Sunday, 22 July 2018

The Beauty of Croome ~ Part Three

The Park and Gardens

Croome Park is situated approximately nine miles from Worcester, five from Pershore, two from the village of Severn Stoke, eight from Tewkesbury, ten from Malvern Wells and sixteen from Cheltenham. There are two drives to the house, approached via the Worcester Lodge, not far from the village of Croome where ‘there is a good Inn, for the accommodation of visitors…’ In the 6th Earl’s time there were two lodges here, ‘…sheltered beneath the pleasant shade of evergreens…’ One remains, built of Bath ashlar in 1801 and now Grade II listed. Most likely by James Wyatt, it has two storeys and iron gates to the side. The visitor can also approach this gate from the village of Severn Stoke, and enjoy the panoramic view across the park as well as a glimpse of the Temple. Not too far distant from the Worcester Lodge, and a third of a mile away are the kennels, beyond which lies Menagerie Wood. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, there was a Menagerie and Aviary, for which Adam created an ambitious design in 1780, although in the end only an ashlar front was added to the western face of the Keeper’s House, now contained within the nineteenth century brick-built kennels compound. It has a projecting pediment in the centre above a recessed archway, with a large tripartite window from which visitors viewed the animals. There are also two balustrade arches, similarly set back, on either side. The Menagerie was situated about a mile’s walk from the Island Pavilion on the lake. The wood was home to several exotic birds, including a Golden Pheasant.

The drive takes an easterly course to the north of the lake and along the Croome River, thence to curve in a southerly direction towards the north front of the house. The ‘Punch Bowl Gates’, now known as the Worcester Gates and also Grade II listed, stand at about the midway point of this west drive. Restored in recent years, they are set between ashlar piers linked by shallow arches and topped by Coade stone urns. Built in the 1760s, they were redesigned by James Wyatt in 1794.

The second drive is the London Road, from Pershore – so named, according to legend, from the number of pear trees to be found in the vicinity. Once known as the London Lodge, it is now deemed the Pershore Lodge or, commonly, as the London Arch. A Grade II listed Triumphal Arch of Bath stone, it is supported by Ionic pillars and decorated with two figures, representing morning and evening. It is probable it was originally designed by Robert Adam in 1759 and later altered by James Wyatt about 1800. The stone lodge was redesigned circa 1877 and lies about 400 metres from the gateway. The original highway was diverted by Brown to a route outside the park; thus the drive follows the old road in a straight course across a lawn for perhaps 150 metres before sweeping downwards towards the south and the north front of the mansion. This drive now serves the private gardens and Stables Cottages, passing the old Gardener’s Cottage. The modern visitor continues around the tight bend by the Arch and travels a few hundred yards to the National Trust Reception area. The London Arch was the main entrance to Croome, although William Dean gives it as his opinion that the better approach is from the Worcester Lodge.

A leafy path through Wilderness Walk brings today’s visitor to a gateway. To the right is Horse Close, two conjoined meadows where dogs can run free under proper control and supervision – a wonderful boon to the dog owner and may this author offer heartfelt thanks to the National Trust for such a resource. Turning to the left brings the visitor, after a walk of just a few yards, to the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. It is beautifully carved inside and well worth a visit. From here the most glorious views can be obtained across the park, of the Panorama, the Temple [Greenhouse] and Croome Court nestling in the bowl surrounded by woodland and hills.

In the shrubbery not far from the Church is a curious egg-shaped building with a thatched roof. A pond lies nearby, brick-edged and shallow. This is the Ice House, where ice was stored in the winter months to serve the Earl of Coventry’s household. When low temperatures caused the water in the pond to freeze, the ice was broken (not a popular task, called ‘skimming’) and taken to the ice house, where it was packed in straw. I would not fancy it in my syllabub! The building is eighteen feet tall and the ice chamber is thirty-three feet from top to bottom, two thirds of it underground. The base is shaped like a keel, to facilitate dispersal of meltwater. Facing north-east and shaded by the shrubbery, it is situated on a well-drained ridge. When the National Trust took over the Park, the Ice House was in a terrible state of disrepair. Goose grass and brambles clambered all over the pond and the house was tumbledown, having lost half of its’ bricks while the roof wore a cap of weeds. Restoration was completed in 2016 and it now presents a very different picture.

