The Chinese Bridge across the Croome River
Croome Court is a mid-18th century neo-Palladian house set in landscaped parkland in south Worcestershire. It’s a long walk from the parking lot to the house, past the congestion of tearoom & shop, once part of a WWII RAF hospital complex, through the woods to the Gothic revival church at the crest of a hill where the house comes into view, still some distance away.
About 20 miles north of England’s Cotswold district, Croome Court is a mixed bag, no matter how you look at it. The house is owned by a private trust, but leased to the National Trust which manages it, except the church, managed by the Churches Conservation Trust. The National Trust owns the park surrounding it, except the walled garden which is privately owned and open to those wish to visit it, for a price. And all that aside, I found the place puzzling.
Like most of us, I prefer to visit attractions on days when I’m likely to find fewer visitors, the better to experience many things, especially houses. But I went to Croome on a Sunday, the day it best fit into the schedule. And if I’d done my homework more thoroughly, I’d have realized the extent to which the house was “under construction”, some parts seemingly finished, others not, and all largely devoid of furniture and collections that would complete a grand house. I think the weekend crowd added to my sense of confusion, not helped by dull skies and a misty rain.
National Trust properties undergoing inevitable restorations often remain open to visitors, the better to educate us on the complexities of the work. But in the case of Croome, I found it fairly disconcerting and, unable to make sense of the whole, not as interesting as the Trust no doubt intended.
The Trust’s website for Croome tells me that the collections I so sorely missed seeing are being returned to the house. The approach for future display, the site tells us, will be “Innovative, imaginative and creative…the artistic approach…”. But if the flashy & confusing walk-through “Golden Box” currently displaying a small collection of porcelain is an indication, I can’t help but wonder why objects shown simply in an historic setting isn’t enough. Read more here.
The Ice House on the way to the Walled Garden
The Walled Garden
I walked through the woods, following the signs to the walled garden, adjacent to Croome Court and once part of the estate. On the day I was there a table was set up, staffed by a young woman and an older one, apparently to make sure visitors were separated from their £5 before glimpsing what they’d get for their money. A door through the brick wall was tantalizingly close and I asked if I could have a look before deciding if I’d go in. The older woman barked an emphatic “no” while the younger looked sympathetic but outranked. So I paid and on stepping through into the vastness of the interior space, knew why the no. If I’d looked I’d have passed on the opportunity. However, after resigning myself to the emptiness of the huge enclosure, I committed to finding £5 worth of value inside.
The "Hot Wall"
The use of walls to create microclimates and extend the growing season for kitchen gardens isn’t unusual in England but the 17th century walled garden at Croome is thought to be the largest in Europe, and a part of it turned out to be the biggest surprise of the day. One of Capability Brown’s early projects, in 1752 glasshouses were added to grow exotic fruits. A tax on glass ultimately made its use expensive, so in 1803 the extreme solution was to build a 13 foot high, 100 meter long hollow “hot wall”, heated by 5 furnaces, which would have needed constant tending in winter. But I had to imagine it as the furnaces adjacent to the wall are now covered and invisible, another disappointment that might be remedied in the interest of making an intellectual exercise into a unique experience.
I’m afraid I must report, if you’re in any doubt, that in Croome Court I found, for maybe the first time, a house I couldn’t love. House and walled garden I found wanting and, while there’s certainly potential, on the day I visited I’m sad to say it eluded me.
Except the Chinese Bridge. I love the Chinese Bridge.
Next week, back to London.
Find all episodes of ‘PortMoresby in England’ here.