Sur­vival Skills

Victorian Homes - - Contents - By Susie Kear­ley

This beau­ti­ful es­tate is a sur­vivor of the Welsh Revolt, the Wars of the Roses and both World Wars.


Croft Cas­tle is A stately Home in the HEART of Here­ford­shire, ENG­LAND. The es­tate has a fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory: it belonged to the Croft fam­ily in the 11th cen­tury, was sold in the 18th cen­tury and re­pur­chased in the 20th cen­tury.

A for­ti­fied manor was con­structed on the park­land in the 14th cen­tury, which sur­vived the Welsh Revolt and the Wars of the Roses. In 1553, Sir James Croft was im­pli­cated in an at­tempt to over­throw Queen Mary of Eng­land and Ire­land. Im­pris­oned in the Tower of London, he re­fused to im­pli­cate Princess El­iz­a­beth in the plot. When El­iz­a­beth be­came queen, she re­mem­bered his loy­alty and gave him new es­tates in Here­ford­shire and Kent. He de­mol­ished the old manor at Croft, built Croft Cas­tle and served as the mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for Hert­ford­shire from 1563 un­til his death in 1590.

His son Ed­ward lost the fam­ily for­tune, but Ed­ward’s son, Herbert, re­stored their wealth by ‘mar­ry­ing well.’ Dur­ing the English Civil War, Herbert’s son, William, joined the Roy­al­ist army. Dis­grun­tled Ir­ish merce­nar­ies ran­sacked Croft Cas­tle af­ter they had been em­ployed by the army, but not paid. The Roy­al­ists then dis­man­tled Croft Cas­tle to pre­vent Par­lia­men­tar­ian troops from tak­ing over, but William was shot and died af­ter los­ing a bat­tle at nearby Stoke­say Cas­tle.

Herbert Croft, William’s youngest brother, in­her­ited the es­tate with the cas­tle in ru­ins. Yet he was de­ter­mined not to leave it this way. A Church of Eng­land bishop, he slowly re­built Croft Cas­tle, us­ing money from his an­nual £800 salary. The fam­ily’s ded­i­ca­tion to Croft lasted cen­turies, but when the South Sea Bub­ble burst in 1720, Herbert’s grand­son, a politi­cian and spec­u­la­tor, got into fi­nan­cial trou­ble and had to sell the Croft es­tate in 1746.

The new owner, a busi­ness­man named Richard Knight, pur­chased the prop­erty for his daugh­ter El­iz­a­beth and her hus­band, Thomas Johnes. A fash­ion­able gen­tle­man, Johnes loved to en­ter­tain on a grand scale. He re­dec­o­rated the cas­tle in the 1760s in a Ro­coco-gothic style, com­mis­sion­ing ar­chi­tect Thomas Pritchard to do most of the work.

The cou­ple’s old­est son, Thomas Johnes II, dreamed of cre­at­ing a pic­turesque land­scape in a wild and re­mote part of Cardi­gan­shire, Wales. He bought land at Hafod, about 65 miles from Croft Cas­tle, planted more than six mil­lion trees and ar­ranged guided walks through val­leys and across moun­tains, at­tract­ing the in­ter­est of many well-known artists of the day, in­clud­ing J.M.W. Turner, who painted scenes of the es­tate.

There was a house at Hafod, which Johnes filled with trea­sures un­til he ran out of money in the 1780s. He then had to sell Croft Cas­tle to pay his debts, while his furious mother re­tired to London. In 1807, Hafod House and its con­tents burnt to the ground and Thomas’ only child Mari­amne, died in the flames.

The new owner of Croft Cas­tle was Som­er­set Davies, busi­ness­man and MP. In 1913, his ten­ant, Ma­jor Ather­ley, mod­ern­ized the cas­tle. The Crofts fi­nally re­turned to Croft Cas­tle in 1923, when trustees for young James Croft, whose fa­ther had been killed in the first World War, de­cided to buy back the fam­ily es­tate. They de­mol­ished the ser­vice wing in 1937, but in 1941 James was also killed at war.

Sir Henry Page Croft, his cousin, in­her­ited the es­tate and dur­ing WWII the cas­tle was oc­cu­pied by a con­vent school. In 1946, Henry re­vived the prop­erty and fixed the roof. Un­for­tu­nately, he died be­fore he could com­plete the job. His son, Michael, faced crip­pling death du­ties, so he sold the es­tate to his cousin, Owen, whose wife couldn’t af­ford the up­keep when he also died in 1956.

Her­itage or­ga­ni­za­tions stepped in to help and, to­gether, they saved the prop­erty, even­tu­ally rais­ing funds to res­cue and re­store the es­tate, which is now man­aged by the Na­tional Trust, in­hab­ited by the cur­rent Lord and Lady Croft and open to the pub­lic.