Croome Court Ice House
Croome_Court_Ice_House_2016_ Photograph by Mike Peel (

With the fidgets removed from Excited Pooch’s paws, take a right-handed path near the Church and enjoy a scenic meander through the delightful Shrubbery. When the author last visited, some years ago, this was being systematically cleared and replanted by Croome’s team of gardeners and volunteers. What a marvellous job they have done! To either side of the gravel path are luxuriant specimens, reinstated as they were in William Dean’s day thanks to the extensive records kept. In among are various pieces of statuary – some found when the lake was dredged and now restored! One of these is an inspiring figure of Pan; another is a wonderful urn, which was found in pieces, buried in undergrowth below the pedestal, and painstakingly put back together like a jigsaw.

Wandering through shady woodland, you then come to open parkland and the Temple Greenhouse, boasting six Doric columns and pediment carved with a basket and flowers, by Sefferin Alken. Once fitted with sash windows which could be lowered, it is now glassed between the plain pillars to form the greenhouse. It commands a glorious vista across the Pleasure Grounds, with the winding river – created by Brown to drain the marshy soil which existed here before – swelling into the Lake and providing a living tapestry as Canada Geese, swans and other birds nest and squabble. It is a lovely spot in which to sit and contemplate – or plot the next novel!

Temple Greenhouse

Following a suitable sojourn in one of the deck chairs or inside the Temple, the path takes the visitor towards the Lake. A right turn will take the energetic towards the aforementioned Worcester Gates and via bluebell woods a public footpath can be accessed across the parkland to view the Park Seat, designed by Robert Adam in 1766 and then built in a more simplified version in 1770. Also known as The Owl’s Nest, it is a pedimented archway on Tuscan columns flanked by attached giant columns, fronting an alcove from where a superb view of the park can be obtained.

Philip Halling / Croome Landscape Park / CC BY-SA 2.0

Another public right of way can take the walker back to the London Arch, and the Croome visitor can join another path to the Rotunda, where there is a choice of routes, either to the Court or to the Church.

Returning to Energetic Pooch by the Lake, a left turn follows the carriage drive from the Worcester (Punch Bowl) Gates along the north side of the river directly to the house. Continue across the river a little further on to follow the south bank to the Chinese Bridge and the Court, or, to the right, one path encircles the Lake to return to the bridge, while a second joins the Park Seat public footpath. The handsome Dry Arch Bridge, with a stone balustrade, carries the carriage drive over an underpass (recently cleared) that connects the two Pleasure Grounds on either side of the river.

Just beyond the Worcester Drive, an iron bridge (circa 1972) replaces the original ferry across the river to the Lake. A right turn takes the visitor to the Sabrina Grotto, a rocky structure following the curve of the water. Rough, arched openings front low bench seats and a statue of Sabrina, also restored, lies in state before it. Originally, water poured from her urn and was lit with a lamp at night. Begun in 1765, by the 1780s the Grotto was covered in shells, coral, fossils and crystals.

The Grotto

Further along, two iron bridges of 1806 cross to the second Island. The Temple Pavilion, a summer-house probably designed by Adam, circa 1776-8 is a peaceful spot, designated in 2018 as a place of silence where visitors are invited to switch off their phones and listen.

Island Pavilion

Having crossed the second bridge, turning right takes one to the other end of the Lake, where Brown’s boat-house is no more, beyond a few foundations, but quotations from the Hortus Croomensis further enliven a most inspiring walk which can return to the Grotto or pass through a gate into the park and following a mown path across the grassland join a gravelled path near the Chinese Bridge (by William Halfpenny and recently refurbished and restored). Conversely, a left turn by the gate brings the visitor by a circular route following the bank of the river to reach the Chinese Bridge from the opposite direction. The path also continues to the carriage splash (in the process of restoration) at the farthest tip of the river near the Park Seat.

