Monday was our first proper day of the holiday and it had been raining all night and though by mid-morning we were down to drizzle, it was definately still wet. As this was never planned to be a sunshine and beach sort of holiday we had already researched some places to see. England is fortunate in this regards as luckily our ancestors also realised the weather could be a bit iffy in late September and so we foresighted enough to build large castles, cathedrals and houses all over the place for passing tourists. It was to one such house that we decided to visit today.
After a lazy breakfast and a long chat in the conservatory, which we had renamed as The Smoking Room (we trying to fit into the more aristocratic way of thinking) we set off down the dirt track that led into the narrow lanes only to find the narrow lanes flooded. The water was streaming down the hillside and erupting our of weirs and the little lanes were nearly knee deep in water wherever they dipped downwards. With much trepidation we drove slowly through them and lifted our feet up off the floor Fred Flintstone style whenver the water came high. Fortunately the 3 miles to Craven Arms saw us meeting no oncoming traffic and we were soon driving the 20 miles or so to Berrington Hall which is situated in the neighbouring county of Herefordshire, another place we had never been to before.
When we arrived the air was damp but it was so nice to be away from work and in the country. We had the place almost to ourselves and took in some of the views from the carpark.
Berrington Hall was built in the late 18thCentury for Thomas Harley who was at the time an MP in Parliament. The house has landscaped gardens by Capability Brown, perhaps the greatest designer of Country Gardens. Capability Brown sought to make gardens an idealised version of the English countryside and would go to enormous efforts to create lakes, waterfalls, build hills and monuments to enhance the natural beauty of the area.
To enter the house one first goes through the neo-classical gate house which takes you through a structured formal garden to the stables and courtyard.
In 1957 Berrington Hall passed from the family to the National Trust and like many of their properties visitors are free to take photos as they wish.
Much of the house is preserved from the era of the 1920’s as can be seen in the photo below. A marvellous gramophone with tables, chairs, a piano and a fireplace just some of the things to see.
Even though by this time, the all day meals were a thing of the past; a county gentleman of the early 20thC would still live by the traditions of his ancestors and the dining room was the centre of life for his family and for visiting guests.
There was cutlery for every occasion, for every food and drink type and for every course and there were particular rules that butler had to abide by when laying the table. Most of us in the U.K. definately do no eat this way any more though some of the richer folks still do on special occasions or expensive restaurants. There are many guidebooks on how to lay tables and table etiquette is still important to many of us.
This house is full of marvellously decorated rooms. Who would like to write their blogs at a desk like the one below?
It’s not just the rooms that are decorated but the ceilings too. Many are exquisitely painted or have fine plaster and hanging chandeliers.
Below is a photo of the landing at the top of the stairs. Even though there is no denying how expensive and impressive looking this scene is, all is not as it seems. The man who lived here was not quite wealthy enough to afford real marble everywhere. The columns here are fake marble made of re-constituted stones and highly polished. Of course to many people this would be undetectable and that was the whole point. Indeed some houses had painted marble effects as I will show in a later blog. Nevertheless I couldn’t even fit one of those columns in my stairs, fake marble or not.
Like may households, rich and poor in GB, World War 1 had a terrible impact on Berrington Hall with 3 of the family sons meeting their end. There is a very touching exhibit of their letters to their mother in one of the rooms along with other artefacts. The loss of their children obviously impacted greatly on their mother and father and like other houses I will visit this week leads to complications with the inheritance of the estate and a lack of funds that force Berrington Hall to be given to the nation.
As well as all of this life upstairs, there is a hidden world of servants, kitchens and hidden passageways which I will feature from a different house in an upcoming blog post. Once we had spent a few hours in the house we went into the gardens for a quick walk. The drizzle had almost died off so we went round the walled garden. Many mansions had walled gardens and were self sufficient in growing their own food and flowers as well as obviously all the livestock that lived in the thousands of acres which they farmed.
With the rain soon returning we head back to the car for a leisurely drive home with some good old fashioned home-cooked food already planning our next day out to the old market town of Ludlow.