Everyone has to start somewhere.
And, it seems, that Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in one of his earliest commissions helped to realize the vision of the 6th Earl of Coventry (or should that be Earl Coventry, as the family name is Coventry?) to create Croome Court and Park, a neo-Palladian mansion in deepest Worcestershire, less than 10 miles southeast of Worcester.
Work started on Croome in 1751 and over more than a decade work continued to replace an earlier building on the site. But even as late as the 1790s changes were being made to the park.
While Brown was involved in the design of the hall itself, and of course his signature landscape design, many of the interiors of the hall were designed by equally famous neoclassical architect and interior designer Robert Adam who, with his rival James Wyatt, also designed many of the features – temples and the like – that are dotted about the park, and even follies some distance from the park itself, such as Dunstall Castle to the south and Pirton Tower to the north. The 1¾ mile lake, the Croome River, took 12 years alone to dig out by hand.
From the park there are good views of the Malvern Hills due west, and Bredon Hill, an outlier of the Cotswolds, further southeast. These aristocrats certainly knew just where to build a fancy residence!
From the Visitor Centre (1 on the map, and once the sick quarters of nearby WWII airfield, RAF Defford), the footpath through a bluebell wood to Croome Park brings you out onto a hillside beside the Church of St Mary Magdalene (2), and impressive views out over the park and house. And from that vantage point, there are long walks available in all directions throughout the park and beyond and lots of features to explore as shown in the map below and the subsequent photos.
3. Ice House
Many country houses have an ice house – the National Trust has carefully restored this one.
5. Temple Greenhouse
Designed by Robert Adam, there are fine views across the park to the main house itself.
This statue was designed by James Wyatt, and after very careful scrutiny, we did discover the hidden date stamp – 1793!
7. Dry Arch Bridge
The carriage drive built by Brown passes over the top, and here is also a detail of one of the facing stones.
The Lake is an extension of the Croome River. and was also excavated by hand!
9. The Grotto and Sabrina
You can see the statue of Sabrina reclining on the left hand side of the Grotto, which is itself constructed from tufa.
10. Punch Bowl Gates
11. Island Pavilion
This is an elegant pavilion, which has undergone extensive restoration particularly to remove decades if not centuries of graffiti from the inside walls. The plaque on the rear wall shows a wedding scene.
13. Croome Court
This building is both plain and elegant. From the rear, north side, it does appear very attractive at. But the South Portico, with reclining sphinxes either side of the elegant steps up to the door, is something else instead. Although the exterior design is attributed to Capability Brown, Robert Adam was responsible for some of the interiors, particularly the long gallery. The plaster work throughout has been extensively restored as part of the National Trust’s more than £5 million scheme. Only the ground floor and part of the cellars is currently open to visitors. We first visited Croome in March 2011. Three years later one of the rather dilapidated side wings has now had its roof and windows replaced and is on track for a complete restoration. Some other buildings at Croome were converted years ago into private apartments.
14. Home Shrubbery
This building lies about 150 m to the east of the south portico where the land rises away from the main park and Croome River. It has an impressive ceiling and other moldings.
16. Croome River
It’s hard to imagine the number of laborers it took to dig this ‘river’ if it took 12 years. There are footpaths all round the lake, where you can mix with the local livestock, and various water birds: coots, mallard, great-crested grebe, and Canada and grey lag geese (on the most recent visit).
17. Park Seat
This sited on a high point looking north over the park towards the house. You can imagine what it must have been like in its heyday – a stroll or ride through the park, perhaps a picnic at the Park Seat. Elegance!
Croome Court has seen some changes during its history. George III visited, as did Queen Victoria and George V. It’s reported to have housed the Dutch royal family in exile during WWII. The Coventry family sold the house in 1948. It subsequently became a Catholic school, and even owned by the Hare Krishna sect. Today, while the garden and park are owned by the National Trust, the house itself is owned by the Croome Heritage Trust and leased to the National Trust.
So if you want to enjoy some culture and the opportunity for a brisk and bracing walk, Croome Court and Park is the place to visit.