Sitting cross-legged on the floor in a converted barn, Alison, a five year old with a Dutch-cut hair style, explained about her dog named Pig. The black lab lounged next to her chewing on a stone. “He doesn’t have any pockets, you see, so he must keep his stone in his mouth.”
This charming tyke seemed to be part of the package for people like us who rent a flat on the upper floor of a barn, named Cork and Bottle Barn. With leaded lights and exposed beams, this beautifully converted accommodation was furnished like a true English country house with antique furniture and chintz. This treasure had been booked from here in Canada and was chosen from a brochure that extolled the virtues of this peaceful location west of Hereford, with one wall almost in Wales, very near to Hay-on-Wye, the home of so many shops that sell second-hand books.
A recent article in the National Trust magazine, which we receive four times a year, featured an article on Croft Castle which is nine miles southwest of Ludlow, so very near our rural digs. This extraordinary property has been in the Croft family since the 11th century and was most recently owned by the late Lord Croft—Michael Croft who was the Honourary Keeper of Contemporary Art at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. That connection means that Croft Castle has long been known for its fine collection of contemporary paintings and sculpture.
But fortunes change over the years, and the house and grounds have now been taken over by the National Trust which not only maintains this gem but also sponsors and encourages research into its hidden history. In 1641 Edward, Duke of York, took it as a sign that the Holy Trinity would protect him from Jasper Tudor’s army when they clashed at Mortimer’s Cross in one of the bloodiest battles of the War of the Roses. More than three thousand were butchered in that clash and Edward was crowned King one month later. A decisive victory, to be sure.
The site of this butchery was less than two miles away from Croft Castle on land belonging to Richard Croft who had backed the future King. The present Croft Castle is built on foundations that saw that bloody episode but there are few records that go back before 1700 that deal with its history. Now scholarship suggests that there may have been prehistoric farmsteads around the Iron Age hill-fort of Croft Ambrey. There is also evidence of elaborate 17th and 18th century gardens as well as traces of a network of Georgian carriage ways that twist and turn across each other, made apparently for dandies to race around.
The research continues, and the National Trust even is open to recruits who are willing to work under supervision. A note in the Trust’s magazine invites people to get more involved with archeology through the Trust’s Working Holidays. Interested amateurs might also find the Council for Archaeology helpful. As well as running the Young Archaeologists Club for 9 to 16 year olds, this outstanding organization also presents two Archaeology Days each year at various sites.
A recent notice from Sotheby’s New Bond Street tells of the excitement as antique furniture from Croft Castle went under the hammer. In due course the massive art collection will also be sold by Sotheby’s. In a way, these sales are a sad ending to one family’s connection to a piece of history, but fortunately this castle will be lovingly cared for by the Trust and will continue to live for the benefit of the public.