The Chinese Bridge

A short walk across the lawns brings the visitor to Croome Court itself. By following the path around the south side of the mansion and either continuing along it through the Home Shrubbery, or taking a grassy footpath beside the Ha-ha, at the top of the slope you will find the Rotunda. Designed by Brown in 1754-7, this is surrounded by spreading Cedars of Lebanon and protected from the park by said Ha-ha. An iron gate, opening on to a flight of narrow steps, takes you up to the circular, Bath stone building. Grade I listed, it boasts a shallow dome, is set on a low, circular stone plinth with shallow steps. The door and five windows have pediments and carved Portland stone panels designed by Adam above those. The door is in two narrow sections, leading to an interior decorated in delicate plasterwork panels by Vasselli, 1761. Inside, the dome is coffered (it has ornamental sunk panels). Described by William Dean as ‘fitted up as a summer evening apartment’ and ‘furnished with sofas’, it sits within its’ ‘woody crescent’ it commands ‘a view, which, in all that constitutes a landscape, rich, diversified, extensive, and well-combined, is rarely exceeded.’ Purchased in 2007 by the Croome Heritage Trust, restoration was undertaken thanks to a grant, while the National Trust has restored the outside.

The Rotunda, with Cedar of Lebanon behind

Rotunda dome and plasterwork
Cypress and cedar trees around the Rotunda were planted when it was built and are now truly venerable specimens. The Home Shrubbery has also been returned to its’ original planting, when it contained gold and silver variegated holly, a North American sassafras tree, a maiden-hair tree (‘acknowledged as being the finest in the kingdom’), a yellow-flowering horse chestnut, an immense evergreen oak, thirty foot high magnolias and a Virginian (red) cedar. In the centre of a small lawn, on Jubilee Day 1809 the one-year-old Hon. George William Coventry, eldest son of the then heir to the Earldom, planted an acorn. By 1824, the oak was thirty feet tall and two feet around the trunk. Next time I visit, I shall look out for this tree to see it still stands – and how big it is now, almost two hundred years later. A Tulip tree, more cypress, an Oriental plane and a variety of imported shrubs and flowers were also planted here as part of the 6th Earl’s great vision.

To the right of the path on the return journey to the house, a side walk led to the Dairy, ‘presenting all the proper and characteristic appearance of unsullied purity and refreshing coolness’. It had marble troughs for the milk, Dutch tiles on the walls and all the utensils were ‘of best Wedgewood ware’.

Not far from the Dairy was the Hot House, where such exotics as cinnamon, palms, coffee and the bread-fruit tree were nurtured. Adjoining the Hot House and extending for almost half a mile, was and is the Hot Wall, where various climbers, hardy greenhouse plants, dwarf shrubs and ‘choice flowers’ are all grown. Positioned to maximize the warmth of the sun, it was also heated by five underground furnaces at intervals along the northern face. These were discovered during restoration. Hot houses were added by Capability Brown to grow vines, peaches, melons and pineapples. There were various glass houses, pineapple pits, forcing beds, tomato and orchard houses already in existence.

Apart from the glass houses and a circular pool with a sun dial, designed by Adam, the garden was largely untouched by Brown. It had been begun by Ann Somerset, wife of Thomas, 2nd Earl of Coventry, and William Shenstone in the late seventeenth century. The early eighteenth century saw the addition of a kitchen garden during the time of the 4th Earl, Gilbert. In due course, this became the Walled Garden. With the alteration of the walls from a conventional square to the oblique shape now in existence, the garden became over seven acres in size and possibly the largest such garden in eighteenth century Europe.

The Walled Garden is in private ownership and not a part of the National Trust. It is open to the public at weekends and bank holidays only.

The Outlying Park Features

The Panorama Tower is a Grade I listed building designed by Wyatt in 1801, based on a similar conception by Adam of the 1760s. A round temple, situated on Knight’s Hill near the village of Kinnersley, on the edge of the park, it was actually built 1805-12. The lower section has four groups of Tuscan columns spaced between solid walls containing niches set beneath blank panels of Bath stone. A balustrade with solid sections surrounds the upper level, reached by a circular staircase within, which provides a 360 degree viewing platform. From here, glorious views can be obtained across part of Croome Park to Worcester Cathedral and the Malvern Hills, over the beautiful Worcestershire and Gloucestershire countryside. The domed roof sits on a windowed upper storey like a pill-box hat. In a poor state of repair, it was restored after the National Trust acquired it in 2009 and is separated from Croome Park by the M5 motorway.

