Having been drenched the previous day, on Tuesday 15th September Susana Ellis, my dog Roxy and I went for a day out to Berrington Hall, near Leominster (pronounced Lemster) in Herefordshire.
Berrington Hall is a grand Georgian residence, built from red sandstone in about 1775 for London banker Thomas Harley, younger son of the 3rd Earl of Oxford, who had family connections in Herefordshire. The house was designed by Henry Holland, son-in-law of ‘Capability’ Brown, who was given the responsibility of landscaping the park. Spectacular views can be enjoyed towards Wales and the Black Mountains from the house’s magnificent setting.
All photographs © Heather King and may not be copied or reproduced without the expressed permission of the copyright holder.
|Berrington Hall, showing the ha-ha|
Harley was destined not to beget an heir, but Anne, his second daughter, married George, 2nd Baron Rodney, the son of Admiral George Brydges Rodney, celebrated naval commander of the 18th Century. In the Dining Room hang four paintings depicting two of Admiral Rodney’s renowned victories at sea in the American War of Independence.
Thomas Harley died in 1804 and was succeeded by the Rodney family, who continued to live in the house for almost a century. The 7th Baron, also George, sold many of the family’s treasures, including excellent Gainsborough portraits, to fund a predilection for gambling which had already accounted for his inheritance. He eventually found himself constrained to sell the estate in 1901.
Berrington passed into the hands of Lancashire cotton magnate, Frederick Cawley M.P., who in time became the inaugurate Lord Cawley. Cawley refurbished Berrington with a sympathetic eye, removing hideous fire grates introduced in the Victorian age and replacing them with Georgian ones which were far more in keeping.
|Fireplace in the Drawing Room|
Henry Holland’s original, beautiful design was left mostly untouched, to Lord Cawley’s eternal credit. Following the death of the 2nd Lord Cawley, in 1957 the estate then came into the hands of the National Trust, who do a fabulous job of managing both house and gardens. Lady Cawley, his widow, continued to live in the house until her death in 1978, having reached her own century.
It remains a ‘scene of elegance and refinement’ to this day, as declared by Lord Torrington in 1784, and indeed, his description of ‘commanding beautiful views [and] a fine piece of water’ has not changed in all those years.
|The yew 'balls' on the approach from the gatehouse|
When we first arrived, Roxy and I left Susana to tour the house and went for a walk round the park. Little girls are far happier snoozing in the car when they have had a ‘leg stretch’ first! We can vouch for the beauty of the views and the lake!
|Parkland and lake|
|The lake and boathouse|
Having ensconced Roxy in the car with a marrow bone, I headed off to join Susana in the house. We were really lucky that our visit coincided with an exhibition of costumes featured in television productions of Jane Austen’s works, such as ‘Emma’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’, as well as some beautiful Georgian fashions, including a collection of surviving garments from the era!
|Costume worn by Billie Piper in 'Emma'|
There are several rooms open to the public at Berrington, including the stunning Staircase Hall, which is a masterpiece of light and space. The staircase follows three walls of this secondary hall, rising beneath the spectacular domed skylight which dramatically illuminates the ironwork balustrades of bronzed lyres, the wall tapestries and the York slate/stone floor. The first time the visitor passes from the shadowed Entrance Hall into the Staircase Hall, it takes the breath away, believe you me!
I love the Drawing and Dining Rooms at Berrington, but I think (surprise, surprise!) my favourite room is the Library. The bookcases are fashioned to represent pediments and columns of classical architecture and the furniture, although not belonging to the house, seem to fit perfectly. It is easy to imagine Mr. Darcy and Lizzie sitting reading in here.
Sadly, my photograph of the bookcases is too dark, but there is a matching pediment over the fireplace. Possibly inspired by his great-grandfather, Robert Harley, the 1st Earl of Oxford, creator of one of the finest collections of books in Britain, and his grandfather, the 2nd Earl, a friend of Pope’s, Thomas Harley also owned a fine library. This was unfortunately sold by the 7th Lord Rodney and the library was henceforth used by him as a billiards room.
After a tour of upstairs, including the Georgian fashions, White Dressing Room, Oval Room – dedicated to Sir Frederick and Lady Cawley’s three sons who were killed in the First World War – and the Corner Dressing Room and Bedroom, which celebrate the 7th Lord Rodney and his bride Corisande following their honeymoon, the visitor steps down the Back Stairs and with a peek in at an ancient lavatory, can view the butler’s rooms on the way out. The laundry is now housed in a secondary kitchen, moved there in all likelihood in the late 19th Century and is Victorian in nature. The dairy, beautifully decorated in fine Louis XVI style by Henry Holland, has survived virtually unchanged since the 1780s. It has a classical Greek feel to it and contains niches too – not for statues, but bowls of cream to stand while separating.
Of course, for a horse-mad girl like me, no visit to Berrington would be complete without a good snoop around the stable. The Regency stable block no longer exists, but the Victorian stables, situated in the former Steward’s House beside the carriage arch into the rear courtyard, combine my two great passions, because they are now home to the Book Shop!!
Stabling changed very little during the 19th Century, so the Regency author can still get a feel of equine comfort. To the far left of the picture is a loose box, while chains would have hung from the heel posts of the stalls to prevent occupants from ‘backing up’. Horses would wear a headstall, to which was attached a rope that passed through a hole in the manger and was fastened to a weight, thus keeping the rope taut. The horse therefore had a measure of movement and could lie down without getting entangled in the rope.
After a picnic lunch, Susana and I went for a wander around the Walled Garden. On previous visits, Paws had not been admitted, but on this occasion, Roxy could come into the original kitchen garden and I was really excited when I discovered the old apple trees. When researching A Sense of the Ridiculous, I came across the ‘Ribston Pippin’, which hails from Little Ribston, the village where Harry attends a ‘mill’ (boxing match). Lo and behold, there in the garden was a Ribston Pippin tree!
It was the perfect end to what had been a wonderful day. Berrington Hall is a fabulous place for a day out and for the Regency author it provides a real feel of the era, too. My short story The Middle of the Day, is set here and features the 3rd Lord Rodney and his wife Charlotte.
I hope you have enjoyed this mini tour. Susana, Roxy and I certainly enjoyed our day!