Saturday 12 January 2019

Croft Castle

If someone else was paying the heating bills, I'd move in to Croft Castle in Herefordshire tomorrow. I always expect National Trust castles to be ruins, like Corfe or Bodiam, and am completely thrown when they have carpets and wallpaper and a drinks cabinet. 

Croft Castle National Trust

Here are some facts for you about Croft:

1. It has been owned by (almost) one family for (almost) 1000 years 
Bernard de Croft is listed in the Domesday Book as being settled on the estate, and his descendants are still there today. However, they did have to sell up and move out for 170 years when Sir Archer Croft lost all his money in the South Sea Bubble. It was bought by Richard Knight who owned an ironworks.

2. Owain Glyndŵr may be buried under the floor
Croft's proximity to Wales meant that it was caught up in a lot of instability in its early years. Owain Glyndŵr's last stronghold at Harlech Castle fell in 1409 and he went on the run - it is believed that he stayed at Croft (his daughter had married into the family) and died there. A tall skeleton found under the Turret Room in 1923 was believed to be him. This doesn't sound terribly scientific.

3. The Knights - not much better with money than the Crofts
Richard Knight bought Croft from Sir Archer of the South Sea Bubble for his only daughter as a wedding present. Elizabeth Johnes (as she became) and her husband did the exterior and interior up in fashionable style in the 1760s, giving it its Rococo-Gothick look. However, their son fell in love with a remote Welsh valley called Hafod and was soon investing a lot in it - he planted 3 million trees there for example - and he was forced to sell Croft in 1799 to cover his debts, much to his mother's fury seeing as it was her wedding present from her dad.

The saloon at Croft Castle

4. The sad tale of Sir Richard Croft
During the Crofts' exile from, er, Croft the 6th baronet became an obstetrician to the aristocracy. It sounds like some of his pregnancy advice to the highly popular Princess Charlotte didn't do her any favours and she died following a 52 hour labour at Claremont in Surrey. He was exonerated but he didn't get over it and shot himself while attending another birth.  

5. The Crofts come back (just as things start to get tricky for the landed gentry)
Sir Richard's grandson, Sir Herbert, moved back to the family's old stomping ground in Herefordshire and became an MP. His grandson bought Croft in 1923 but was killed during the Second World War and left the estate to a cousin who wasn't expecting it. They sold it to another family member to cover death duties but he died, so the cousin bought it back and began a campaign to save it with the National Trust.

6. Croft has an Iron Age hill fort
Even the Crofts don't stretch back to 500 BC though, when Croft Ambrey was established. It's a hill fort about a mile and a half from the castle and excavations have shown that it was once home to at least 500 people in back-to-back houses, which immediately conjured up interesting images of an Iron Age Coronation Street in my head. The Johnes family incorporated the hill fort into their Picturesque estate and would take guests up there for picnics. 

7. It has many walking options

We passed many dogs bounding enthusiastically through the car park at Croft and although I don't have a dog, I knew that they probably weren't there for the Sèvres porcelain. The map that you get at reception lists out five really good walks through the 1500 acre parkland. I say they were really good; I didn't actually do any of them. But an 'Ancient Tree Walk' sounds good.

8. It has excellent Croft Castle scones
The last time I took my sister-in-law and niece on a scone mission (to Lamb House in Rye) they completely stunned me by launching into Craig Revel-Horwood level criticism of the whole experience - "this isn't fresh" "why isn't it warm?" "why is the cream in a plastic pot?" etc etc - so I spent the journey to Croft fretting that the scone would be rubbish and they'd resign and refuse to come on any more trips.

But Croft didn't let me down; a lovely tea room and a big hefty scone that was fresh and soft and delicious. A unanimous five star hit from the Craig Revel-Horwoods.

On a personal level though, Croft Castle's biggest achievement is that it broke The Curse of the National Trust Scone Blogger. In the five years since I started this quest, the first scone mission of the year has always been a disaster. Not for the scones - just issues with mud, inappropriate footwear, the place not being fully open. Croft passed without incident and so 2019 is off to a flying start.

Croft Castle: 5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5