Pirton Castle

Designed as a Gothic ruin by James Wyatt in 1801, Grade II Pirton Castle sits on a ridge known as Rabbit Bank at the village of Pirton to the north of the park and intended to be viewed from Croome. Built of ashlar, it features a length of wall partly covered in ivy and an off-set tower. Cedars of Lebanon planted at the time now form a 200-year-old backdrop to a folly which appears more like a film set than a ruin. The castle, along with several acres of grassland, was bought by the National Trust in 2009 and restoration (removal of harmful vegetation, repointing the stonework and rebuilding broken masonry) was completed that summer.

Dunstall Castle

Located at Earl’s Croome, Dunstall Castle was designed by Robert Adam as a folly in the style of a Norman ruin in 1766-7. Grade I listed (according to the NT website), it consists of a central round tower with a wide, arched doorway set high up. A wall links it to a similar tower on the eastern side with a very large double-layered archway. A second, shorter wall, with a shallow gable over an intentionally ruined window, adjoins another, square tower. There is a trefoil-shaped top to the opening. The central tower contains a steep, spiral staircase; as with the Panorama Tower, a viewing platform commands vistas over Croome Park. In danger of becoming a true ruin, the castle was purchased by the National Trust in 2010 and work ensued to restore the central tower and staircase.

I really hope you have enjoyed this virtual tour of Croome Court. It is the perfect place for a day out ~ or a morning or even just a couple of hours. I can thoroughly recommend it if you have the chance to go!

Until next time, all the best,


All photographs © Heather King unless otherwise states and may not be reproduced without written permission of the author.

© Heather King

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

The Beauty of Croome ~ Part Two

The House

Croome Court is built in ‘warm-coloured Bath ashlar’, a Palladian mansion with two flights of steps leading to the north front and a pedimented portico to the south flanked by Coade stone sphinxes.

North Front © Heather King

South Front © Heather King

Architecturally, it has eleven bays on each side, a basement and a balustrade to the upper floor. The roof is slate, being pyramidal over the corner pavilions, and has three sets of two chimneys. On both north (entrance) and south (garden) fronts, the central section has three bays, there being a broad sweep of steps to the south portico. The staircases on both sides are guarded by balustrades, the southern door having a cornice on consoles above. The north front has a Doric doorway beneath a smaller pediment and carries a heraldic cartouche by Adam. The corner towers on this side have piano nobile windows beneath their own pediments, while Venetian windows face the garden side. The southern tetrastyle (meaning four) portico boasts unfluted Ionic columns and confers a grand façade on the building. The two-storey Red Wing is attached to the house on the eastern side (shown to the right of the second photo) and has a newly renovated slate roof. Beyond the service wing, connected by a wall, lies the stables and stable courtyard, now used as holiday accommodation. The stables were open to the south, being enlarged and rebuilt by Brown circa 1752 from the original layout planned by Francis Smith in 1714 and erected in 1716-19. They were later rebuilt again by Adam, being also brick and with three pedimented entrance arches, stone-faced on the inside. Attached on the eastern side is a groom’s cottage dating from the mid to late eighteenth century. Both stables and house are Grade II listed. Private gardens are situated further to the east, as well as the Walled Kitchen Garden – seven acres, all told – of which more later.

Red Wing and Stable Courtyard, Stables on left © Heather King

The Stables and Coach-house Poster © NT Croome
Photo courtesy Morton S. Gray


With Croome’s chequered history, much of the interior has been lost, although the National Trust is working hard to restore it to its’ former glory. Many items have been returned to furnish the rooms they once graced. About a fifth of the original furnishings were retained by the Croome Estate Trust following an auction which took place in 1948. The rooms are of handsome rather than splendid dimensions, designed for practical use. The 6th Earl, according to Head Gardener William Dean, was given to saying to his friends, “Go to Blenheim for grandeur; but come to Croome for comfort!”

