Thursday, 25 April 2019

Easter Sale!



Lovely readers, as a thank you for the support, both of my blog and my books, I have an Easter gift for you.

ALL my digital books are on sale price of £0.99 in the UK and the equivalent elsewhere ($1.29 in the US) so why not pop over to Amazon and give yourself a late Easter treat which won't go straight to your hips or tummy!

Just follow the links or search your usual Amazon for my books. Beware, though! Make sure you get the correct Heather King!

Then sit down with a cup of your favourite brew and enjoy.

This offer is only open until Sunday, so don't delay!

Cheers,

Heather




Saturday, 20 April 2019

Hidden Treasures




A Day Out at Croome

With my good author friend Susana Ellis due to arrive next month for her annual sojourn in the United Kingdom, I thought it about time I shared last year’s visit to one of my favourite stately homes.

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the glories of Croome Court near Croome d’Abitot in Worcestershire. However, through reasons which will become clear in a moment, this particular visit was even more special.

Susana and I, complete with my Staffie X and newly recruited Labrador, met up with another author friend, Sue Johnson, and Croome Volunteer, Chris Wynne-Davies. Chris had promised us a guided tour of the places not usually open to the public!

Our first port of call (after a cup of tea in the picnic area near the Visitor Centre – thank you, Chris – was the Ice House. Situated in the woods near St. Mary Magdalene Church, the Ice House is an egg-shaped building with a thatched roof. As one might surmise from the name, ice was stored here for the Earl of Coventry’s household. Nearby there is a shallow pond with a brick edge. In winter, when the pond froze, the ice was cut and moved in blocks to the ice house, there to be packed in straw. Eighteen feet tall on the outside, inside the ice chamber is thirty-three feet from top to bottom. Two thirds of it is underground, the base being shaped like a keel, to help the dispersal of melt water.


Ice House Entrance


Susana, Sue, Chris and Hairy Hooligans


A stroll in the glorious sunshine took us down the hill to the Court, which sits in its’ landscaped bowl like a pearl in an oyster. The dogs being somewhat over-excited, I took a rather more circuitous route through the Evergreen Shrubbery, beautifully restored by the National Trust.



Croome Court from the Evergreen Shrubbery


The path took us by the Temple Greenhouse, the Lake and the Sabrina Grotto, as well as the imposing Worcester Gates.


The Worcester Gates


Returning via the Chinese Bridge, the dogs and I met up again with the rest of the ‘gang’. Then, not only did we authors enjoy a personalized tour of the upper floor and the ‘hidden’ treasures of Croome, Chris – the perfect guide and the epitome of gentlemanliness – also escorted us around the Red Wing. The latter is only open by arrangement and with a member of staff; it also a hard hat endeavour! Sadly, the Red Wing was allowed by a previous owner to fall into terrible disrepair – to the point where it is dangerous in places – and has only recently been acquired by the National Trust. The roof has been restored and, hopefully, in time the building will be too. Here are a few of the many pictures I took.



Rotten floorboards in the Red Wing


Artist’s impression of Red Wing during the Earl’s time.


Brick fireplace in (perhaps) the Steward’s Room.


Sue and Chris, fireplace in the kitchen


Servants’ passage


Pastry room


It was enormously exciting and a great privilege to be allowed to see the Red Wing. What it must have been like before the ravages of time, neglect and the various occupants did their worst! As you may have gathered, dear reader, it was the service wing of the Court and if you know where to look on the staircase inside the house, you can see where one of the two connecting doors has been closed off. A two-storey building, it is L-shaped and joins the house on the eastern side. Built of stone as well as the red brick which gives it its name, it has a slate roof and was constructed by Capability Brown between 1751 and 1752. A wall on the far side joins the Red Wing to the stable courtyard. Unfortunately for this horse-loving author, the stables no longer exist, having been sold long ago and converted into human accommodation. Sacrilege!



North Front, showing Red Wing and Stables beyond


Stables with carriage arch and gates leading into service wing


The Red Wing housed the servants’ quarters, kitchens and offices. It also had apartments upstairs for the 6th Earl of Coventry in his later years.

From this scene of dereliction and decay, the glories of furniture and paintings not generally seen by the public gladden the eye even more. Passing through a rope cordon, one climbs to the third floor of the house. Reduced to this ignominious (if historical) position in the stairwell, because of his size and to conserve him from damaging sunlight, hangs the enormous painting of Jack-a-Dandy (The Great Horse), circa 1680-1710 and attributed to John Wootton. Belonging to Sir Henry Coventry, a soldier, ambassador and politician, Jack-a-Dandy was pitted against Sir Henry’s brother-in-law’s horse in a race, the loser to found alms-houses in Droitwich and name them for the winner. Thus the Coventry Charity Alms-houses were founded by Sir John Packington (or Pakington) and named for Sir Henry because Jack-a-Dandy was triumphant. A wide-angled lens is needed to take a full picture, the painting is so large. This is half of it!


