34. The Clent Hills; but mainly Croome Park.



20th November 2010. I am, I readily confess, a sluggard. I do not want to get out of bed in the morning. It is very comfortable there, thank you. And yet… there are those mornings when one does actually wake up and feel quite energetic. This was one of them; so the obvious thing to do was get up and go out somewhere. Then the thought of a bacon sandwich at the refreshment kiosk at Clent came to us. They do very, very good bacon sandwiches indeed! So off we went. We got there at about 8:30 a.m. on a damp & misty morning, forgetting that in winter the kiosk does not open until 10:00 a.m. It opens a lot earlier in summer. So we had nothing to do but to potter up the path shown, to the top of this hill. A nice walk to work up an appetite for breakfast! Great Heavens – what are we coming to?



The expertly managed woodlands. A site such as this is a paradise for insects, birds, small rodents &c. There is not photograph from the top of the hill, for the mist was thicker up there and nothing was visible. But after wandering around for an hour or so, it was soon 10:00 a.m. so back down to the kiosk, a super bacon sandwich – sitting in the open of course – and a mug of tea. What delights are to be experienced from such simple things!



2nd January 2011. This year, or rather last year, Christmas day was a Saturday; so the following Monday & Tuesday were Bank Holidays. Then New Year’s Eve was a Friday, so the Bank Holiday is on Monday 3rd January. This gives a really good holiday period, which I am still enjoying. The horrible weather we all experienced during most of December had gone; temperatures soared to 6 °C – it felt positively warm! So off to Croome Park, once the seat of the Earls of Coventry. The house, in the distance, is a major restoration project for the National Trust. The church is seen in the left foreground. There used to be a mediaeval church quite close to the house; but when the house was vastly modified in the 18th century, it was demolished and this new one built.



The grounds are very extensive, and you can walk literally for miles. This is the view to the west, with the Malvern Hills in the background.



It takes 6 or 8 minutes to walk from the church to the house, via a winding path. Although it was good to get some fresh air, we shall come back in summer as well. The grounds were landscaped by ‘Capability’ Brown (1716 – 1783). I thought for years that Capability was a given name: that of a virtue or attribute such as Faith, Hope, Charity &c. But no; his real name was Lancelot Brown, and when looking over your gardens or grounds he would say “..there is the capability of improvement…”, so that became his nick-name. The ‘river’ to the right is actually a long and artificial lake that he designed; at its northern end it actually does open out into a larger area, complete with island.



The impressive south-facing façade. Two sphinxes flank the steps leading to the front door; they are currently wrapped up in tarpaulins. The marquee is obviously used for social or business functions. I say obviously, because I have done many gigs in various National Trust properties over the years, ranging from weddings, anniversary parties, and events promoted by the NT themselves; in marquees, in the houses, and in the grounds.



The other famous architect and designer associated with Croome Court is Robert Adam (1728 – 1792). Several rooms at Croome were designed by him, and this long gallery is well towards complete restoration. On display are photocopies of letters between George William, the 6th Earl of Coventry (1722-1809) and Adam, discussing the requirements &c., as well as many other fascinating documents and artifacts. Most of the ground floor rooms are open to visitors, as are all the downstairs servants’ hall, pantry, strong room, wine cellars, though these are as yet unrestored. Of course, restoring such a house is an immense and very expensive process, and will occupy many years. But the chance to see all levels of conservation & restoration simultaneously is not to be missed. As always, the NT volunteers in the different rooms are extremely helpful in explaining anything we want to know. One of them tactfully pointed out that many wooden compartments in one cellar, that I had taken for wine-racks, were in fact shoe lockers! Also, he revealed that only recently, an Elizabethan window been discovered in a wall cavity in a wine cellar. Though Croome Court was largely ‘finished’ by the 6th Earl, it is probably quite rare that a large house is built where no house has ever stood before. After all, the best sites for habitation will usually have been occupied by earlier people, possibly back into remote antiquity?



A walk back up the winding path led us past St. Mary Magdalene’s church. It is not used, though still consecrated, and is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. The building was designed by Capabilty Brown and the interior by Robert Adam. It houses monuments of earlier Coventrys:



The one on the right is dated 1634, so was clearly moved here from the old church.



By way of complete contrast, this utilitarian structure, currently serving as a shop, café and entrance to the grounds, survives from the Second World War, when much of Croome park was in the hands of the Royal Air Force: RAF Defford. Top-secret developments in radar were carried out here; and the Dutch Royal family spent some of their exile living in the house itself. The Croome Park estate was eventually broken up, and the Coventry family disposed of it. Still, their estate had survived longer than many others. So from mediaeval times to the present day, this park, house and church represent a perfect example of Living History. We shall certainly return to it later in the year!





Page written 3rd January 2011.