Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Georgian Gem

Last week, I visited Berrington Hall, a little gem of a Georgian mansion, just north of Leominster, in Herefordshire. It’s owned by the National Trust, and had just reopened to visitors after the winter. This is the stunning gatehouse.

Berrington Hall was built around 1780 by Henry Holland and sits on a rise overlooking its park. The rise, and everything else in the park, is man-made, with shovels and wheelbarrows, during the landscaping by Capability Brown. Previously, the land was flat, according to the NT guide. The house itself, of a local sandstone which has weathered to a lovely mellow red, was originally so bright that it stood out like a beacon to the surrounding countryside. The locals, not surprisingly, complained but it didn’t change anything.

The parkland was kept mowed by groups of animals, each in a different section in order to create an artistic effect, since different animals eat the grass to a different depth. The NT guide said that the lawn nearest the house was kept mowed by specially bred white hares. Would you believe that? I couldn’t help wondering how the hares could have been confined to that one small area. Authors tend to think of practical issues, as well as romantic ones.

Photographs inside the house are not permitted, but it is possible to take them in some of the outbuildings. The stables are a Victorian remodelling of one of the buildings, but they do include a rather dishy riding habit.

And this is the dairy, which is attached to the house proper, since it was overseen by the mistress. It has a fine marble floor, very similar to the one in the entrance hall, and fully tiled walls. So it was cool and easy to clean.

Here you can see a settling pan, in which the milk would be left overnight for the cream to rise. Alongside are the tools for making butter. Churning butter was a bit of a black art. Sometimes it took ages, sometimes it was very quick. Science can explain that now. Then, there were lots of old wives’ tales, and suspicions of witchcraft, attached to it.

The poor dairymaids — who worked very hard — had a terrible reputation, too, even once ideas of witchcraft had largely faded. Because there was often water on the dairy floor, they tended to wear their skirts above their ankles. And that, of course, was a sure sign that they were loose women.




Anonymous said...

Super pictures, Joanna. What a lovely place; I must try to visit it this year. The dairy especially looks very elegant - more so than many modern conservatories!


Historical Romance Author said...

Some fascinating facts and lovely inspiring photos. I love the idea of using white hares to mow the lawn - quite deliciously decadent yet practical.
Kate Tremayne

Anonymous said...

I always wondered how they mowed lawns in those days! Now I know!

The dairy looks fabulous. And I want that riding habit! Lovely!


Jan Jones said...

Oh, I'm in love with the gatehouse. And the dairy floor. Otoh, I can't quite believe in the white hares.

Anonymous said...

Jane said...

Fabulous pictures and fascinating information. Thanks, Joanna.