I’m visiting my grandmother in Worcestershire this weekend, so I decided it was probably time to post about my visit to her in February, when she took me to Berrington Hall for the afternoon. Created as “the perfect house in the perfect setting,” according to the National Trust, Berrington Hall is a Georgian house built on grounds designed by famed landscape architect Capability Brown. It’s one of the many great houses dotting the English landscape, and I have to say, I’m still not tired of visiting these places.
The National Trust decided to set up the house as it might have looked in its early days, and they’re aided in this by the 18th-century furniture filling the house. None of it is original, because as is the case so often with aristocrats, the family eventually had more debts than money, and most things were sold off. But it’s a collection from the same Georgian period, so you can get an idea of what it looked like then. What it looked like was elegant. If you’ve ever seen an Austen adaptation, then you know what to expect: clean lines, delicate colors, neoclassical geometry. I much prefer it to the overstuffed ostentation of later Victorian decorations. (For some reason, I took a lot of mediocre to bad photos from this visit, so, sorry about that.)
When my grandmother and I arrived at the estate on the last day of February, it had started to drizzle. A very eager volunteer offered to take us from the parking lot to the front door in her golf cart, stopping at the triumphal arch so we could buy our tickets and then zipping along to the main hall. My grandmother had merely brought her walking stick with her, and voila!–instant assistance. If you needed more reasons to visit your elderly relatives, how about this kind of VIP treatment?
Each room contained a volunteer docent, and all but one of those docents very much wanted to share their knowledge of the place with us. We learned about the family who built the house after making a tidy fortune, the family who married in and many years later gambled away that fortune and lost the house, and the family who bought the house and kept it until the National Trust took over in the ’50s.
The ceiling of the library had bas-reliefs of famous artists and scientists, and our docent reeled off their names and claims to fame. The dining room held a couple impressive naval paintings, and my grandmother and the docent discussed the uses of various arcane silver dishes on the massive dining table.
Upstairs, some old military uniforms were on display, and one of the rooms–which was in the shape of an oval, for some reason–focused on the sons of the house who died in the First World War. Other oddities here and there, like the Georgian need for symmetry throughout the house, which went so far as to lead to some false doors being included, just to balance out real doors on the other side of the room; or the telegram from the queen congratulating the lady of the house on reaching her hundredth birthday.
Throughout the house were mannequins displaying costumes from various BBC productions of Austen novels, including the outfits Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant were wearing when Edward finally proposes to Elinor, so that was a little thrill. My main takeaway from the costumes, other than how thin these actresses really are, is how short everyone is. Maybe Tom Cruise doesn’t look so short in his films because all of Hollywood is actually 5’5″.
After looking at the terrifying laundry room (so many heavy machines! so much hot work!), we had a nice lunch in the tea room, which used to be the servants’ dining hall. We walked past some parrots, which a couple had brought with them on their visit to the hall, sure okay, why not; we peeked in the dairy; we walked around the gardens and my grandmother pointed out plants that all looked the same to me, because I am a city-bred cretin.
Finally, we walked a bit of the grounds. There is a great view out to the Brecon Beacons from the house, and a long expanse of grass leads down to a man-made pond with woods along the back. To get to the meadow, we had to walk across a bridge that spanned the ha-ha. The what now? The ha-ha, which is the actual name given to a sort of moat construction that keeps a landscape looking unspoilt from a distance, and then as you get closer you see, “haha!” that there is a ditch and a wall separating the grounds from the main area of the house. The purpose of this was to keep the animals, who grazed around the meadow, from wandering too close to the house.
If you’re out in the western part of the Midlands, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more pleasant or representative great house than Berrington Hall.
Hail Britannia is the title I settled on for posts about the British adventures I’m having while living in London. It covers London and non-London locations alike. It has a pleasing ring to it but doesn’t, I hope, make us dwell too much on ‘Rule, Britannia,’ not least because I am neither in the Royal Navy nor pro-imperialism.