Croft Castle has been home to the Croft family for a thousand years, give or take, with only a short interruption. This is remarkable even in England where houses are often passed down through several generations; ten centuries is quite a span of time! The Croft family still lives in the house, having repurchased it in 1923 for the grand sum of ￡30,000 and now shares stewardship of the house with the National Trust.
The crenellated stone wall and tower which greet you from the car park hint at the Castle’s origins as a fortified manor house. On a peaceful, sunny day in Hereford it’s easy to forget the historical imperative for defence against marauding invaders from foreign lands or being on the wrong side of the internal “civil disputes”.
You have to wonder what these towers could tell us. They’ve witnessed many disputes, like the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, one of the decisive skirmishes in the Wars of the Roses, which was fought on nearby Croft lands.
If, like me, you can never remember which side of the family was represented by the red rose and which one the white, a brief recap: The Wars of the Roses were a series – yes, a series – as in way more than one – of English civil wars for control of the throne of England. The “disputes” were fought between supporters of two English rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: the House of Lancaster (red rose), and the House of York (white rose). (Hmmm – maybe that’s how to remember it. R comes before W, and L comes before Y. )
History has it that Henry VI was an infirm and weak ruler. That, combined with the social, financial and structural problems of feudalism revived interest in Richard of York‘s claim to the throne. (As an aside, my grandfather taught me the colours of the rainbow as Richard Of York Gained Battles In Vain – Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet. It’s funny how these bits of knowledge coalesce into a tapestry of history.)
Henry IV’s weak leadership set off a whole chain of events. The throne passed back and forth between the rival houses of York and Lancaster (with much bloodshed, of course) during which time the two young princes disappeared within the confines of the Tower of London. Yes, Richard III. and all that.
Lancastrian Henry VII became king of England; five months later, he married Elizabeth of York, thus ending the Wars of the Roses. Nothing like a diplomatic marriage. The Tudor dynasty began. Tudors worked to centralise English royal power in an effort to avoid the power struggles that beset the last Plantagenet rulers. The resulting stability ushered in the English Renaissance and the advent of early modern Britain. (Though I do wonder if the beheaded wives of King Henry VIII would describe their experience as “stability”).
Having gone through that bit of history while we strolled, we have now arrived at the house, which started out life as a castle in the 14th century and has been considerably altered since. Restored after a slighting in the Civil War, it’s now a lovely manor house with small castellated round towers at each corner. The National Trust has an excellent short video on the history of the family and the castle.
Don’t you love the dragon and the lion that flank the front doors? The Lion, of course, is a nod to the family’s English heritage (as in Richard the Lionheart) and the wounded Dragon makes a reference to the Welsh branch of the family,
The tongue sticking out is a nice touch…
This faithful dog waited patiently outside while his parents toured the house. He kept a sharp eye fixed on the entrance until they appeared again.
The house is surprisingly warm and inviting, not something one automatically associates with English Manor houses. This fireplace is inside the large panelled entry hall, of which I have no pictures, but shows up nicely on the National Trust video.
I’ve captured a screenshot from the video here:
The next room brings us to more modern history, involving Princess Charlotte (not the daughter of William and Catherine, Prince and Princes of Wales, but the Prince Regent’s granddaughter, who died tragically following the birth of her stillborn son.
Her death and that of the infant rocked the nation to the core. There was an enormous outpouring of grief, similar in scope to the reaction following Princess Diana’s death.
The country ground to a halt. Shops were closed for two weeks, everyone wore mourning attire, and commemorative china was created to mark the occasion.
Sir Richard Croft, 6th Baronet and accoucheur (male midwife) to the Princess blamed himself and ultimately took his own life several months after the death of Princess Charlotte. These events became known in medical history as the Triple Obstetrical Tragedy.
Georgette Heyer fans will recognize Sir Richard Croft as the accoucheur called in to attend Jenny, Viscountess Lynton, by her overbearing, vulgar, yet strangely likeable father, Jonathon Chawleigh in A Civil Contract. Neither Jenny nor her husband Adam took to Croft; he was eventually sent packing, but not before he had put Jenny on a strict reducing diet during her pregnancy, one of his pet hobby horses.
One of the volunteers gave me this brochure on Princess Charlotte and I was interested to read that she was a chubby woman, given to excess consumption and too little exercise. I wonder how much of Jenny’s prenatal care in A Civil Contract is based on Croft’s care of Princess Charlotte?