Although it has an El­iz­a­bethan ap­pear­ance, this room was ac­tu­ally cre­ated in the mid-18th cen­tury to com­ple­ment the Gothic stair­case. The 17th cen­tury pan­el­ing and stone in­glenook fire­place were in­stalled in 1923. The oak fur­ni­ture dates from the 17th cen­tury, in­clud­ing a court cup­board that dis­plays table­ware and serves food.

Dur­ing WWII, the cas­tle was oc­cu­pied by a con­vent school.


In the 1760s, Thomas Pritchard re­mod­eled this room in a Goth­icRo­coco style. It was the din­ing par­lor un­til 1913, when the white painted pan­el­ing was stripped back to re­veal bare wood—the height of fash­ion at the time. The plas­ter­work on the ceil­ing is also a Pritchard de­sign.


In the 1760s, Thomas Johnes I brought the Ja­cobean pan­el­ing from Stan­age Park. Pritchard painted the pan­el­ing blue and added gilt rosettes with shad­ows for a three-di­men­sional ef­fect. Pritchard may have also been re­spon­si­ble for the dec­o­ra­tive ceil­ing. The over­man­tel is the most or­nate chim­ney­p­iece in the cas­tle and por­trays carved mu­si­cal in­stru­ments in lime wood. These carv­ings were orig­i­nally in the oak room, but moved to the blue room in 1913. The por­trait by Thomas Gains­bor­ough (1761) de­picts El­iz­a­beth Cow­per, known as Lady Croft. She mar­ried Sir Archer Croft.

Croft Cas­tle is con­sid­ered an im­por­tant early ex­am­ple of medieval re­vival ar­chi­tec­ture.

The din­ing room is set to ac­com­mo­date guests of the Hunt Ball in 1930. Rather than every­one be­ing seated around a long ta­ble, three smaller ta­bles were used.


This room was for re­lax­ation, entertainment and mu­si­cal per­for­mances. Early 18th cen­tury pan­el­ing and fam­ily por­traits line the walls. Pritchard de­signed the fancy door frames in the 1760s, which were placed in a dress­ing room and moved to the sa­loon in 1913. Pritchard also de­signed the plas­ter­work ceil­ing. The Dutch oys­ter ve­neer cabi­net dates to the early 18th cen­tury.


The li­brary houses book­cases from the 1760s and a col­lec­tion of books writ­ten by, and about, the Crofts. Rare books in­clude an 1801 book on mid­wifery, and there are books on ar­chi­tec­ture and land­scape gar­den­ing, re­flect­ing the in­ter­ests of Thomas Johnes II of Hafod.


The din­ing room was orig­i­nally the west hall. In 1913, it be­came a mid-18th cen­tury style din­ing room, where the in­hab­i­tants en­ter­tained and served food to guests at par­ties and for­mal func­tions. Some of Pritchard’s dec­o­ra­tive carved pieces de­pict­ing vases of flow­ers trail­ing down the walls were taken from the li­brary and in­stalled over the fire­place and the side­board in this room.


This stair­case is the best sur­viv­ing ex­am­ple of Thomas Pritchard’s gothic ar­chi­tec­ture at Croft. He cre­ated the arches, freeze, ceil­ing art­work and stair­case. The dec­o­ra­tive ef­fects were cov­ered in the 19th cen­tury and un­veiled in the 1970s, when the plas­ter­work, walls and ceil­ing were re­stored to their orig­i­nal color scheme and grandeur.


This draw­ing room was used for mu­sic and dance, and is named af­ter the Aus­trian am­bas­sador who stayed at Croft some­time around 1900, but never turned up. Ed­ward Croft-mur­ray chose the wall­pa­per, which was a copy of an early 18th cen­tury pat­tern. He also de­cided on the paint­work of the book­cases.


The paint­ings and etch­ings on the east stair­case de­pict lo­cal land­scapes, peo­ple and places. There are wa­ter­color paint­ings of Cwm Elan be­side the stairs, show­ing the val­ley that later cre­ated the reser­voir and now pro­vides wa­ter to the West Mid­lands.

In 1913, his ten­ant, Ma­jor Ather­ley, mod­ern­ized the cas­tle.



op­po­site. Wal­ter Sarel, who im­ple­mented the changes to this room in 1913, in­serted Vene­tian win­dows and columns, cre­at­ing a sep­a­rate space from where the food would be served. The Cum­ber­land din­ing ta­ble is 19th cen­tury and the chairs are Chip­pen­dale...

OP­PO­SITE, TOP. In this photo, the room is sparsely fur­nished for a con­cert. The Broad­wood grand pi­ano dates to the early 19th cen­tury. The Re­gency chairs date to 1805 and have Greek Re­vival style. OP­PO­SITE, BOT­TOM. The cham­ber or­gan was built in 1786 by

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