Grid Ref: SP 370 458
Date: 4 June 2011



Upton House
Upton House

Upton House in Warwickshire lies 7 miles NW of Banbury and about 12 miles SE of Stratford upon Avon on the A 422. It is accessible from the M40 from Junction 11 at Banbury and is a useful place to visit t break a long journey. Upton is of interest as a house with its art collection, for its gardens, and for the role played by one of its owners in initiating the Shell Motoring Guildes, some of which were written by John Betjeman, architectural historian, writer, Poet Laureate and campaigner for conservation.


Upton House spacer Upton House
Garden and Lake   Garden Cottage
Garden   Upton House
The Lake from the embankment   Clock Tower


The land at Upton had been in the hands of the Danvers family from the early 16th century but in 1688 it was purchased by Sir Rushout Cullen, 3rd Baronet, for £7,000. His father, Abraham Cullen, was an M.P. for Evesham (1661 to 1668) in the Restoration Parliament and became a baronet in 1661. His second son, Rushout, succeeded his elder brother and became 3rd Baronet. He built Upton House about 1695 but when he died in 1730 the baronetcy became extinct. Having passed through several hands, the house was bought by the banker Francis Child and remained in his family until the late 1800s, when the owner was George Child Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey. Walter Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted (1882-1948) acquired Upton in 1927. His father, Marcus Samuel was the founder of Shell Transport and Trading. Walter was educated at Eton and New College Oxford and had a military career with the Queen's Own West Kent Yeomanry, becoming a captain. In the Great War he was awarded the Military Cross and he also served in the Second World War in the Intelligence Corp, reaching the rank of Colonel. Walter Samuel became a director of Shell and when his father retired in 1921 he became Chairman. He donated the house and gardens to the National Trust in 1948

The Shell Guides

John Bedington (1893-1959) was the publicity director for Shell in the 1930s and subsequently, during the Second World War was head of the Ministry of Information Films Division. He initiated the Shell Guides as an aid to motorists and a form of advertising and was backed by Lord Bearsted. When they were begun, the guides were meant to appeal to the newly emerging group of middle class motorist.  Publication was under the editorial control of the poet John Betjeman (1906-1984) and the artist and photographer John Piper (1903-1992). The whole assumption behind them is that you are travelling by car not train and they have a few small adverts for Shell petrol.  In the 1930s they cost 2s 6d.  The first was Cornwall, by Betjeman and was ring bound so that it could be easily left open at any page.  Some of the design and artwork was avant guard but other parts were reminiscent of a 19th century directory.  Cornwall had contributions from various authors including one on fishing by Betjeman’s father.  This volume also had sections on golf, hunting, sailing, plants, birds, food and language but had no gazetteer.  Instead it had about 7 pages on towns and 9 on churches. There is a chapter on how to have a picnic.  The whole came to just 64 pages.  A second edition, in 1962 adopted the later format with a full gazetteer of towns including their churches. The early volumes had drawings and paintings as well as photographs but later volumes had just photographs.

In 1937, John Piper made hundreds of sketches and photos of rural Oxfordshire, excluding Oxford itself as Betjeman had been commissioned to do a book on the city and university. Piper’s volume came out in 1938 and was reprinted in 1953. Betjeman and Piper did Shropshire together just before the war but it was not published until 1951.  By this time the gazetteer had become a key feature of the volumes. Shell Guides were published over this 50 year period (although none were published between 1939 and 1951) but even after half a century the series was incomplete. There were no guides to Middlesex or to London, to West Sussex, Berkshire or to Huntingdonshire nor to the North of England apart from Northumberland and Durham.  Hampshire and Somerset were published in the 1930s but no post war revision or publication took place.  In the later 1980s, John Julius Norwich edited the New Shell Guides. They used a similar format but covered regions rather than counties. Publication did not last long and the series is incomplete. A fuller account is given on the Wikipedia webpage on Shell Guides.

The Shell Posters were a separate venture but some of the same artists were used. Upton House, has a exhibition of Shell Posters. 

There are 48 volumes of Shell Shilling Guides published in 1963-4. Essentially they are offprints from the single volume - Shell Guide to Britain and Northern Ireland first published in 1964



Wikipedia article on Upton House, Shell Guides, Walter Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted,

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