Croft Castle – spanning the dynasties

Just over seven weeks ago, on a sunny early April morning, we headed west from our home in Bromsgrove in northeast Worcestershire, to visit the National Trust’s Berrington Hall in Herefordshire, about 8 miles due south of Ludlow (that’s in Shropshire).

Yesterday, on what was probably the hottest day of the year so far, and without a cloud in the sky, we headed in the same direction, to another National Trust property, Croft Castle and Parkland, just five miles northwest of Berrington Hall. This was our second visit; Croft Castle was one of the first properties we visited in June 2011, just after becoming members of the National Trust.

The main entrance of Croft Castle, and the Church of St Michael

What is particularly remarkable is that Croft Castle has been the home of the Croft family for about 1000 years, and was listed in the Domesday Book in 1086. The Croft family has made many contributions to the annals of British history, under the Plantagenets, during the 15th century Wars of the Roses, Tudor and Elizabethan England, the Civil Wars of the 1640s, and through to recent decades. The Croft baronetcy was created in 1671. The castle itself is a somewhat eclectic mix of architectural styles that reflect its long history.

South face

Much of the interior has an 18th century feel, although some of the rooms on the ground floor must have been used as family rooms when the Croft family were in residence continually. Today the family retains some rooms on the first floor, not open to the public. In fact, during our visit there was only one room on that floor open, the Ambassador’s Room overlooking the main entrance, that has been ‘returned’ to its First World War decor.

Just opposite the main entrance to the castle stands the small church of St Michael. Inside, there is the grand tomb of Sir Richard Croft and his wife Eleanor. Sir Richard fought at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, just a few miles away from Croft Castle, in 1461 on the Yorkist side. He later became a high ranking member of the household of Henry VII (who usurped the throne at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, defeating King Richard III, and establishing the Tudor dynasty).

The castle is surrounded by some 1500 acres of parkland, and the National Trust has set out some well marked walks for visitors to follow. We basically took the Blue walk up to the Iron Age fortress of Croft Ambrey (that dates from about 550 BC), covering almost 4 miles before we returned to the car park, a well-deserved sit down, and picnic lunch under the welcome shade of the magnificent beech and oak trees surrounding the castle.

The Blue walk passes through a grove of pollarded Spanish chestnut trees (panted in the late 16th century) that are said to have come from ships of the failed Spanish Armada.

The 360° views from Croft Ambrey are truly stunning: south to the Black Mountains of South Wales; east to the Malverns in Worcestershire; northwest to Clee Hill; and west into the border hills between England and Wales. The climb (not steep) to the summit is really worth the effort. Despite the heat of the day, there was a pleasant breeze taking the edge off it.

Croft Castle has a particularly fine walled garden, and a glasshouse area. The garden covers some six acres, with many rows of vines in its northeast corner. Having now visited quite a number of National Trust properties, my wife and I are in agreement that this walled garden must be one of the nicest in the Trust’s portfolio.

Since our first visit in 2011, the National Trust has made a number of operational changes to how it manages the property. There is now a free flow for visitors through the house, and photography is permitted throughout. In 2011 I was told off—in no uncertain terms—by one of the volunteers for deeming to take a photo of some panelling detail. The Trust is much more relaxed about photography nowadays, except where there are restrictions (for personal family or copyright reasons) at some houses.

The Hall

The Library Anteroom

The Library and Turret Room

The Drawing Room

The Blue Room

The Oak Room

The Dining Room

The Staircases, Gallery, and Courtyard

The Ambassador’s Room

No such problems yesterday. The staff were most welcoming, particularly the lady who greeted us at the main entrance. The tea room appears to have been expanded, and the toilets have been upgraded – clean as ever at National Trust properties. Last time there was a water shortage, and visitors had to queue up to use portaloos!

