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


  1. wow what a privilege. I am glad I don't have that much to restore with my own flooring!

    1. Indeed it was and it was a fabulous day. Needless to say, we weren't allowed in that room!