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


  1. A fascinating place, i really hope to get across to that side of the country one day

    1. I am sure you would not be disappointed. It is truly an inspiring place to visit. The National Trust have done a fabulous job of restoration and making the Court and park accessible to the public.