Croft Castle is just an 83 mile round trip from home – almost one of our local National Trust properties. Perhaps it does not yet have the finest collection of furniture and paintings (compared to many others), but the rooms have a homely feel. And the parkland of course is stunning, with space for everyone to enjoy. The walled garden is Croft’s ‘jewel in the crown’. Well done to the two full-time gardeners (assisted by volunteers, of course) who keep this garden so well maintained.

 

 

 

Royalty and religion (and oak trees) in Shropshire

Charles II in exile, 1653

3 September 1651. Just over 33 months since his father, Charles I, had his head removed from his shoulders on a scaffold outside Whitehall in London, the young Charles II (not yet crowned king) was on the run. A fugitive. His plans to defeat the Parliamentarians under Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell had come to nothing. Superior forces of Cromwell’s New Model Army had defeated the Royalists at the Battle of Worcester, bringing an end to the Civil War.

Charles had to escape, but how to return to France and safety? His escape route took him north through Worcestershire (close to where I live, some 13 miles north of Worcester), and through Staffordshire and Shropshire to reach Boscobel House. The Boscobel estate straddles the Staffordshire-Shropshire county boundary (map).

In 1651, Boscobel House was a hunting lodge in the forest. Charles found refuge there, not only hiding in a priest hole overnight, but also among the canopy of a large oak tree (the famous Royal Oak) close by, as Parliamentarian forces searched high and low for him. He was also hidden at nearby Moseley Old Hall (about 10 miles due east of Boscobel, now in the hands of the National Trust, and which we visited in April 2014).

Boscobel House and the nearby White Ladies Priory (which was a converted residence when Charles sought refuge there in 1651) now belong to English Heritage. Yesterday, we made the 45 mile trip north to visit these two sites, and another English Heritage property, the ruins of Lilleshall Abbey, just over seven miles northwest from Boscobel.

Boscobel House and The Royal Oak
The house has Tudor, 17th century and Victorian extensions. The farmyard buildings are Victorian. It was owned by the Giffard family who lived at White Ladies Priory. The lonely Royal Oak that stands in a field a short distance from the house is a descendant of the original tree in which Charles hid.

(1) Hunting Lodge; (2) Garden; (3) Cowhouse; (4) Stables; (5) Dairy display; (6) Smithy; (7) Family room; (8) White Ladies Priory – about 1 mile, 20 minutes walk; (9) Royal Oak – approx 5 minutes walk.

White Ladies Priory

Lilleshall Abbey

A Restoration idiosyncrasy . . .

What special events occurred 1967? The BBC made its first TV broadcast in colour, and set up BBC Radio 1, 2, 3 and 4; the QE2 ocean liner was launched on the River Clyde; singer Engelbert Humperdinck had several top selling singles of the year; and The Beatles released the iconic album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

These were just a few highlighted on little signs either side of the footpath from the car park to Sudbury Hall, a National Trust property in Derbyshire, just north of the Staffordshire-Derbyshire boundary, the River Dove (see map).


But, as we reached the end of the footpath, we encountered the important ‘Sudbury’ fact. Occupied by the same Vernon family since it was built in 1660 by wealthy London merchant George Vernon, Sudbury Hall was bought by the National Trust when the Vernons were forced to relinquish ownership in order to meet death duty liabilities. The Sudbury Vernons were distant cousins of the Vernons of Hanbury Hall (the closest National Trust property to our home in Worcestershire).

Sudbury Hall is a Restoration architectural paradox, idiosyncrasy even: an exterior that harks back to an earlier Jacobean period, disguising sumptuous interiors more typical of the 1660s and early 18th century.

Adjacent to the hall is the Parish Church of All Saints in the Diocese of Derby, with some lovely stained glass windows, and impressive memorials to various generations of Vernons.

The hall is aligned west-east, with the main entrance on the north side. While it has a layout of an earlier building, a large entrance hall, even a long gallery on the first floor facing south, nothing quite prepares you for the flamboyance of the staircase (in the northwest corner), the ceilings and decorations of the saloon and drawing room(s) on the ground floor, and those of the long gallery.

