Last Wednesday the power was out on Sheinton Street (the electricity men were in our end of town, trimming off tree branches that were impinging on the lines). A day out was called for. So we set off for unknown territory, over the county boundary into Hereford. Lower Brockhampton Manor near Bromyard was the destination, a 600-year old farmhouse on the Brockhampton Estate, one of the National Trust’s many properties, and the kind of place where the provision of coffee and cake could be guaranteed.
The Brockhampton Estate is an ancient manor, first documented in 1166 when some worthy called Bernardus lived here. No one knows where, though his house may well have been under the surviving farmhouse at Lower Brockhampton, it being a human habit to re-use a good spot once one has been found.
The earliest part of the house you can see to today is the great hall (in the next three photos), built around 1425 by the Dumbleton family.(A name to almost conjure with for Harry Potter fans). And if you want to know what else was going on around this time well, England’s Hundred Years War with France was still on, Jean of Arc was about to defeat the English at Orléans; Chinese imperial admiral Zheng He was on course for East Africa with his treasure ship fleet of 300 ships and 30,000 crew, and in London some essential repairs were being carried out on London Bridge including building a new drawbridge to facilitate the passage of shipping to the upper reaches of the Thames.
The house was remodelled during Tudor times, a false floor added to the great hall (above) to provide bedrooms for children and thus privacy for their parents, the need for which being something of a new-fangled notion.
The gatehouse was also added in Tudor times (c. 1545 and so around the time of Henry VIII’s death and the accession of his son Edward VI). The family was clearly going up in the world and wished to show it. I think it is a star piece of historic architecture. Here’s another view – from the window of the great hall (through murky old glass):
In succeeding centuries the owners of the estate became very grand and built themselves the usual big pile, on a hill a mile and half away from the farmhouse. After the National Trust took over the estate, they wisely decided they had enough stately homes on view to the public, and so leased the more recent estate properties for private occupation, and concentrated instead on the Lower Brockhampton farmhouse.
To my mind the farmhouse, and its 600 years of associated agricultural history, is far more interesting and historically important. Well done National Trust.
BUT THEN they would not have been able to do this were it not for a piece of most enlightened Victorian forethought. In 1871 the owner of the estate, one John Habington Lutley, commissioned, John Chessell Buckler, a top architect of the day, to restore the crumbling farmhouse. The two men recognised that too much of England’s historic vernacular architecture was being needlessly destroyed because people did not think it could be repaired. They wanted to debunk this notion. So hats off to those two gentlemen.
Once the house was restored, it and its farm fields, continued to be let to tenant farmers. One of the rooms in the house is set in the 1950s, marking the tenancy of Marian and Valentine Freegard who arrived on the farm with their five children in 1952. On their 115 acres they kept a small milking herd of Shorthorn cattle and reared sheep. They also maintained the existing apple and damson orchards. Valentine had a new Land Rover, a tractor and one working horse called Old George. They sold their milk at the village shop for 2 pence a pint. The next photo could be a scene from my childhood, the Cheshire farmhouses I remember visiting.
The Freegard children apparently amused themselves by rowing about on the moat in an old tin bath. And in case you’re wondering, moated farmhouses were a common feature of the English countryside from before 1200 and into the Tudor period. A moat could of course be defensive, but it is more likely to have been a demonstration of status.
Of course one of the cheeriest parts of any farmhouse is the kitchen, and Lower Brockhampton’s is no exception. Unfortunately it was not providing the requisite coffee and cake that had spurred us from home in the first place. For that we had to hike back across the park, through the damson orchard, over a shorn wheat field, past cows, into a wood and up a big hill to the Apple Store Cafe where we had left the car. (There was alternative parking and snack bar nearer the farmhouse, but we thought we needed a walk).
All in all, the Brockhampton Estate is a marvellous resource. Quite apart from the farmhouse, there are several walking trails through 1,700 acres of stunning park- and woodland. And yes, I know you have to pay to go in, or become a National Trust member, but if it weren’t for the NT, whole swathes of Great Britain’s landscape would have been lost forever, and this includes our magnificent coastal paths which are freely accessible. Better still, they are using the great estates in their care, to pioneer all sorts of environmentally friendly technologies. It’s also good to see that when it comes to family days out, NT properties are increasingly destinations of choice. There is much emphasis on outdoor pursuits and learning about both natural and man-made landscapes; activities where children, grownups and dogs can have plenty of fun exercise, and maybe learn a few important things too.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell