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Explore Croome's History

Large glass cases displaying RAF memorabilia such as flight suits and flags inside the RAF Defford Museum at Croome, Worcestershire.
The RAF Defford Museum at Croome, Worcestershire | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Family home, RAF Defford airbase, Catholic boys’ school and UK headquarters for Hare Krishna, the history of Croome is a rich and varied one. Delve into Croome's eclectic past to find out more about this captivating place and the people that helped shape it.

The Coventry family of Croome

The house and its parkland had been in the Coventry family since 1592 but it wasn’t until the 6th Earl inherited the estate that Croome was developed into the house and parkland that you can see today.

The Coventry family is most probably descended from John of Coventry, a mercer who was executor to the legendary Dick Whittington and who became Lord Mayor of London himself in 1425. The family then disappears from the record until the mid-1500s, when they emerged in Bewdley, Worcestershire. 

Thomas Coventry (born 1547) became a lawyer and a Justice in the Court of Common Pleas during the reign of King James I and was knighted in 1606. He purchased Croome D'Abitôt in 1592, having married Margaret Jeffery whose family owned the neighbouring Earls Croome.

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown at Croome

Croome, was landscape designer and architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s first large-scale commission and is often described as his 'first and favourite child'. He swept away the local village, which was in view of the house, and rebuilt it further away shrouded by tree planting. He removed Croome’s Medieval church and created a new Gothic church overlooking the park.

The old formal gardens were dug up and, in their place, Brown created natural looking parkland as far as the eye could see, complete with flowering shrubberies to walk through, temples and follies to add interest, carriage drives to ride on and a hand-dug 1¾ mile long serpentine river topped with a lake.

The Gothic church of St Mary Magdalene at Croome, Worcestershire, created by Capability Brown sits on a hill. Visitors walk up the hill across grass faded yellow by the sun. Trees line the horizon behind the church.
The Church of St. Mary Magdalene at Croome | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Croome in the 1900s

During the 19th century the 9th Earl of Coventry (born 1838), throughout his 88-year tenure, was so proud of Croome that he didn’t change any aspect of it.  

The First World War deeply affected Croome, with many local casualties, although the house was not requisitioned for the war effort. This is possibly because it was the home of the Lord Lieutenant of the County, who needed a residence for his many official engagements.

In 1921 the Croome Estate Trust was established by the 9th Earl of Coventry and the entire estate placed in the hands of the Trust. This arrangement remains in place 100 years later.

Croome’s Second World War connections

Unbeknown to many at the time, the Croome estate housed RAF Defford during the Second World War. Much of the land required for RAF Defford was requisitioned from the Earl of Coventry in 1940, with the station’s technical area being built on the eastern part of Croome park. The laying of the runways necessitated the closure of a public road and extended across Defford Common.

Various communal and domestic sites, including the Station Sick Quarters, were clustered around Croome Court to house over 2,000 service personnel and scientists who tested radar at this secret airbase to meet new enemy threats.

RAF Defford

RAF Defford became the main station in Britain for the development of airborne radar during and after the Second World War. The airfield housed the Telecommunications Flying Unit (TFU), carrying out flight trials for the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE), which had moved from Worth Matravers to Malvern in May 1942.

The experiments and developments carried out at Defford were of great historic significance, for they played a vital part in helping the Allies to win the war and paved the way for many electronic applications that we now take for granted.

The house is sold

St Joseph’s School for boys

In 1948 the Croome Estate Trust sold the Court along with 38 acres of land to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham. The mansion became St Joseph's School for boys which was run by nuns from 1950 until 1979.

Hare Krishna’s UK headquarters

In 1979 the house was taken over by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishna movement), who used it as their UK headquarters until 1984. During their tenure they repainted the Dining Room which is still decorated as it was by them.   

From 1984 onwards various owners tried to use the property as a training centre, apartments, a restaurant and conference centre, and a hotel and golf course.

Acquiring and conserving Croome

In 1996, the National Trust acquired and began restoration of the landscape park and opened it to the public. The Trust also preserved and refurbished some of the surviving RAF buildings.

In 1999 the house was purchased privately, and it once more became a family home until October 2007, when the house was purchased by the Croome Heritage Trust, a registered charity who leased the court to the National Trust for 999 years.

The house opened in September 2009, at which point six of the rooms had been conserved. That conservation continues to this day. In 2016, historical objects from the 6th Earl of Coventry’s collection were returned with some key pieces, absent from the house for over 70 years, being presented in unique ways in the house.

2016 also saw the restoration of the Ambulance Garage, once part of the secret airbase of RAF Defford. A historic Canberra aircraft nose section is inside with displays telling the story of airborne radar research at Pershore after Defford closed for flying in 1957.   

In 2017 vital bridge repairs to two listed bridges took place, with a staggering 2,000 bolts and 150 metres of timber to be replaced. The Grade II listed bridges were built in the 1790s and are early examples of wrought iron bridges. They were constructed to replace wooden bridges which had been put in during the 1750s when the lake was dug out by hand as part of ‘Capability’ Brown’s grand design for the landscape.

The people that shaped Croome – a timeline

Born 1722

George William Coventry, 6th Earl of Coventry

The second son of William, 5th Earl of Coventry, George William was born on 26 April 1722. After the unexpected death of his elder brother, Thomas Henry, George William, at the age of 28, succeeded as Earl of Coventry on the death of his father in 1751.  

The Earl married Maria Gunning, a great 18th-century beauty and socialite and they had one son George William (later to become the 7th Earl) and three daughters.  Maria died in 1760 at only 28 years of age from tuberculosis brought on through her weakened immune system ravaged by the use of the popular white lead-based makeup.  

The Earl went on to marry Barbara St. John, whom he considered his soul mate. Together they had two further sons.  

Trend setter and big spender

The 6th Earl’s aim was for Croome to be at the height of fashion and sought the first, and the best, of everything that he admired. He was widely acknowledged as a leader in the latest fashions and had the finest taste.  

During his time at Croome he carried out extensive works on Croome Court and the surrounding parkland including sweeping away formal gardens, a village and a Church. The Earl spent the equivalent of £35 million transforming Croome.  

The 6th Earl and the Countess spent 40 happy years together. When Lady Coventry died on 25 November 1800 it is said Lord Coventry lost much of his former enthusiasm for life and his interest in Croome faded visibly.  

A family with a pushchair walk in the grounds at Croome, Worcestershire. In the background Croome court can be seen.

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Find out when Croome is open, how to get here, things to see and do and more.

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