Although George Vernon employed local craftsmen in much of the construction of Hanbury Hall, he did seek out some of the most talented to realise his vision of ‘the good life’.

Much of the plaster ceiling work was carried out by London craftsmen Robert Bradbury and James Pettifer. This is what I found about Bradbury and Pettifer on the website of the Woodcarvers Guild Ltd:

Two London plasterers of this period – the 1660s – whose work was similarly accomplished, were Robert Bradbury and James Pettifer. We know Pettifer trained under the London plasterer Arthur Toogood, who was Master of the Plaisterers [sic] Company in 1663.

Their best work outside London is at Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire, where they plastered ceilings in 1675-6. These are densely and richly decorated wall panelling and oak panelling and deserve close attention. The house was begun for Mary Vernon in the reign of James I, but was far from finished when she died in 1622. It then stood empty as a partly completed shell until after the Restoration, when Mary’s great-grandson, George Vernon, completed it. In doing so, he had the good sense to use excellent carvers, plasterers and painters.

In 1675-6 Bradbury and Pettifer provided the ceilings of the drawing ­room, the parlour, the staircase hall, the well, the Queen’s Bedroom and that of the 138-ft long gallery. They charged at the rate of 6s a yard and whilst to some eyes their decorations are florid and all-enveloping, the exuberantly fashioned wall panelling and oak panelling ornament was at least confined to the spaces provided in the design. Just enough was allowed to stray beyond the limits set down by the moulded ribs to give a natural effect. In fact, the delicate swirling work, most of it moulded but carefully arranged so that it appeared to consist of many different parts, was positioned with such skill that Laurence Turner wrote in his book on decorative plasterwork in 1927 before the discovery of the accounts, ‘the four well modelled amorini in the corners of the [staircase] cove [are] evidently by an Italian modeller, for no English plasterer could have developed so suddenly the ability to model the human figure …’ In the seven compartments of the long gallery ceiling and its frieze, there are curling flowers and foliage, shells, emperors’ heads, horses galloping from cornucopias, and dragons and wild boar in unlikely proximity to each other. Exquisite wood carving is everywhere.

In the Saloon, family portraits are set in panels carved by Edward Pierce (or Pearce), who also carved the balustrade on the magnificent Great Staircase. The ceiling panel in the saloon and elsewhere are paintings by Louis Laguerre in the Baroque style, which were commissioned by George Vernon a couple of decades later.

The Entrance Hall
Somewhat reminiscent of a medieval hall, Sudbury’s entrance hall has a stone flagstone floor, and stone arched doorways. The walls are covered by several full length portraits. And on three tables are seven exquisite Sèvres porcelain figurines dating to 1860, depicting a boar hunt.

The Great Staircase
Leaving the Entrance Hall, nothing quite prepares you for the magnificence of the staircase, from floor to ceiling, with its intricate carving (apparently in lime wood, and painted white), the paintings on the walls, and the elaborately decorated ceiling. It must rank as one of the most impressive that we have seen in any of our National Trust visits.

The Saloon
An elaborate doorway (mounted with a bust that looks suspiciously like William Shakespeare), you enter the saloon, a room with life-size portraits on all walls, and a smaller painting of the hall’s creator, George Vernon, above the door.

The Long Gallery
This came as a complete surprise. Long galleries were typical of much earlier houses. At Sudbury it extends the whole length of the house and faces south overlooking lawns and the lake. The quality of the plaster work is unparalleled. Currently there is little furniture on display, but at the east end is a beautifully painted 17th century Flemish cabinet with biblical scenes, by Frans Francken II. The frieze around the walls is punctuated by various images, and that on the west wall is apparently of King Charles II. Off the long gallery is a small library, with its own gallery. This opens on to the top of the staircase, and passes right into the Queen’s room.

The Queen’s Room
Over the two doorways are almost identical paintings, almost certainly Dutch, depicting contemporary flowers and fruits. The fireplace is pretty impressive.

