, the open windows allowed in the sweet scent of the rose garden, and fireworks were let off on the lawn.

Better days... the rose garden.

In those days the Capel Cures would spent six months a year at the hall, except for brief trips to Scotland for salmon fishing. The rest of the year was spent abroad or in London.

Mrs Wootton's husband Tom was the family chauffeur and would go abroad with them.

Our man was taken on a tour of the great rooms by Albert Downward, former handyman and in 1949 the caretaker. With his voice ringing hollowly round the ballroom he said: "They were grand, colourful days. We'll never see anything like them again – and more's the pity."

Amid the faded opulence he added: "I sometimes sit here at night and remember the wonderful parties they had in the old days. Now the only guests we ever have are jackdaws."

And 90-year-old Mrs John Jones (back then women were often addressed by their husband's first names), once a cook to the Capel Cures, was even more downbeat.

"We're a forsaken people," she declared.

Except for a short period during the war the great house had been empty since Mrs Capel Cure's death. Although she had held a hunt ball some time after her husband's passing, the real glories had died with the squire in 1933, and with the couple having no children, villagers could see that an era was coming to an end.

Major Nigel Capel Cure, to whom the hall was willed, brought his family there for a short time during the war, but after his departure in 1944 it was sold to a Birmingham paper firm. In September 1945 antique and modern furniture, silverware, and paintings were among over 1,500 lots sold at the hall by order of the Major.

There was an attempt to save the building. When it became known that then owners John Swire and Son – described at the time as a London estate firm – were thinking of demolishing it, it was made the subject of a preservation order on March 9, 1951. However the firm was determined to demolish, and a public inquiry opened on October 9, 1951, with the firm arguing that the architectural value of Badger Hall was confined to a relatively small number of rooms, and that it was beyond economic repair.

The fine wrought iron staircase. From left, Mr H G Warren, his assistant Mr C E Scanlon, and estate worker Edwin Jones.

The inquiry heard that Sherwood Pearson, a Wolverhampton furniture dealer, was interested in taking over the property to rent it, but nothing had come of it.

The inspector, Mr H G Warren, and an assistant, Mr C E Scanlon, were shown around the hall by Albert Downward and by Edwin Jones, who had spent 30 years on the estate.

Both Shifnal Rural District Council and Shropshire County Council supported demolition.

Inquiry inspector Mr H G Warren has a look around the dining room.

Not everything was pulled down. A service wing survived and was restored into a house in the 1980s, bearing the name Badger Hall, which can trick some visitors into thinking the old hall still exists.

Back in 1949 villager Mrs Jones shrugged her shoulders whenever the big house was mentioned.

"It's sad," she said, "but the days of those great houses with their wealth and luxury are over."

Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.