Saturday, 28 January 2017

Berrington Hall

I've always had an inexplicable dislike of Capability Brown, the man responsible for designing so many estates now owned by the National Trust. 

He got his name because he would visit a place and tell the owner that it had "capabilities". They would then pay him a substantial amount of money and he would move some hills or install a lake to brighten the place up.

Today, at Berrington Hall in Herefordshire, I realised where that instinctive dislike comes from. For A Level English, I had to study Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. The characters go and visit a stately home belonging to Mr Rushworth, whose head is full of "improvements" and his desire to hire Humphry Repton to give the place a makeover. 

(Apparently, Austen had relatives whose home was remodelled by Humphry Repton. In Mansfield Park, she even quotes the rate that he charged them; five guineas a day.)

But the point is that Mansfield Park's prim little heroine, Fanny Price, is aghast at all of this improvements talk. And so I've always assumed that Jane Austen didn't approve of improvements either, and she's usually right about everything. Ergo, without realising it, I decided in 1990 that 'improvers' were bad and this dislike resurfaced, like Godzilla, 25 years later when I finally came across any.

You might well be wondering why I took against Capability Brown when it was actually Humphry Repton that she mentions. I am wondering the same thing. But Repton is often regarded as Brown's successor, so there you are. Let's not split hairs.


Berrington Hall

ANYWAY. What has all of this got to do with Berrington? The answer is that Thomas Harley commissioned Capability B to design the grounds and CB's son-in-law, Henry Holland, to design the house.

Here's a bit of history:

The Harleys
  • Berrington was bought by Thomas Harley in 1776
  • Thomas had made his money through marriage and by winning the contract to provide clothing and wages to the British army in America - according to the guidebook "in 1777 alone he supplied over 40,000 pairs of mittens"
  • He moved to Herefordshire to set himself up as a country gent, commissioning Capability Brown to landscape the grounds, and Henry Holland to build the house
  • Holland delivered a house in the French Neo-classical style - it's quite a plain house without a lot of external decoration
  • Harley had also planned a plain interior, until his daughter married George Rodney, son of Admiral Rodney who was a famous seaman of his age
  • The Admiral was beset by financial problems and in a letter to his son, he tells him to visit the (very wealthy) Thomas Harley "and if your heart is touched by either of his Daughters, indulge the Flame"
  • Luckily, George's heart was indeed touched and he did indeed indulge the flame, marrying Anne Harley
  • The Rodneys moved in to Berrington, with Thomas eventually bequeathing it to his grandson, the 3rd Lord Rodney
  • It then passed sideways through the family until the 7th Lord Rodney, who ran up gambling debts and had to sell the contents and eventually the estate in 1901

Berrington Drawing Room

The Cawleys
  • Frederick Cawley was also a rich man - he owned the patent for a black dye, which became very lucrative in 1901 when Queen Victoria died and the world went into mourning in black crepe
  • He bought Berrington as a country retreat and installed electricity and other mod cons, while also replacing ugly Victorian fixtures
  • The Cawleys lost three of their four sons in the First World War
  • Robert Cawley, the surviving son, lost one of his sons in World War II, when Berrington had been requisitioned as a convalescent hospital
  • It was handed to the National Trust in 1954

Berrington stairway hall

But of course there is one area where I am always happy to see improvements, and that is the area of SCONES. I didn't have high hopes for the Berrington scone - it looked a bit ordinary and underwhelming (a bit like Fanny Price). But it was absolutely delicious - fresh and tasty. First 5 out of 5 of the year! Hurray!

Berrington scone
I just noticed Capability Brown photobombing my scone picture -
he had to get his face in somehow. 

I'll end by sharing this link. It lists all of the properties connected to Capability Brown. There are 240 of them!!! I'm surprised there was anything left for Repton to improve for his 5 guineas a day.

Berrington Hall: 4 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Ubiquitousness of Capability Brown: 5 out of 5

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