Drawing Room(s)
I’ve left the pièce de résistance until last. Leading off the saloon is the drawing room, now divided in two, according to the original 17th century floor plans. It was opened into a single rooms during the 19th century. And why is it the pièce de résistance? Surrounding a full length portrait of a lady is an intricate and quite magnificent wood sculpture, depicting all manner of plants and game animals, carved by renowned Dutch-British sculptor Grinling Gibbons.

This is a special carving. But who was the favored lady? Someone special (nod, nod, wink, wink)? This is indeed a remarkable tribute to someone near and dear. If I remember correctly what one of the volunteers told us, she was the sister-in-law of the wife of George Vernon.

Although the National Trust has owned Sudbury Hall for 50 years (and first opened to the public in 1972), refurbishment of the interior is still a ‘work in progress’. Most of the rooms are still lacking furniture. In this respect, the property reminded me of another National Trust property, Dyrham Park near Bath that we visited in August 2016. Not only had Sudbury Hall to be made safe, but decisions were taken—and still being taken—on how to redecorate each of the rooms. And decisions taken are not to everyone’s approval, as the obituary to the 10th Lord Vernon (referenced earlier) indicates.

Museum of Childhood was opened at Sudbury in one of the extensions to the hall. This is a separate entrance to the hall. We enjoyed an interesting 45 minutes viewing all the exhibits bringing back memories of our childhoods, particularly with the various books and toys on display, and also from our daughters from 1978.

In the 1950s and early 1960s I used to pass in front of Sudbury Hall from time-to-time, travelling with my parents from our home in Leek to visit my father’s sister who lived just beyond Burton upon Trent. Until the early 1960s, my paternal grandparents lived in the village of Hollington, just a few miles north of Sudbury. This is Jackson-Bull home territory. In those days the main road, much quieter then, passed immediately in front of the hall. Now, the hall and village of Sudbury are fortunately by-passed, but there is nevertheless a continual roar of traffic from nearby and very busy A50 from Derby to Stoke on Trent.

It was a bright and sunny day when we visited Sudbury last week, but with a biting northerly wind. Nevertheless, our visit to Sudbury Hall was a delight, and quite unexpected in terms of what we saw. The volunteers were most helpful and knowledgeable, adding to the enjoyment of our visit. Sudbury Hall is definitely worth a visit if you are in the vicinity—and even if you are not.

 

 

 

In search of bluebells

Last weekend, our younger daughter Philippa and her family came down from Newcastle for the Bank Holiday. A few days ahead, she asked us if we knew of or had visited any bluebell woods close to home. Apparently, Elvis, her elder boy (who will be six at the end of September) had told her that bluebells were his favourite flower and wanted to see some growing in the wild. Maybe his teacher had been talking about them recently.

L to R: Felix, Philippa, me, Steph, Elvis, and Andi

Steph and I have been members of the National Trust for several years now, and we’ve had hours and days of enjoyment. Regular readers of my blog will know that I usually write something after a visit to one of their properties, the most recent being a visit about three weeks ago to Berrington Hall in Herefordshire.

There are three NT properties quite close to our Bromsgrove home: Hanbury Hall (our ‘regular’), Croome Park (a little further south, near Worcester), and Coughton Court, just 10 miles away in Warwickshire, east beyond Redditch. And each has its bluebell wood. But the one at Coughton is just a little special, composed almost in its entirety of the native English species, Hyacinthoides non-scripta. Very little if any of your invasive Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) here.

The bluebell is such an iconic woodland species. Just imagine that blue carpet spreading under the wood’s leafy canopy. And at Coughton, the bluebells are mixed in places with cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) and red campion (Silene dioica).

The native bluebell’s future is threatened in many places because of the spread of the Spanish bluebell that is widely grown in gardens. When garden waste is dumped irresponsibly then bulbs can be discarded as well. It hybridises readily with the native species, and once that has happened, stands of native bluebells are irrevocably changed.

