The existence of the estate in its current form goes back over 230 years to its creator Thomas Harley. But since then only two other families have owned the property; the Rodneys and the Cawleys.
Berrington was essentially created by one man, Thomas Harley, who bought the estate around 1775. He made his fortune as a banker and government contractor in London, but had long family links with Herefordshire, to which, in his mid-40s, he was keen to retire from the hurly-burly of City politics.
Harley commissioned ‘Capability’ Brown to lay out the park, which has spectacular views west towards Wales and the Black Mountains. Around 1778 he also called in Brown’s son-in-law, Henry Holland, to design him a new house in the latest French influenced Neo-classical style, using the finest London craftsman.
Harley had no male heir, but was delighted when in 1781 his daughter Anne married the son of Admiral Lord Rodney, a great navel commander.
On Harley’s death in 1804, Berrington passed to the Rodney family, who lived there for the next 95 years. Unfortunately George, the 7th Lord Rodney lost the family wealth in the late 19th century; first selling off furniture and paintings. He was finally forced to sell the house in 1901.
The house was purchased in 1901 by Frederick Cawley MP (later to become Lord Cawley), a wealthy Lancashire cotton finisher who bought a new lease of life to Berrington. He redecorated the house with considerable sympathy and many of his schemes still survive. He replaced ugly Victorian fire grates with more appropriate Georgian models but otherwise did little to disturb Holland’s beautiful original design.
It was in this cherished state that the house came to the National Trust in 1957 in part payment for death duties for the second Lord Cawley.