Capability Brown worked on the interior design, in association with Robert Adam from 1760. One suspects he took a more backward seat from that date. Plasterwork was executed by Francesco Vassalli, Robert Adam himself and Joseph Rose. Brown, it seems, was behind the more sober rooms, designing door-frames with straight tops, fine carving and fluted columns; deep, moulded cornices and elaborate chimneypieces – mostly in the Rococo style. He designed both the Entrance Hall, with its’ stuccoed ceiling supported by four fluted Doric columns, and the Saloon behind, reached by a pedimented doorway fronting a cross-corridor. The Saloon, decorated in gold, white and green, boasts a coved ceiling with three plain panels by Vasselli and a doorway with a broken pediment which is flanked by fluted Ionic fireplaces.

Looking through into the Entrance Hall © Heather King

Saloon Fireplace © Heather King

To the right of the Entrance Hall lies the Billiard Room, where once portraits adorned the walls and a huge table held centre stage. Nowadays it is used for a film introduction to Croome. A flight of stairs lead down to the Basement, where much-needed refreshments may be had in Kitty Fisher’s Coffee House. Kitty Fisher was the famous eighteenth century courtesan who was reputed to have had an affair with the 6th Earl of Coventry. There is also a line of lockers dating from the house’s years as a school, now holding a collection of footwear. Within the Basement were the Housekeeper’s Room, the Butler’s Pantry, the Silver Strong Room, the Wine and Dry Cellars and the Servants’ Hall. A doorway and stairs lead to the Red Wing.

Bypassing the stairs to these nether regions, the visitor passes into the Long Gallery, once known as the Statuary. It is a fine apartment, stretching the full width of the house and with a large bow window at the centre of the west wall. There are beautiful views across the park from here.

View from Long Gallery © Heather King

It is a bright, airy room and is Robert Adam’s masterpiece here. It was his first ever complete room design. Seventy feet long and twenty-five feet wide, the Long Gallery has an eye-catching elongated octagonal and lozenge design of plasterwork on the ceiling, as well as other moulding by Joseph Rose, and a beautiful white marble fireplace. During the 6th Earl’s time, it was used as a family/morning room and was filled with statues in the various niches set into three walls, mirrors and furniture.

Moulded ceiling by Joseph Rose, Long Gallery © Heather King

The Long Gallery © Heather King

Fireplace, Long Gallery, carved by Joseph Wilton

From the Long Gallery, the visitor moves on into the Yellow Drawing Room, where once were displayed a host of valuable paintings, both portraits, landscapes, the Madonna and two pictures of Cleopatra, among others. Two of the most treasured were full length portraits of King George III and His Consort, presented by their Majesties when they honoured Croome with a visit in 1788. It has Rococo plasterwork and a marble fireplace.

From the Drawing Room we come to the Saloon again. A wide wooden door leads out on to the portico and thence to the lawns on the south side. The pair of sphinxes rest on their plinths, guarding the steps with stony aloofness, safe in the knowledge they will still be there after we puny humans have all gone. Portraits of family members used to hang here, including Thomas Coventry, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, Statesman and lawyer; Lord Thomas Coventry (possibly the former’s son); Maria, Countess of Coventry and her sister, the Duchess of Hamilton. It commands a ‘most delightful prospect’ of the park from its’ windows, over verdant grassland, winding waters and the one-time herd of deer, to the grand sweep of lush woodland.

The Tapestry Room is next, although sadly the whole was moved in 1958 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Based on a design by Robert Adam, the room was created between 1763 and 1771. The tapestry, of Gobeline manufacture, had a crimson background and was ornamented with coloured figures to represent the four elements. According to William Dean, it was marked with the names of the artist, Neilson, and the designer, Boucher. The furniture matched the hanging and there were more superbly crafted mirrors. The tapestry and furniture was sold to a Parisian dealer by the 9th Earl in about 1902 and then the fabric of the room – floor, ceiling, chimneypiece, doors, door-frames etcetera were bought by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation in 1949, later to be donated to the Met. Museum. The chair and settee frames have now also been acquired by the museum with the help of the Kress Foundation. They have been recovered with the original upholstery. A copy of the ceiling has now been put in place of the original.

Tapestry Room, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain

Only the marble fireplace by John Wildsmith remains of the original Adam Library. The mahogany bookcases were removed to the Victoria and Albert Museum. In William Dean’s day it was ‘appropriately furnished’ and contained ‘a collection of books, not large, but choice’. The 6ht Earl of Coventry was a man of taste and refinement. He would only have the choicest specimens in any collection.