We arrived at Coughton just on 11:00 (opening time) and the car parks were already filling up. I think everyone had the same idea: a walk through the bluebell wood, around the gardens, or the various walks around the estate. We made our first visit to Coughton Court in 2013, and then again in June last year when I was recovering from my accident.

Our walk took us around the bluebell wood, along the River Arrow (lots of ramsoms here, Allium ursinum), around the bog garden that is just beginning to come to life (the Gunnera will be spectacular later on in the season, although it and other plants had taken a slight hit from a frost overnight), and finally round the walled garden.

And for little boys, there were plenty of opportunities for fun besides looking at—but not picking—bluebells.

In front of the entrance to the hall the gardeners had planted a beautiful display of tulip beds, and along the newly-raked gravel paths around the lawn, the trees stood like soldiers at attention, having received a recent ‘haircut’ in readiness for summer visitors.

 

A congregation of corvids

Collective nouns are wonderful.

Why, for example, would a group of carrion crows be known as a murder of crows? Then there’s a parliament of rooks, a mischief of magpies, and a train of jackdaws. Often there is more than one collective name, depending on local tradition and usage.

Isn’t it delightful? Just goes to show how colourful the English language can be.

Well, here are the four culprits, and three of them (magpie, carrion crow, and jackdaw) are becoming increasingly common—and noisy—in our suburban garden in northeast Worcestershire. Greedy magpies regularly visit our bird table; crows and jackdaws tend to shout at us from the surrounding roof tops.

Rooks have taken up residence in a small copse alongside the busy A38 by-pass less than a mile away.

Members of the crow family are large and quite striking birds, and rather intelligent. From time-to-time we see jays in the surrounding countryside. But as they are solitary compared to the other four already mentioned, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a scold of jays. The jay is a really handsome bird.

Three other corvids, the raven (a conspiracy), chough (a chattering) and hooded crow ( a MacMurder perhaps, as they are found in Scotland) are much more restricted in their distributions in the UK. I’ve only seen them on a few occasions. Once seen, the chough is never to be forgotten, with its shiny black plumage, reddish-orange curved beak, and legs and feet of the same colour.

So, this morning when I went outside to put some last minute pieces of rubbish in the bin before collection, there was this solitary crow letting rip at the top of its voice, giving me chapter and verse. And that got me thinking about how common they have become, but also the lovely collective nouns we employ to describe them.

Then, being an active member of the blogging fraternity, I did wonder what a collective noun might be. I came across a click of bloggers in one blog; here is a more extensive list of suggestions. Which one would you choose?

‘Georgian grandeur on a human scale’

This is how the National Trust describes Berrington Hall, a late 18th century sandstone Neo-classical mansion overlooking the rolling Herefordshire landscape a few miles north of Leominster (see map). Designed by London architect Henry Holland, Berrington Hall was built between 1778 and 1781 for Thomas Harley.

Thomas Harley, by John Hall, after Henry Edridge, stipple engraving, late 18th century.

The estate also has a particular claim to fame. The park was the last to be created by landscape designer Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (who was also Henry Holland’s father-in-law).

Last Tuesday, Steph and I made our second visit to Berrington; we were first there in September 2011, the year we joined the National Trust. It was a beautiful day then, as it was this week. The weather forecast had promised a better day if we travelled westwards. Berrington Hall is 37 miles almost due west, and a little over an hour by road, from Bromsgrove in north Worcestershire.

We arrived not long after 10:30, and already the car park was quite full. After heading off to the tea room for a refreshing cup of coffee, we enjoyed a long walk around the park before heading back to the car for a quick picnic lunch, and then into the house itself.

We followed the route due south of the house towards and around the bottom of the lake, past the Boat House, around George’s Plantation, and back to the house.

