Part 4: the conduit
Mrs D. has been in touch again and is clearly unhappy. She explains that she had hoped to tour the whole of Worcestershire in three days, and wonders if I could offer her Croome in 40 minutes. This leaves me in something of a quandary – as it is, in two of my three days I have still only covered half the park, with the Dairy and the Menagerie still to come – let alone Croome Perry Wood. Her request however has put me onto another tack, and I wonder instead how one might impose the worn-out idea of a Capability Brown design onto the Croome landscape. The received idea, that is, which is bound to include a big house in the middle of a park, with a pleasure ground running out to one side, a walled garden at an inconvenient distance from the house, lakes that look like rivers, deer, ranges and folds of grassland, beautifully smoothed and studded with occasional follies, mostly neo-classical, perfectly placed so as to enhance the topography, long, sinuous lines and serpentines, clumps, surrounding and enclosing belts – you get the picture.
So to fit this onto Croome you’d have to kick off by ignoring the Pirton and Red Deer Parks, and pretty well the whole of the landscape beyond the road (‘Brown’ landscapes only have a park around the house), in other words you’d stick to the bit of the landscape that the National Trust owns; you’d have to overlook the fact that the pleasure ground does not really connect up (the London Approach cuts through it and leaves a gap of over 300 metres between the walled garden and the church), and that when you get to the main part it acts as a belt which seem to cut the park in half; also the problem that the walled garden is actually right next to the house. You’re not going to have that much luck either with the lake (evidently a lake rather than a river in the pleasure ground, and no great serpentine in the New River section) or with the follies (apart from the Temple Greenhouse, the church and the Rotunda, they are too small to register in most of the views), or with the deer, come to that (confined to the south front). But the thing you’re going to have most difficulty with is the conduit.
Let’s see why. The single thing everyone knows about Brown is ha-has, and the single thing they know about ha-has is that they are a way of hiding fences so that you can see across them. That seems to work with the ha-ha on the north side of the house at Croome – let’s not worry now about why it is so far away – but the one place where you’d most expect to find it is bang in front of the house because that’s where the top view is going to be. So much for the received wisdom – but at Croome that is the one place where there isn’t a ha-ha, instead there’s this conduit, and it’s pretty clear that this carried the drive that ran from the stables out over the North Lawn, across the ha-ha on the conduit, then on to Church Field and down the drove through the pleasure ground, and so to the North Point and Pirton. Just to ram home the point then, when there were animals on Church Field and the ha-ha was in operation there must have been a gate on top of the conduit to stop the stock crossing onto the North Lawn. This means that your great view north had a gate sticking up bang in the middle of it, bang in the middle of the beautifully smoothed grassland.
Now that’s going to take some explaining away in terms that will satisfy the received wisdom on Brownian design, and if I only had 40 minutes at Croome, Mrs D., that’s the place I’d head to first, that nails it. Or you could just adopt the received wisdom, find Croome pretty boring, just like all the rest, and make for the tea-room.