How Croft Castle avoided the fate of other historic country estates in the 1950s

The exterior of Croft Castle in autumn

It is 1957. The National Trust have just acquired Croft Castle and 1500 acres of parkland. Just over sixty years on, we're still caring for this special place, with the continued help of our supporters. But Croft's future could have been very different...

The 1950s was a precarious decade for the owners of historic country estates. Crippling death duties and the increasing cost of upkeep meant that many were sold or pulled down. Seventeen were demolished in Herefordshire during the twentieth-century, including Garnstone near Weobley, Eywood at Titley and Foxley at Mansell Lacy. Croft could easily have been the eighteenth, but its future turned out to be very different.

In 1957, an insurance company wanted to buy the land at Croft, without the castle, and had marked all of the trees along the entrance drive with crosses for felling. The family were adamant that Croft would escape the fate of other country estates and began negotiations with the National Trust.

The trees along the entrance drive were once in danger of felling.
A classic car on the way up the entrance drive at Croft Castle in Herefordshire

The Croft family approached negotiations with 'energy' and 'enterprise' and it soon became clear that the castle and parkland could be saved. The Trust made it clear that they wanted to see the castle preserved as a 'living country house' and this is very much the same atmosphere visitors will encounter today. The Croft family still occupy apartments in the castle, which is why you won't be able to see all of the rooms.

" We want to see the Castle preserved as a living country house..."
- National Trust Secretary, 1957

However, when Croft first opened to the public in 1960, the visitor experience was very different. The house and gardens opened at 2pm, leaving enough time for the family's lunch parties in the Dining Room. What is now the Carpenter's tea-room was used as a base for the shoot, there was no access to the first floor of the castle and visitors used to drive up to the front of the house to park their cars, as there were so few of them.

The Dining Room at Croft, where the family had lunch parties during the late-1950s
A table set for dinner in the 1930s dining room at Croft Castle and Parkland in Herefordshire

We had calculated on getting 500 visitors to Croft in 1957. During 2017, we exceeded 100,000. Everyone who visits, buys a cup of tea, donates and supports us, helps to conserve Croft for future generations. The long list of vital conservation work is as pressing today as it was in 1957. Sixty years ago, we calculated on needing £1,900 per year for the running costs of the castle, employing a caretaker and two estate men to look after the grounds. This is a dramatically smaller team than the one that lives and works at Croft today.

The Saloon at Croft Castle, where the family used to hold music concerts during the 1950s
The 1920s Saloon at Croft Castle and Parkland in Herefordshire

The 1950s and 60s were lively decades for the Croft family, with lots of people coming to stay, concerts in the Saloon and on the front lawn, dances, balls, and exhibitions of family art work in the cellar. Croft has changed dramatically since 1957, but the spirit of the place remains the same.

We brought to life Croft during the 1950s throughout 2017, but you can still dress up and play 1950s games in the Family Room this year and learn more about how the Croft family fought to save the castle with archive material in the Library.