Berrington Hall is not large compared to some 18th century mansions we have visited. Indeed it is quite modest, somewhat austere in appearance. But it sits so comfortably in its landscape, facing southwest, that it was always meant to be there. Eighteenth century landowners and their architects certainly knew just where to begin construction to the best effect.

A grand Triumphal Arch now hosts the National Trust entrance office, and a driveway approaches the house from the rear, before circling around the front of the house to reveal a majestic portico supported on four large pillars, strategically spaced never to block any of the windows.

As was Capability’s intention, the house is best seen from different advantage points in the park, as is the park from the steps of the house.

Brown knew how to exploit the view of the parkland from the house to best effect. It was no laughing matter. He placed a ha-ha just in front. A ha-ha is ‘a recessed landscape design element that creates a vertical barrier while preserving an uninterrupted view of the landscape beyond. The design includes a turfed incline which slopes downward to a sharply vertical face, typically a masonry retaining wall. Ha-has are used in landscape design to prevent access to a garden, for example by grazing livestock, without obstructing views‘.
 

The ha-ha at Berrington is one of the finest. The landscape just floats away, uninterrupted, from the house, the only evidence of its presence being a change in colour between the short grass of the terrace and the fields beyond, that is clearly seen in the video clip below.

On the rear of the house is a courtyard, a stables block (with clock), a dairy, and laundry. Most of the buildings now accommodate facilities for visitors: the tearoom, toilets, a shop, and the like, as well as offices.

Inside the house, the atmosphere is one of restrained elegance. None of the rooms is particularly large, unlike many other houses we have visited. Nevertheless, there are flashes of flamboyance: in the mouldings around the doors, on the architraves, and particularly the ceilings which are most elaborately sculpted and painted.

The staircase, and the first floor landing surrounding the staircase on three sides, is rather stunning, all marble pillars reflecting the natural light from the cupola.

We encountered our biggest surprise, however, when we entered the dining room on the ground floor. In September 2011 the dining table was laid out as though dinner was about to be served. On the walls are paintings reflecting the battles of Admiral Lord Rodney, whose son, George, married Anne, the daughter of the man who built Berrington Hall, Thomas Harley. On his death, Berrington passed to the Rodney family.

On this visit, the room was almost in darkness, with just spotlights focused on a sculpture, War & Pieces, that extended the length of the table. Created by Dutch artist, Bouke de Vries, this is how the sculpture is described in the National Trust brochure:

War & Pieces is a striking piece, nearly six metres in length, inspired by the grand seventeenth century sugar sculptures found on the dining tables of the wealthy. By the early eighteenth century, sugar had been replaced by exquisitely crafted porcelain depicting allegorical, classical or architectural scenes that displayed the host’s wealth and taste at their banquets.

Between the eighteenth and nineteenth century, it became popular for banquets to be held for generals and their officers on the eve of great battles.

War & Pieces is an envisioning of one of these war banquets showing deconstructed porcelain figures engaged in a deadly struggle with a giant central mushroom cloud composed of skulls, ‘frozen Charlottes’ (a nineteenth century mass produced child’s toy) and presided over by figures of the crucified Christ and Guanyins, the Chinese goddess of compassion.

The piece is composed of broken antique porcelain and glassware, as well as parts of plastic children’s toys and sugar, bringing together the notions of modern warfare and art with those of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and making us reconsider our perceptions of beauty and the usefulness of broken objects.

War & Pieces

The scene of war on the table is echoed by the maritime battles depicted on the walls by Thomas Luny (1759-1837). Admiral Lord George Brydges Rodney (1718-1792), the naval hero of The Seven Years War and the American Wars of Independence, is celebrated in these paintings. Rodney was the youngest captain in the British navy and is, arguably, the tactician who first attempted the manoeuvre called ‘breaking the line’ which was used to such great success in later British naval victories. At Berrington, his grim engagements with the French and the Spanish upon his ninety gun ship of the line, The Formidable, in the 1780s are highlighted by Luny’s paintings. The Formidable is the ship depicted on the plates on the dining table that surround War & Pieces.