Jack-a-Dandy, The Great Horse, c 1680-1710, attributed to John Wootton


Here are some more of the treasures above stairs.


Elizabeth (left) and Maria Gunning, the famous Irish sisters who took London by storm


The 5th Earl and family


The Marquis of Anglesey, who lost a leg at Waterloo


The 9th Earl’s 1863 Grand National Winner, Emblem; her full sister, Emblematic, won the race the following year, the only time that particular double has been achieved.


The Earl of Coventry’s bedside table


A Georgian Commode (nothing to do with bathroom facilities!)


A semicircular table


I hope you have enjoyed this whistle-stop tour of some of Croome Court’s hidden treasures, and if it is at all possible, I encourage you to visit and view them for yourselves. The staff and volunteers at Croome are incredibly helpful and friendly and I can almost guarantee you a wonderful day out!

All photographs © Heather King and may not be reproduced without the expressed permission of the owner.

© Heather King

Monday, 25 March 2019

The Earl of Coventry's Celebrated Courtesan


Kitty Fisher


Catherine Maria 'Kitty Fisher', Nathaniel Hone

In 1758, a young ‘lady’ of nineteen was fast becoming the biggest celebrity across the land. One Tom Bowlby wrote to a friend in Derbyshire, ‘You must come to town to see Kitty Fisher, the most pretty, extravagant, wicked little whore that ever flourished....’ Believed to be the daughter of a German silver-chaser, Catherine Maria Fischer, as she was born, was a renowned courtesan. She is said to have turned down Casanova, at a price of ten guineas for an hour of her company, although he would have it he declined the offer because she spoke only English and he preferred all his senses gratified, including his hearing. The procuress, Mrs. Wells, then told him that earlier in the day Kitty had ‘eaten a bank-note for 1000 guineas on a piece of bread and butter’. According to Casanova, it was a gift from Sir Richard Akins, ‘brother of the fair Mrs. Pitt’. Variously, however, this note was £20, £50 and £100 and the donor the Duke of York. There is another story of the Duke having been invited to tea at Kitty’s house, and after a convivial meeting, he left a £50 note as he departed, no doubt feeling this was largesse enough. Kitty, it seems, had expected more of the royal sibling and ordered her servants not to admit his Grace again. Much like the celebrities of today, Kitty was the subject of gossip-mongering and tittle-tattle; racehorses were named after her, Sir Joshua Reynolds painted her, and she was immortalized in the nursery rhyme ‘Lucy Lockett dropped her pocket, Kitty Fisher found it.’ You must therefore pay your penny and take your choice as to how much truth lies in any of the many tales.

‘From a physical point of view she was a beautiful girl. Though slight, her figure was moulded in graceful curves, and her limbs possessed the roundness and elasticity of perfect health. Her ripe, provoking lips and saucy tilted nose gave her face an expression of roguery, but when she chose the look would soften, and a glance of childish innocence stole into her grey-blue eyes. Dainty to the finger tips, she was always attired with consummate taste, and no woman was more clever in choosing a gown to suit her style of beauty.’

One March day in 1759, she took her morning gallop beside the Serpentine in Hyde Park, dressed in a ‘stylish black habit’ and riding a frisky piebald. Having passed through into the Green Park and enjoyed a steady canter, Kitty’s party were approaching ‘the palings of St. James’s Park’. A rank of soldiers startled the horse, which bolted down the road. Checked by the interception of some gentlemen, the piebald stopped suddenly and reared. With a cry of alarm, Kitty fell to the ground, whereupon a crowd of concerned onlookers surrounded her, helping her up and enquiring if she were injured. The sobs ceased, became merry laughter as ‘officious hands’ dusted off her habit. After a few minutes, a painted and gilded chair was brought from an appointed position nearby. Kitty, laughing a goodbye to her companions, threw herself into it and was borne away down the Mall. Whispers of “It is Kitty Fisher, the famous Kitty Fisher!” began to circulate through the gathering crowd. Then, it seems, a bluff individual declared forthrightly his indignation.

“D my Bd," he cried, aloud, “if this is not too much. Who would be honest when they may live in this state by turning ? Why, ’tis enough to debauch half the women in London.”

The episode has all the hallmarks of a publicity stunt, does it not? Indeed, very soon the tale of the accident was being talked about, broadcast in the popular press and celebrated in song, so it achieved the desired result. The following appeared in the March issue of the Universal Magazine.