Besides being a tragic story, Charlotte’s death, and that of her infant son, set off a bit of a crisis in the line of succession. Mad King George III (who history feels suffered from porphyria, not insanity) had fifteen illegitimate grandchildren, but no legitimate heir to the throne. His sons, including the heir apparent, the Prince Regent, later George IV, had mistresses galore. They were nothing if not prolific, however, they made morganatic marriages, or no marriages at all; The Duke of Clarence had ten illegitimate children known as “Fitzclarences”.
Charlotte was the only daughter of George IV and his wife, Caroline. They had a singularly unhappy marriage and lived apart for most of it. Upon Charlotte’s death, the brothers scrambled to find legitimate relationships and produce an heir. After many twists and turns, including the untimely death of another Princess Charlotte, the ultimate happy result was Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne; she being the daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent, King George the IV’s brother.
On to happier things. As I mentioned earlier, the house is quite beautiful and exceedingly comfortable. I could see myself living there with no difficulty. 😀
The wonderful cosy library.
Glenn was happily making himself at home.
Through to the lounge. Couldn’t you just curl up on those comfy couches?
And gaze up at the Rococo ceiling?
At the far side, there is a fabulous drinks table, complete with 1920s-era accoutrements.
Love the Art Nouveau lacquered tray and champagne cups.
The cocktail shaker…
The grand piano waits ready to bang out the jazz tunes of the Roaring 20s.
Not sure who this is, but she’s dressed appropriately for the era.
The gilded fireplace detail is gorgeous.
Through the doorway to the hall. Note the intricate moulding of the doorframe.
Through to the Saloon, with its fantastic trompe l’oeil panelling in luscious shades of eau de nil.
The screen you see above is made of worked and gilded leather. This is a terrible close-up picture of the leather. Please excuse the quality, but the lighting in the room was very low to prevent fading of the fabrics and damage to the panelling.
The gold “finials” on the panelling are painted, hence the trompe l’oeil. They look to be raised finials, but they’re perfectly flat. The gilded square moulding is genuine.
On one table is a curious workbox clad in raised, embroidered fabric, almost like trapunto, but more intricate.
I had a heck of a time getting these shots, but you can see how the stitching and fabric are raised. Someone put a lot of hours into creating that box.
The guide told us the Croft family had recently donated a significant bequest to the National Trust with the stricture that the panelling in this room be restored to its former glory. Seems like it was well worth the investment.
The fireplace mouldings – love the dog’s head in one corner. Isn’t the blue-grey (eau de nil) colour restful and elegant?
Through another sitting room with lovely wood panelling…
And another stunning Rococo-style ceiling.
This fireplace is of more simple limestone construction, in keeping with the masculine vibe from the panelling, though the figurines on the mantlepiece are delicate and feminine.
The marquetry detail in the back of the chairs is charming.
Through to the dining room – always on my radar. This picture makes the walls look pea-green, which they aren’t.
They’re more of a sage green, highlighted with white moulding, similar to green Wedgwood Jasperware. You can see what I mean here:
Another drinks table. These people know how to entertain!
Champagne at the ready under the sideboard, though not chilled. Rats.
I think it’s the red draperies and carpet that are causing the bile green colour…
The table is beautifully set.
Reluctantly I left the dining room and headed out into the hall. Not such a hardship, after all!
Up the stairs, we go. More lovely plasterwork.
The bedrooms were off-limits, and the hall was only available to access the exit. The house is a lot bigger than one realizes, as only a few rooms are open to the public, and the rest are occupied by the family.
I liked the gothic-style chairs that lined the hallway.
And this cosy little niche.
Outside we set off to visit the church, which is right next door to the Castle.
We walked around the back of the Church and through the door you see just on the left edge below.
The stained glass over the altar.
The tile floor.
An earlier Sir Richard Croft’s tomb (the one who fought at the Battle of Mortimer, not the accoucheur to Queen Charlotte).
‘Sheriff of Herefordshire” – reminds me of “Sheriff of Nottingham” from Robin Hood.
Back outside, we brought our visit to an end. We retraced our steps up the path to the car park, past the entrance to the Georgian stables.
And through the archway in the crenellated wall where we began.
I hope you have enjoyed this tour of Croft Castle!
I’m sharing this post with Between Naps on the Porch.