The handles of the knives are shaped like AK-47 rifles! Comments in a visitors’ book reflected the wide expression of opinions about this sculpture. I thought it was an inspiring commentary on the futility of conflict.

Berrington also has a large walled garden, planted with heritage apple trees that I have commented on and illustrated elsewhere in this blog.

All in all, a very pleasant second visit to Berrington. And it would be remiss of me to finish this particular account without mentioning the extremely friendly staff and volunteers who contributed to our overall enjoyment. The two ladies in the ‘dressing-up room’ on the first floor kept us entertained with their descriptions and demonstrations of the intricacies of 1770s and 1805 fashions!

Here is a short video I made of our visit.

Majesty in the landscape . . . and it was all in the mind’s eye

Majestic. Standing proudly in the landscape, silhouetted against a bright Spring sky. Many preparing to burst forth with that first flush of greenery that heralds the oncoming summer. Others, still standing, but unlikely to remain that way for much longer. The sap no longer rises as it once did. They will fall where they stand or—more likely—felled as a potential hazard to the public.

Others lie on their sides, like beached ships, slowly rusting away, a pathetic shadow of their former glory.

These are remains of an Oak Plantation planted in the 1720s at Hanbury Hall, a magnificent early 18th century house now owned by the National Trust, just seven miles from our home in Bromsgrove in northeast Worcestershire. A few hundred meters away from these oak trees stands the hall, overlooking a parkland outside the surrounding ha-ha, that the original builder of Hanbury, Thomas Vernon would never have seen. Designed by George London, what we experience today at Hanbury, three hundred years on, as is the case at similar ‘stately homes’ across the country, was just merely a vision in his mind’s eye.

The Hanbury Ha-ha and park

So many who commissioned great houses, gardens, and parks died before their dreams were realised, and long before their visions of a transformed landscape could be appreciated to the full. Only third or fourth generation custodians perhaps would have really begun to appreciate what was originally intended when the house, gardens, and park were laid out. In the beginning each would have been a massive building site and earthworks, and a nascent park with saplings dotted around and about.

Take the exploits of Capability Brown for example, who was responsible in the mid-18th century for the transformation of so many natural landscapes nationwide. Croome Court, southeast of Worcester (and about 15 miles due south from Hanbury), was his very first commission, for the 6th Earl of Coventry, and the ‘river’ that was excavated by hand alone took 12 years to complete. Some of the trees that Brown planted can still be seen at Croome today.

Croome Court

Steph and I have now visited quite a number of National Trust properties throughout England (and Wales) and this idea of vision and imagination is strongly reinforced by examples such Stowe in Buckinghamshire and Berrington Hall in Herefordshire, Calke Abbey in Derbyshire, Dudmaston Hall in Shropshire, and Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire, besides Hanbury and Croome.

Stowe

Berrington Hall

Calke Abbey

Dudmaston

Dyrham Park

A more recent (150 years ago) example is Cragside, near Rothbury in Northumberland, built in the the late 19th century by William, 1st Baron Armstrong and his wife. The mock-Tudor mansion overlooks a wooded valley and one of the largest rock gardens in Europe, carved out of the rugged Northumbrian moorland. At Cragside, the Armstrongs planted more than seven million trees. Today, the house nestles comfortably in this landscape, seemingly for all time.

The tradition of landscape renewal continues under the National Trust. At Hanbury, for example, there are young saplings all around the park, protected (presumably against grazing by deer, maybe sheep) by picket fences. Impressively, the Trust is also recreating the Long Walk leading downhill from the Hall in a northeasterly direction.

The Long Walk at Hanbury Hall, with George London’s Semicircle (of trees) on the left

However, these full effect of these recent plantings will not be realised for many decades to come. I applaud the continuation, by the National Trust, of this wonderful tradition of leaving something behind in the landscape, just as those who built and nurtured these magnificent properties did, centuries ago.