Newest Review: ... side. As soon as you enter the foyer, you're greeted by a National Trust guide who tells you a bit about the history of the house and the... more
You won't come a-cropper at Croft
Member Name: SWSt
Advantages: Fascinating property, excellent room guides
Disadvantages: Quality of talks can vary
As historians, it's somewhat inevitable that Mrs SWSt and I spend a lot of our holiday visiting old As historians, it's somewhat inevitable that Mrs SWSt and I spend a lot of our holiday visiting old castles or stately homes. Our last holiday was no exception and one of the best places we visited was Croft Castle, home to the same family for almost 1,000 years.
Croft Castle sits just a few miles outside the market town of Leominster in Shropshire. Whilst you need to travel down some B roads and country lanes to get to it, these are well maintained, wide roads so getting there is not particularly challenging.
Quick History Lesson
Croft Castle is a fortified manor house that has been in the hands of the Croft family for almost 1,000 years apart from a brief period in the late 19th/early 20th century. This gives it a single line of succession almost unparalleled elsewhere. As such, it provides a fascinating glimpse into how one family exerted so much power and influence over the surrounding area for a length period of time. It also means that most of the artefacts on display at Croft have a genuine connection with the house.
Room With a View
Croft Castle is an interesting building to look at because it still retains the internal structure that it had for most of its existence. As such, it gives a real glimpse into what living in the property must have been like. Each room is furnished in a very similar way to the way it would have been when it was functioning as a family home and it really is like stepping back in time. Information about each of the rooms is well-presented and interesting without being too detailed and it points out some key features of that particular room, along with information over how it has changed over the years.
Exhibits in each room are both interesting and in keeping with the room and the house generally and, where there is a specific connection to the Croft family or the property, this is usually explained, which makes it feel more like you are looking around someone's home.
The one thing I could have done without (personally) was some rather horrible modern art that featured in several of the rooms. This is partly because I am not a fan of modern art, but also because it did rather clash with the elegant and beautiful furniture and artwork from earlier periods. It merely goes to show how much tastes have changed over the years... and not always for the better!
Sit a While
A really nice feature of Croft which I'd not come across elsewhere was the in the living room, where you were actively encouraged to touch and use things. This was a new addition to the property for the 2012 season and saw the room decked out as it would have been in the 1920s (when the Croft family returned to the property after an absence of around 100 years). It includes things like a 1920s piano, 1920s furniture and a 1920s gramophone. Unlike most properties, you are encouraged to sit in the chairs, play the piano or put on some records. This is a really nice alternative to the usual "Do Not Touch" signs that you normally (understandably) see and really gave you a feel for what it must have been like to sit and use the room back in the Roaring Twenties.
Not just all Talk
As appears to be increasingly common in National Trust properties, each room had a room guide who can tell you more about certain aspects of the room. The ones at Croft Castle were generally very good: they didn't pounce on you as soon as you walked into the room, nor did they approach you if you clearly just wanted to wander around yourself. However, when you did ask a question, they were interesting and knowledgeable.
A number of talks are also scheduled for specific times, so if you want to know a little more about a particular room or aspect of the period, you can make sure you are around for one of these. We didn't actually do this, so can't comment on the length or quality, although we did catch the start of one (merely because we happened to be in the room when it began) and have to say that the speaker was not particularly interesting or inspiring. I guess this will depend on who is giving the talk on any given day.
Far more interesting was the guide in the Ambassador's Room, who spoke about the fascinating link between the Croft family and the Royal Family in the early 19th century and the tragic, and unintended impact they had on both British and World History. This was a really interesting tale told by a speaker who was both highly articulate and clearly well-versed in all the details. He was also a born story-teller so made his tale interesting even to those who don't particularly like history.
For me, this was the best room in the house; not just because of the room guide, but because of the effective way that it had been done out to represent a house in mourning. This gave some idea of how dark the house must have been during periods of mourning (which, the guide explained could last up to two years) and also explored some of the origins behind modern mourning customs (such as why we close the curtains when there has been a death in the family).
Time for Walkies
Once you have visited the house, you can pop your head into the small church opposite. This has served the Croft family for centuries and is still an active church today. This was interesting, although in architectural terms, the church wasn't particularly unusual. You can also take a walk around the formal walled gardens. This wasn't my cup of tea since I can barely tell a daffodil from a dandelion, but Mrs SWSt (who likes this sort of thing) was impressed. The gardens are not particularly big and will only take 10-15 minutes to wander around, so it wasn't too much of a hardship for a non-gardener like me!
If you fancy a more extensive walk, then you can wander around the parklands, which contain an iron age hill fort and some stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Since it was blisteringly hot on the day we went, we decided not to do this, so can't comment on how easy these walks are.
You can choose whether you wish to visit just the grounds, just the castle or both and prices are tailored according to which you choose. The maximum adult price (including castle, grounds and surrounding area) is £7.70 at 2012 prices, with various concessions available for children and senior citizens. National Trust members, of course, get in free. Overall, I'd say these were pretty reasonable prices. Croft does offer an awful lot to see and do, and we were easily in the house for well over an hour.
Croft has the usual tearoom (which we didn't visit), together with a very good National Trust shop. As well as the usual NT branded goods, this also sells some lovely food and drink from the local area (including a gorgeous cider!) and it's nice to see the National Trust supporting local suppliers.
Overall, we had a really great day at Croft Castle and would thoroughly recommend it. It offers something a little bit different to the usual ruined castle or standard stately home you can see elsewhere. Definitely worth a visit if you are in the Shropshire area.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012
Summary: A fascinating place