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 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.