“ Address: near Leominster / Shropshire / HR6 0DW „
Quick History Lesson
Intended to be the perfect Georgian House, Berrington Hall was one of the first properties to be built by Henry Holland with landscaped gardens designed by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. The home of a wealthy and influential family, it stands today as a reminder of the grandeur and over the top tastes of the Georgian upper classes.
Berrington Hall is quite hard to miss. Located on the A49 just outside Leominster, you pretty much drive right past the door if you are on this major road. There are two entrances to the grounds, so even if you miss the first sign, you can keep going and take the second entrance. After a short drive through some of the landscaped grounds, you will arrive at a car park. This was surprisingly small for such a large property (although there was an overflow car park). We went out of season, so had no trouble finding a space, but I would imagine that in peak season it's quite busy.
By George, it's Grand
Berrington Hall is not the sort of place that would normally appeal to me. The Georgian house, with all the square architecture and overly elaborate decoration which that implies is not really my cup of tea. However Berrington Hall is a little more unusual than many other such properties. For a start, it was still inhabited until well into the 20th century and, as such, offers an interesting insight into how the use of the property changed over the years. Putting aside my personal tastes, if Georgian architecture is your thing, then there are few properties that can rival it.
If I'm perfectly honest, the over-the-top, ornate nature of the property left me rather cold. I much prefer the plainness of earlier periods and whilst the rooms are well-preserved and reflect the Georgian period, I did find that wandering through room after room wooden paneled walls decorated with pictures of severe or pompous looking men and women soon began to wear a bit thin.
Even less to my personal liking was the fact that our visit coincided with a special exhibition of Georgian waistcoats and fashion - not a subject in which I have the slightest interest! I am the slightest bit interested in! Looking at it objectively, it was well laid out with lots of information both about individual garments and the fashions of the period and Mrs. SWSt (who is much more interested in such things) enjoyed it.
You Rang M'Lord?
A particularly unusual feature of Berrington is that the servants' quarters still survive, so you can get a good idea of what life below stairs would have been like (and I can assure you it was nothing like the cosy, inaccurate picture painted by Downton Abbey). These are laid out as they would have been when in use and give some idea of both the hardships and benefits of working as a servant in a large household. There's also an interesting audio presentation relating the history of one of the servants who accidentally shot himself in the foot whilst in service, which gives everything a much more personal element. On the whole, I found the servants' quarters far more interesting than the rest of the house.
Surprisingly (given that I have no interest in gardening), the part I possibly enjoyed the most was the gardens and grounds, which were landscaped by Capability Brown (Berrington was one of his last commissions). These were open to just wander around and a series of marked walks of different length could be followed. These ranged in length from about half a mile to around 1.5 miles. None were particularly taxing to moderately fit/healthy people, although the elderly or infirm (or those in wheelchairs) might find them off-limits. The walks were generally clear with coloured markers indicating the correct route all provided a gentle circular tour of the grounds. These enabled you to admire the architecture of the hall from afar and appreciate the surrounding scenery. It also helped you appreciate how cleverly Brown constructed the grounds, using cunning lines of sight to construct some impressive views and effects.
Information on Berrington is generally very good. There were plenty of information panels scattered throughout the property, giving the history of the house and pointing out unique features. These were well written and informative. There were some more interactive displays and exhibits aimed at keeping younger visitors entertained, including a "his and hers" version of events surrounding the divorce of one of the owners. This was cleverly constructed so that it allowed you to make up your own mind as to who was to blame. This was a very interesting way of presenting information which I've not come across before.
As is increasingly common with National Trust properties, most of the rooms also had a guide to answer any questions and point out particular features. These were very good. If you wanted to be left alone to browse at your own leisure, they were happy to let you; if you wanted to ask a question about the history of the house or the family that lived there, they were knowledgeable.
Berrington is fairly light on facilities: a tearoom, gift shop and toilets. This is sufficient, though, and if you need anything else, the market town if Leominster is less than 15 minutes away by car.
At 2012 prices, a trip to Berrington Hall costs £7.70 to visit the whole property or £6.20 just to look at the gardens and below stairs. I would say that this is quite expensive (particularly if you choose the second option). I was certainly glad that, as National Trust members, we did not have to pay. If you enjoy Georgian architecture, you will perhaps consider it better value for money, but I personally thought it was a little overpriced.
As I've said a few times, architecturally, Berrington is not really my cup of tea, but it was interesting enough. Mrs. SWSt and I spent a couple of hours there and, whilst we are in no hurry to go back, enjoyed our visit. If you are a fan of Georgian architecture and style, though, Berrington should probably be high on your list of places to visit.
(c) copyright SWSt 2013