Et In Arcadia Ego - The Shugborough Follies

Within the grounds of Shugborough Hall are eight monuments of national historic importance from the enormous neo-classical arch crowning the hilly Shugborough skyline to the puzzling Shepherd's monument.



The Cat’s Monument

Date: 1750 - 1775 (c.)  The Cat's monument is situated on an island accessed by the red bridge beside the Chinese House. It was probably designed by Thomas Wright of Derby, who also worked on the Ruin.


There are two theories behind the purpose of the monument; one is that it commemorates a cat which travelled around the world with Admiral Anson on the 'Centurion'. The second is that it was built as a memorial to Kouli-Khan, a Persian cat kept by Thomas Anson. Anson also kept a herd of Corsican goats, a favourite breed of the family, which feature around the base of the monument.


Standing beside a long disused tennis court the rear of the monument is of rough unfinished stonework leading to the possibility it was built against another structure. The tablet on the front was added c.1770 and is of Codestone - perhaps a hint to the solution to the puzzling "Shepherd's Monument" visible across the river.



The Doric Temple

Built c.1760 this is one of two copies of the Temple of Hephaistos in Athens by James 'Athenian' Stuart. The first version was commissioned by Hagley Hall In Worcestershire in 1758, and is believed to be the first accurate revived Greek Doric Temple in Europe.  The Doric Temple at Shugborough was originally the entrance to the kitchen garden but the demolition of the garden in 1805 left it isolated. The sculptures it contained were sold in 1842.  In the 1960s repairs were made to the roof, and the lower portions of the columns replaced with White Hollington stone.



The Triumphal Arch

The Triumphal Arch, modelled on the Arch of Hadrian in Athens, dominates the skyline at Shugborough and is set on the highest point of the parkland. It serves as a memorial to George and Elizabeth Anson who both died shortly after its construction.


Busts of George and Elizabeth are featured on either side of the central aplustra which represents the bow of a ship and some spoils of war.



The Tower of Winds

The replica horlogium (water clock) was completed in 1765 by Trubshaw of Great Haywood. It was once used as a dairy (downstairs) and as a gambling den (upstairs).  It was reached by bridges to the porches over a surrounding lake (now drained). It may have originally featured a frieze of sculptured reliefs depicting the different winds.





The Shepherd’s Monument


The monument was built sometime between 1748 and 1763, commissioned by Thomas Anson, paid for by his brother, Admiral George Anson, and fashioned by the Flemish sculptor Peter Scheemakers. The monument akes the form of a relief copy of a Poussin painting from the 1600s depicting a woman and three shepherds, two of whom are pointing to a tomb, on which is carved the Latin text Et in arcadia ego ("I am also in Arcadia" or "I am, even in Arcadia" or "Even in Arcadia I exist"). The carving displays a number of small alterations from the original painting, such as changed letters, and an extra sarcophagus has been placed on top of the main tomb. Above the Poussin scene are two stone heads, one of which bears a strong likeness to the goat-horned Greek god Pan. Below the relief carving on the monument, an unknown craftsman carved the mysterious eight-letter inscription, contained within the letters 'D.M.' On Roman tombs, these commonly stood for Diis Manibus, meaning "dedicated to the shades".

The Shepherd's of Arcadia by Nicolas Poussin (1637-1638).
The Shepherd's of Arcadia by Nicolas Poussin (1637-1638).

The Shugborough inscription, a carved sequence of letters, has never been satisfactorily explained, and has been called one of the world's great uncracked ciphertexts. The inscription became widely known as a result of its mention in the 1982 pseudohistorical book 'The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail' by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, in which the authors suggest that Poussin was a member of the Priory of Sion (later proven to be a hoax) and that his 'Shepherds of Arcadia' contains hidden meanings of great esoteric significance. Public interest in the inscription grew when some of the book's themes were explored in other works, such as Dan Brown's 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code. Speculation arose that the inscription may encode a clue to the location of the Holy Grail.