“On K F—’s Falling from her Horse.”
Dear Kitty, had thy only fall
Been that thou met’st with in the Mall,
Thou had’st deserved our pity ;
But long before that luckless day,
With equal justice might we say,
Alas! poor fallen Kitty!
Then, whilst you may, dear girl, be wise,
And though time now in pleasure flies
Consider of hereafter;
For know, the wretch that courts thee now,
When age has furrowed o’er thy brow.
Shall change his sighs to laughter.
Reform thy manners, change thy ways:
For Virtue’s sake, to merit praise
Be all thy honest strife:
So shall the world with pleasure say,
“She tasted folly for a day,
And then grew wise for life.”

Kitty was purportedly unamused, if not incensed, by the attention her fall had received. Mayhap her youthful beaux had pulled her leg over it; certainly, a handbook was published, entitled The Juvenile Adventures of Miss Kitty Fr, with a second volume promised. This was too much and Kitty wrote a scathing piece to the newspapers, published in the Public Advertiser’s pages two days later. Needless to say, there was a backlash (which only goes to show why one should never answer bad reviews) which served Kitty no good a turn, since the author answered in pithy terms and the second book was still published, the ‘Adventures’ being a scurrilous and rude tale containing little truth. Nevertheless, the sordid occurrence did gain Kitty the sympathy of the public.

Sadly, in the Georgian era, gentlemen were rarely faithful to their wives. Kitty Fisher counted many aristocratic gentlemen among her conquests, not least the 6th Earl of Coventry. Although he married the beautiful Maria Gunning, elder of the two Irish sisters who took London by storm despite their lowly birth, there were many misunderstandings within the marriage and the Earl made Kitty his mistress. In a letter to Andrea Memmo, Giastiniana Wynne – later the Countess of Rosenberg – who was staying in London at the time, wrote:

“The other day they ran into each other in the park and Lady Coventry asked Kitty the name of the dressmaker who had made her dress. Kitty Fisher answered she had better ask Lord Coventry as he had given her the dress as a gift.”

The rivalry was infamous and the exchange drew some notice. The Countess informed the courtesan she was an ‘impertinent woman’. To this Kitty replied – no doubt in a haughty tone – that she “would have to accept this insult because Maria was socially superior since marrying Lord Coventry, but she was going to marry a Lord herself just to be able to answer back.”

Miss Wynne also wrote of Kitty Fisher:

“She lives in the greatest possible splendour, spends twelve thousand pounds a year, and she is the first of her social class to employ liveried servants – she even has liveried chaise porters.”

Catherine ‘Kitty’ Fisher was born, then, in about the year 1738. Her working life began in a milliner’s shop, during which time she was seduced by an army ensign, Anthony George Martin, known by the sobriquet, ‘The Military Cupid’. He was the son of an English merchant by a Portuguese mistress and blessed with a fresh-faced handsomeness. Kitty moved into his lodgings and was much in love, but Martin was sent to the Continent and Kitty was left alone and bereft. Now a Fallen Woman, she was solicited by another patron and this time material gain governed her decision. Once on the path of infamy, she rose, as we have seen, to be the lover, not only of Lord Coventry, but of Admiral Augustus Keppel and General Lord Ligonier. She drove about London in a coach drawn by four of the finest grey horses money could buy, the toast of the ordinary folk and celebrated, not just for her beauty but for her wit as well.


Augustus Keppel


“Even had she been wholly plain her cavaliers would have been numerous, for her wit and high spirits made her a fascinating companion. One who should have known speaks of her as ‘…the essence of small talk and the magazine of contemporary anecdote ... it was impossible to be dull in her company.’ Since she was endowed by nature with a distinct personality, her bon mots and repartees had an uncommon zest, and were quoted in the club rooms as frequently as the sallies of Foote, the player.”

Although her origins were lowly, Kitty had “...assumed the ease and politeness of a high-bred gentlewoman and although she could be as wild a madcap as any in the company of devil-may-care admirers, her sprightliness was never tinged with vulgarity.” Despite her immoral occupation, she was clearly both clever and captivating. She had another weapon in her armoury, however, which helped to set her above others of her ilk, both before and since her tenure. Kitty was a skilful horsewoman, taught by Richard Berenger, author of A New System of Horsemanship.

It was a common event for her to be spotted ‘at high noon’, galloping along ‘the Mall’ of St. James’s on a spirited charger. She was, in effect, a woman who liked to be out of doors – no ‘stately promenade once a day’ in order ‘to take the air’ for her. She was given to frequenting the tea gardens and parks throughout the hours of daylight.

