Croome, a National Trust house and parkland in south Worcestershire, was Lancelot 'Capability' Brown's first large scale commission. His patron, the 6th Earl of Coventry, wanted his newly inherited house and estate redesigned to reflect his fashionable, refined taste.
Brown created a "natural" landscape, complete with flowering shrubberies, temples and follies to add interest, carriage drives and a hand-dug 1¾ mile long serpentine river and lake. The planting carried out at Croome was extensive and by the early 19th century Croome's reputation for its botanical collections was formidable and described as "second only to Kew Gardens".
Croome fell on hard times in the 1940s after the 10th Earl was killed in WWII. With the financial depression and increasing estate maintenance costs, the Coventrys were forced to sell their home. The parkland was neglected to the point of near ruin.
In 1996 the National Trust acquired the parkland and set about restoring it to its 18th century splendour. To date, external grants of over £8million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Natural England, English Heritage and other funding partners, have helped transform the once-lost parkland.
When the National Trust began work, the river and lake were silted up and clogged with vegetation, its temples ravaged by brambles, and statues were left in disrepair or smashed into fragments. The secretive shrubberies had become overgrown and the pasture ploughed under an intensive arable regime. Many features, like the 18th century Chinese Bridge, had been completely lost.
The restoration has taken nearly 20 years and has been a labour of love for the team at Croome. Follies and temples have been cleaned, re-roofed and repaired, statues have been restored, the lake and river dredged, tens of thousands of trees and shrubs have been replanted in their original positions, shrubberies have been reinstated and arable land reverted to meadow and pasture.
Most recently, the lost Chinese Bridge has been reconstructed over the river, thanks to £230,000 from Monument 85 and Croome Court Appeal Committee. A staggering amount of research was used to reinstate this significant feature and has completely changed and improved the whole site by its presence.
The restoration work is still on-going: the next project on the list is to restore the lost Boathouse and reinstate boating on the lake and river - a leisure pursuit lost in the early 20th century which would bring another new lease of life into the estate.