Part 1: Croome church to Pirton
Mrs D. of Hampshire is proposing to tour Worcestershire with a friend and wants to know if she can get round the Croome landscape in less than three days. It’s going to be a challenge, Mrs D., and you and your friend will need good walking boots, as well as an invitation from the various owners, but it’s a challenge I’m ready to rise to because Croome is such a stunningly disturbing place. On the one hand we’ve got the testimony of Capability Brown, who worked on it ‘more than on any other’ and called Croome his ‘principal work’, and on the other his friend William Mason was disappointed (too much art to too little effect, no colour or movement in the water, very little in the way of good scenery in the surroundings). The over-riding point, it seems to me, is that you learn most by concentrating on what is unexpected in a design and Croome, which is nothing if not unexpected, manages to upset every received idea about what Brown was doing.
Right, well, let’s get cracking. I’ve sketched out a few stopping points on the attached plan and I’d have thought Point 1 would be the church. It’s by Brown, it’s close to the car park, and it’s a first dose of Croome’s capacity to disturb – a Gothick church with a neo-classical interior. Is this Brown trying to reconcile the ancient English architecture (Gothic) with Hanoverian rationalism (neo-classical)? Worth a speculation or two. Then for my Point 2 I’d head north across the road to the clumps mentioned in the Brown Advisor’s note 17, time there to talk about Brown’s ‘naturalism’, his carelessness about regular intervals, and about these successions of clumps along a ride as having the same sort of effect in breaking up a view as single trees along the walk of an avenue. Plenty there to think about.
Then you’ve got to walk on along the ride to Point 3, the North Point, It’s the sort of place where you might put up a tent and have a picnic, and it acts like a pivot around which the whole of the north side of the landscape revolves – with the big view back to the house, framed by the church – and you can ask, not for the last time, why Brown needed so many different enclosures for his parkland – from here you can see the field north of the road, the field between the pleasure ground and the road, and Church Hill itself, inside the pleasure ground belt.
It looks to me as though this is the place where the whole landscape came to a stop at one time. Then with a renewed burst of energy they carried the ride on to Pirton, but I guess they wanted to leave the North Point alone, so kinked the ride around it – disturbing enough, but explicable.
Mrs G.’s 4th point would have to be the Lime Avenue into Pirton Park: time there to think about all the places where Brown planted these short avenues, and why he did it, and what people were supposed to feel when they went down them, and why he is always assumed to have spent his time destroying avenues. It’s another disturbing idea to take in, if you happen to have fixed opinions about Brown’s likes and dislikes.
After that she’ll have to stroll round Pirton Park on Brown’s drive. We’ll make that point 5. So far as the Brown Advisor knows, this is the only drive in Brown’s entire oeuvre to be marked on one of his plans (though it is only marked in pencil), it’s worth the effort, and it will also give Mrs D. plenty of time to ask why Brown should have wanted to have these secondary parks.
There’s no reason why Mrs D. and friend shouldn’t get round that lot and back to their car in 5 hours or so. More in my next.