That austere publication, the Public Advertiser, was not above printing the following effusive lines from the pen of Mr. Thomas Wilkes, in the sure knowledge of garnering a slew of readers for so fashionable and attractive a subject.

Fair Venus, who oft among Mortals goes ambling,
Was lost t’other day; and she somewhere went rambling;
It put all the Gods to their trumps, to find out.
Her Dress, her Disguise, her Engagement or Route.
Apollo and Cupid, who seldom unite
(Love and Reason being different as Darkness and Light);
Soon jointly agreed to go search for the dame,
At high Noon, to the Mall of St. James’s they came.
I have found her, says Cupid, see yonder, look there;
’Tis my Mother, I know her Deportment and Air;
Look again, said Apollo, you blundering calf.
Your Mother was never so handsome by half,
Look a little more sharply, repining you’ll own.
Such beauty can be Kitty Fisher’s alone.


Kitty Fisher and a Parrot, Sir Joshua Reynolds


Sir Joshua Reynolds painted her twice, as Cleopatra Dissolving a Pearl and with a parrot; and Nathaniel Horne also took her portrait, picturing her with a kitten, its paw in a goldfish bowl. This portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. Her name became identifiable with a particular kind of bead used in lace-making, a white bead with blue and red spots decorating it, and, of course, she is immortalized in the nursery rhyme. It is very likely she is the Kitty Fisher referred to, for she was a heroine of the ordinary folk and could well have been added to a popular rhyme – many were written about her, some extremely rude. Lucy Lockett (or Lockit) was a character in The Beggar’s Opera of 1728, by John Gay.

Lucy Locket lost her pocket,
Kitty Fisher found it;
Not a penny was there in it,
Only ribbon round it.

Kitty led a life of fame and fortune in the public eye for ten years. Then she married John Norris Jnr., the son of a landowner in Kent. At last her infatuation for Anthony Martin died and she fell genuinely in love. At Hemsted Park, high above the village of Beneden, she rode her spirited coal-black mare (a wedding gift from her husband) with a renewed passion that stunned the villagers to awe at her grace, dash and courage as she leapt any obstacle in her path. She became beloved for her kindness, liveliness, charity and willingness to listen. For the first time, Kitty was truly happy.

She must have known it could not last, such had been the law of her life. She developed a hollow cough which became harsher, deeper and very painful. Her cheeks began to burn and her strength began to fail. Although her friends whispered she had fallen a victim of lead poisoning, as had her adversary, Lady Coventry, it has been suggested it was not so. The ‘evil-liver’ was said to be the cause and Kitty died in Bath whilst travelling with her husband to the ‘Hotwells’ at Bristol. She was the tragically young age of 29 and had been married less than five months. She was buried at Beneden, in those last months of her life a reformed character.


All pictures public domain.

© Heather King




Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Grab a Bargain!


New Release ~ Fortunes Turn

I'm thrilled to be able to announce the release of an Omnibus of stories including my No 1 Best Seller, Carpet of Snowdrops.

All the stories have connections with horses and Christmas, so if  you hanker for a blanket of snow at this time of the year rather than the wave of mild weather the UK has been enjoying recently, then this is for you. The collection also includes a hitherto unpublished magazine-length short story.


Blurb


Fortunes can turn on a person’s whim, the toss of a coin, the spin of a roulette wheel or the back of a horse through a sporting wager. In this collection, which features the Number One Best Seller, Carpet of Snowdrops, a horse is instrumental in the direction taken by the protagonists’ fortunes.

In Carpet of Snowdrops, Eloise loses her poor belongings in a river when Joscelin unknowingly charges upon her in the snow.

In Chains of Fear, Helena finds herself in danger when the horseman entering the gates of Templeton Hall is the one from whom she fled.

Following the Duchess of Richmond’s famous ball, in Copenhagen’s Last Charge, Meg joins forces with a surly lieutenant in a chase through the streets of Brussels – after the Duke of Wellington’s famous charger. Revised edition.

This collection also includes a hitherto unpublished, magazine-length short story, A Contemptible Abduction, in which Amanda becomes embroiled with smugglers.







Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Pumpkin Pie or Apple Pie?







This Hallowe'en seemed a good time to discover which came first, pumpkin pie or apple pie, and whether the latter was really first made by the Americans...


Pumpkin pie of a sort was probably first made by early settlers of Plimoth Plantation in southern New England, the first permanent European settlement, from around 1621. The settlement continued from 1620 to 1692.


It is possible these settlers made stewed pumpkins, or mixed honey, milk and spices into a hollowed pumpkin and then baked it in the hot coals. A modern pumpkin pie consists of a sweetened and spiced pumpkin custard in a pastry case and is traditionally eaten around harvest time in the United States, since it is the symbol of the harvest. It is a staple for Thanksgiving and other special winter occasions.


In the British Isles, pumpkin was made into a pudding. This recipe comes from A New System of Domestic Cookery by A Lady (Maria Rundell), 1814.


Pumpkin Pudding
Take one quart of stewed and strained pumpkin, add
nine beaten eggs, three pints of cream, sugar, mace, nut
meg, and ginger in powder; bake in dishes three quarters
of an hour.


Later in the nineteenth century pumpkins in England were stuffed with apples, sugar and spices before being baked whole. Not a pie as we would recognize it now!






Yet what of the apple pie?


The first recipe written down for apple pie was printed by Geoffrey Chaucer, in 1381. Aside from apples, it included pears, figs and raisins and was baked in a pastry case. Sugar was expensive and rarely used at the time, so is not listed to go in the 'cofyn' of pastry. Saffron, however, was used to colour the filling. This would have been very different from the apple pie we know and love today!








Apples were used for various desserts in Regency England, including puddings, dumplings, Apple Charlotte, tarts and fritters, to name a few. They were also mixed with currants and other fruits. Here are two more recipes from Maria Rundell, for a pudding and a pie.




An Apple Pudding
Boil very tender a handful of small rice in a small
quantity of milk, with a large piece of lemon-peel. Let it
drain; then mix with it a dozen of good-sized apples, boiled
to pulp as dry as possible; add a glass of white wine,
the yolks of five eggs, two ounces of orange and citron cut
thin; make it pretty sweet. Line a mould or basin with a
very good paste; beat the five whites of the eggs to a very
strong froth, and mix with the other ingredients; fill the
mould, and bake it of a fine brown colour. Serve it with
the bottom upward with the following sauce: two glasses
of wine, a spoonful of sugar, the yolks of two eggs, and a
bit of butter as large as a walnut; simmer without boiling,
and pour to and from the saucepan, till of a proper thickness;
and put in the dish.


Apple Pie
Pare and core the fruit, having wiped the outside;
which, with the cores, boil with a little water till it tastes
Well: strain, and put a little sugar, and a bit of bruised
cinnamon, and simmer again. In the mean time place the
apples in a dish, a paste being put round the edge; when
one layer is in, sprinkle half the sugar, and shred lemon peel,
and squeeze some juice, or a glass of cider. If the
apples have lost their spirit, put in the rest of the apples,
sugar, and the liquor that you have boiled. Cover
with paste. You may add some butter when cut, if eaten
hot; or put quince-marmalade, orange-paste or cloves,
to flavour.
Hot Apple Pie—Make with the fruit, sugar, and a
clove, and put a bit of butter in when cut open.


Whatever pie is your choice, have a happy Hallowe'en and 'ware the Witching Hour... You can always stay by the fire with a spiced pumpkin latte!














Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Creative Gold





Recently, I began a new Facebook group for Creative Writing to offer assistance to those who would like to write, for those who need encouragement and support, and for established writers who might just need feedback or brainstorming or some new exercises to stimulate the creative juices.


From an exercise I posted, Sarah Waldock came up with this beautiful poem, and has kindly given me permission to share it here. I have called it, simply:


White Horses


White horses crashing and rolling, white horses that rise on the sea
A single black horse gallops onwards, it carries my sweetheart to me
Galloping on through the shallows, galloping over the sand
White horses fret at the edge of the shore where the water is met by the land


The waves shatter hard on the shoreline, the waves being horses no more
But my lover will ride on regardless, riding onwards across the dark shore
He will gallop across the dark causeway, racing the tide as it floods
And when he has reached my lone island his kisses will sing in my blood.


He will gallop across the dark causeway, revealed by the ebb of the tide
And will gather me into his arms once again, and will ne’er more be reft from my side
Together upon my lone island we will hear all the sounds of the sea
And the white horses race o’er the causeway which carries my lover to me


Oh my lover! Please hurry, please hurry, the waves are encroaching too fast
And the white horses play on the causeway, and the safe time for riding is past
I look out from my lonely island, and in the dark waves I can see
Amidst the white horses one black horse’s head, swept away by the herd from the sea.


In the morning the shoreline is quiet, an exhausted black horse on the sand,
And the white horses born of the ocean just shake soft manes at the land
But the man who was recklessly riding is gone now forever below
For defying the horses of Neptune far under the waters that flow


© Sarah Waldock

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 (www.mikepeel.net)

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,

Heather

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


© Heather King