A second door leads from the Library into the main staircase hall. The staircase is not grand, being made of cantilevered stone with an iron balustrade. Crossing the hall, the visitor enters the Lord’s Dressing Room. Today (or at least it did when this author visited), it has the portrait of the 6th Earl by Allan Ramsay – returned to Croome after 76 years – hanging above the fireplace and a magnificent commode (no, not that sort of commode), which was one of Lord Coventry’s most prized possessions.

Commode belonging to Lord Coventry © Heather King

The commode is a large cabinet, one of a pair, made by John Mayhew and William Ince, 1759-1803, their showrooms situated off Golden Square in Soho, London. It is made of satinwood and holly, and has a top shelf which slides out, providing a flat surface for the brushing of clothes. It also contains various drawers and is decorated with the raised urns as shown in the photo and other classical images requiring great skill.

The Friends of Croome Park Newsletter of May 2012 informs us that much of the Croome collection was then at Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire, but gradually the items are, thanks to the National Trust, being returned to the house in which they belong. During the 6th Earl’s tenure, the accounts show that over £3,000 was paid by Lord Coventry to two more celebrated furniture makers, for in excess of 1,300 items. William Vile (what a name to be saddled with!) and John Cobb were often commissioned to produce pieces of furniture for Croome. It may not sound a lot in these inflation-ridden times, but it was a lot of money then.

Finally, we come to the Dining Room, a spacious and handsome room, painted by the Hare Krishna movement in the 1970s to 80s. Currently it contains exhibitions of Croome’s porcelain.

Dining Room plasterwork

Porcelain Display © Heather King

The second floor holds Lord and Lady Coventry’s bedchambers, Lady Coventry’s Boudoir and Dressing Rooms, the Chinese Bedroom and three other bedrooms. There are some interesting artefacts, paintings and furniture on display, including (if I remember correctly) the 6th Earl’s canopied bed, purchased for his marriage to Maria Gunning. Unfortunately, the only genuine parts remaining are the posts and the photograph didn’t come out because of the lack of light. Nevertheless, there are some curious low chairs, a horse’s hoof inkwell, à la Copenhagen’s (which sits in pride of place on a sideboard at Horse Guards) and two equestrian paintings. The most interesting of these is attributed to John Wootton and is entitled The Great Horse or Jack-a-Dandy, circa 1680-1710. Only with a guide can the visitor access the stairway properly to see this enormous painting. Not having a wide-angled lens, this author had to take it in two halves.

Jack-a-Dandy,  The Great Horse, attributed to John Wootton
Photo © Heather King

The story goes that Sir Henry Coventry, soldier, ambassador and politician, had a wager with his brother-in-law, Sir John Pa[c]kington, on a horse race in which Jack-a-Dandy was to take on Sir John’s horse. The loser was to found charity alms-houses in Droitwich and name them after the winner. Thus the Coventry Charity Alms-houses were founded by Sir John without the honour of his name being given to them. From the Entrance Hall, where it was carefully restored, the painting has been re-hung in its’ historical position and is on long-term loan from The Coventry Charity.

 Armchairs and Pie-crust side-table © Heather King

Another extremely interesting item is Lord Coventry’s ‘Gentleman’s Exerciser’ or ‘Chamber Horse’, a contraption the 6th Earl is reputed to have used when unable to ride due to the effects of bad winter weather or gout!

As the National Trust says, ‘It is poignant to imagine the 6th Earl in his later life, reduced to taking his exercise in this way, looking out from the Court at his created landscape and unable to ride or walk out over it.’

Layers of wooden boards had springs in between. These compressed beneath the weight of the person and expanded again in a similar action to an accordion. Covered in leather, it had openings in the sides to permit the air to escape on the downward thrust. Holding the arms of the chair, the person used their legs to push up from the floor in a repeated action… not unlike an eighteenth century space hopper!

Gentleman’s Exerciser © Heather King

The second floor is only accessible to the public on guided tours, because it houses the collection which is in store. I am sure it will prove fascinating, and one of these days I shall return to take the tour. There is always so much to do and see at Croome!
All photos © Heather King unless otherwise stated

Next time, I shall take you on a tour of the Park.