Another suggestion is that the eight letters are a coded dedication by George Anson to his deceased wife. In 1951 Morchard Bishop speculated that the letters might be an acronym for the Latin phrase Optimae Uxoris Optimae Sororis Viduus Amantissimus Vovit Virtutibus ("Best of wives, Best of sisters, a most devoted Widower dedicates (this) to your virtues"). A further theory proposes that the letters stand for Orator Ut Omnia Sunt Vanitas Ait Vanitas Vanitatem, a version of the phrase "Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher, all is vanity" from Ecclesiastes, albeit different from that which appears in the Latin Bible. Margaret, Countess of Lichfield has claimed that the inscription was a love message, referring to the lines Out Your Own Sweet Vale, Alicia, Vanishes Vanity. Twixt Deity and Man Thou, Shepherdess, The Way, but no source for these words has ever been traced. Other suggestions have included one that relies on pronouncing 'UOSV' as 'Iosef', interpreted as a reference to the biblical prophet Joseph, and another that involves reading 'VV' as 'TEN', with reference to Roman numerals.

Josiah Wedgwood, Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens are all said to have attempted to solve the enigma and failed. In 2004 boffins from the world famous Bletchley Park arrived at the invitation of the 5th Earl of Lichfield. Among the team of codebreakers, Oliver Lawn proposed that the letters may encode the phrase Jesus H Defy, where the H supposedly stands for "Christos" (Greek for "Messiah") and the reference is to the story of a Jesus bloodline allegedly preserved by the Priory of Sion. Sheila Lawn, his wife, preferred the love story theory. As with the acronym theories, neither of these suggestions enjoyed reliable cryptanalytic support and both were presented as speculative.



The Ruin

Situated on the banks of the River Sow; this monument was built c.1750 using stone from sections of Shugborough Hall pulled down during alterations. The architect was Thomas Wright of Durham, who may have also worked on the Cat's Monument.


Originally the Ruin was more extensive and included a Gothic pigeon house. On the opposite bank of the river was a Classical Colonnade, which was washed away in the floods of the late eighteenth century.


A Druid, worked in Codestone, sits upon the monument. A duplicate of the Druid can be found in Croombe Park, Worcestershire.



James 'Athenian' Stuart
James 'Athenian' Stuart

The Lanthorn of Demosthenes

Date: 1870 - 1871 (c.).  Also known as the Dark Lantern, the Lanthorn was the last Neo-classical monument to be designed by James 'Athenian' Stuart for Shugborough. It was completed in 1771. The original, the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, stands near the Acropolis in Athens.


The bowl, which rested upon a tripod, was made by Wedgwood. In a state of disrepair the structure was restored in the 1960s; the missing bowl and tripod were replaced with fibreglass copies made to Stuart's original design.



The Chinese House

The North Walk path forms part of Thomas Anson's layout, and its original state was serpentine and gravelled with wide grass verges and flanking beds of shrubs and rare trees interspersed with antique sculpture. It leads to the Chinese House, completed in 1747 and probably the first of Thomas Anson's garden buildings.


The design for the Chinese House was taken from the pencil sketches of Sir Piercy Brett, Admiral Anson's second-in-command on the Centurion. It must have been constructed shortly after the Admiral's return, making it one of the earliest buildings of Chinese influence in the country, a precursor of the Chinese 'Pavilion' at Kew. The watercolour by Moses Griffith, 1780, shows the outside of the Chinese House looking very similar to its present appearance but coloured pale blue and white. The colour scheme within survives, with its pale green canopy, gilt monkeys and alcoves with red lacquer fretwork and gilded details.

The Chinese House was built on an island in an artificial canal, with a boathouse attached. It was reached by a pair of bridges of Chinese design. This arrangement was altered during the rerouting of the Sow after the flooding of 1795 which left the Chinese House standing on a little promontory with only one bridge, rebuilt in iron, leading to the newly made island. The bridge, painted a bright Chinese red, was erected in 1813 by Charles Heywood.


In 1885 the contents of the Chinese House, the plaster ceiling, four painted mirror pictures, fret tables, rushbottom chairs and porcelain were removed to the house for safekeeping.  The planting hereabouts in Thomas Anson's day included clumps oflarches, known as 'Indian Trees', but these have all disappeared. Nevertheless, the planting round the Chinese House is still deliberately oriental in feel, with tree peonies, bamboo, azaleas, Viburnum davidi, Osmanthus delavayi, Rodgersia aesculifolia, Ligustrum quihoui and Ligustrum lucidum.

Shugborough Hall


Great Hayward,
Staffordshire, England.


Situated in a river valley in the heart of Staffordshire, Shugborough’s location is decidedly magical.

Shugborough Hall: