Herefordshire People: Guided Tour of Berrington Hall and Croft Castle

PUBLISHED: 16:12 09 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:12 20 February 2013

Henry Holland ensured servants were neither seen nor heard when he designed Berrington Hall

Henry Holland ensured servants were neither seen nor heard when he designed Berrington Hall

Jo Mason of the National Trust West Midlands takes us on a guided tour of the stately homes where visitors can touch the past.

Jo Mason of the National Trust West Midlands takes us on a guided tour of the stately homes where visitors can touch the past.

Sinister secrets, marriage, death and divorce are just some of the stories being brought to life at two of Herefordshire's top tourist attractions. Berrington Hall and Croft Castle are changing the public's perceptions of a typical historic house tour. Now visitors can experience the atmosphere of the past recreated with sound bites, music and items that can be touched, played or read.

Barriers have been taken down in selected rooms as the National Trust attempts to move away from its 'look but don't touch' approach. Berrington Hall is a feast for the senses as visitors discover and experience life both above and below stairs. The mellow brick Henry Holland house contains beautiful interiors complete with French Regency furniture, fine tapestries and exquisite painted ceilings by Biagio Rebecca.

However, Holland's work did not stop there, he carefully designed a series of below stairs passages which ensured that servants could go about their daily tasks unseen by the family and their guests. The delicate elegance of the upstairs quarters is a remarkable contrast to the humble plainness of these servants' quarters, which are now open to the public for the first time with a new extended route along the back stairs.

Along the stairwell are images showing the grandeur of the rooms beyond the hidden corridors emphasising the stark difference in lifestyles. By opening up the back stairs, visitors can imagine what it was like for the maids scurrying about behind the scenes. Beneath the house, the Butler's Bedroom is open to the public for the first time. It is a dimly lit, simply furnished room with personal possessions neatly kept. There is a glowing fire, a discarded pair of spectacles and a cup of tea, giving the sense that he has just stepped out of the room. Here visitors can find out about the sad story of a Berrington butler, William Kemp. The Butler's Pantry, Victorian Laundry, Georgian Dairy and Stables are also open, giving a further insight into servant life.

In the main house, the Corner Bedroom and Dressing Room are now dressed for the 1891 celebration when Berrington's then owners, Lord and Lady Rodney, returned from their honeymoon. Visitors are invited to imagine the young Lady Rodney rushing to get changed to meet the tenants cheering outside the windows. They also see her wedding dress, read that day's newspaper and view the photographs. In Lady Rodney's Bedroom, visitors can sit down at her dressing table and smell her perfumes as well as read letters and postcards and discover what happened to the marriage. Property Manager Tina Salter, says: "Berrington has always been full of interesting people with fascinating stories to tell, so we are delighted to be able to do so in an innovative and engaging way."

At nearby Croft Castle and Parkland, visitors can experience 2,500 years of history in one visit. From the Iron Age hill fort at Croft Ambrey to the 17th century castellated manor house, the history of the Croft family is brought to life. New menu cards help visitors to enjoy and understand the key moments in history, the exciting stories and the fascinating facts that make Croft such a compelling place.

Inside, the castle is presented as it would have appeared in the 18th century when it was redecorated to reflect the popular Gothic style, with many fine ceilings, paintings and furniture. In the Saloon, the scene is set in 1777, prior to an evening party. Visitors can sit down in front of the fireplace to chat, play whist or read some poetry or a novel. There is also the chance to discover how to flirt with a fan and to learn a country dance. In the Ambassador's Room it is 1818 and visitors learn of the sad news of the death of Sir Richard Croft, whose family still live at the castle and gave it their name.

Newspapers of the time reveal how his, and two other deaths, changed the course of British history forever. The room is presented with a restful and respectful atmosphere to reflect the sense of loss. Visitors can pick up a condolence card which explains the tragic circumstances and also leave a comment on the writing slope using a quill pen. Property Manager Ian Grafton says: "Allowing visitors to interact with items in these two rooms really brings the stories we want to tell to life. "We hope our visitors are impressed with the transformation we have made and the atmosphere created."

Curator Lucy Armstrong, who has led both projects, says: "We have incorporated these new features to let people see certain rooms in a new and different way with furniture they can sit on, things they can pick up, books they can read, smells and sounds. "It's about visitors being able to look at the rooms we've chosen from a new angle and for them to get a real sense of the atmosphere of that period."

Berrington Hall, near Leominster, is open Saturdays to Wednesdays until until November 1 and then weekends until December 20. Croft Castle and Parkland, Yarpole, near Leominster, seven days a week in August; Wednesdays to Sundays until November 1 and then weekends until December 20. The parkland is open all year round. For further details

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