The history of the House at Croome
The principal building at Croome was the home of the Coventry family since the 16th century, though the building in its current form was started in 1751. Discover the history of this unique building.
The House at Croome
The 6th Earl set about transforming the original red brick, 17th-century house of his ancestors, but he didn’t knock it down, perhaps for reasons of economy or sentiment. Instead, he used it as a template, altering and refacing it in the Palladian style, using the old foundations and keeping some of the walls that form the central spine of the house. That is why, unlike many other Palladian mansions, the House at Croome does not occupy a commanding position up on high ground, such as where the church now stands.
Brown added new turreted wings at each end and a magnificent Palladian portico was built on the southern side. Traces of the original building can still be seen inside and the chimneystacks from the older building are visible above the roof.
The Red Wing
The service wing, dubbed the 'Red Wing’, because it was made of red brick, is on the east side of the House. It was designed and built by ‘Capability’ Brown as part of the development of Croome for the 6th Earl of Coventry in the 1750s and housed some of the servant’s quarters, the kitchen and offices.
Saint Joseph's Roman Catholic School
In 1948, the Croome Estate Trust had to sell the House, along with almost all its original furniture and fittings. The 10th Earl had been killed on the retreat to Dunkirk in 1940 and with maintenance costs rising and agriculture depressed, the upkeep of the House could no longer be supported by the great estate surrounding it.
It was sold by the Croome Estate trustees to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham. It was fitted out as a boarding school for boys and had about 140 pupils from all over the country. The school occupied the whole of the court, the Red Wing and the stable block, with classrooms, dormitories and chapel. Pershore Lodge (also known as London Lodge), near the main entrance to the House, was also used to house nuns who taught at the school.
The Long Gallery in the House served as the school’s refectory with food brought up from a kitchen in the basement by means of a ‘dumb-waiter’. When the nuns weren't looking, some of the boys used the dumb waiter as a lift to the ground floor with contraband biscuits. The boys used the field on the north side of the court as their sports ground, storing their outdoor shoes in purpose-built wooden racks in the basement.
The school continued at Croome until July 1979, when operations were combined with nearby Besford Court, where older boys were taught. A small exhibition telling the story of the school is on display on the first floor.
The Hare Krishna movement at Croome
By 1979 many more people were joining the Hare Khrishna movement. As a result, their existing premises at Bhaktiveclanta Manor near Watford, bought for them by Beatles’ guitarist George Harrison, became too crowded.
The House, including a chapel, a stable and two walled gardens, was found, bought and quickly became the British headquarters of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) and was renamed Chaitanya College after the 16th century Hindu saint.
ISKCON member Sri Pati Das had looked at several stately homes as possible locations. When he came to Croome he watched a group of swans, seen as a bird of good omen, fly down and land on the river and he knew that Croome was the right house.
The chapel was soon turned into a temple room, a printing press was moved to the site and a novice training programme, and a school were established. In the Red Wing, the devotees installed a television editing studio, with sand bags in the ceiling to provide soundproofing. There was a primary school for the children of the devotees and Croome became a worldwide centre for the training of students in Krishna consciousness.
About 150 devotees lived on the premises at Croome including monks, nuns and some married couples.
From 1982, a split in the movement and consequent lack of manpower meant that the college was becoming too expensive to maintain and, in June 1984, the movement withdrew from the property.
Other buildings at Croome
Grade II* listed Dunstall Castle was designed by Robert Adam in 1766. Adam deliberately designed it as a whimsical folly with elements of both a castle and a church. Inside the central tower, a steep spiral staircase leads to a platform with views to the 'Capability' Brown designed landscape, Croome Court and the surrounding countryside.
The Grade I listed Panorama Tower was designed by James Wyatt in 1801 and was based on an earlier design by Robert Adam for a similar building in 1760s. The building is made of Bath stone and was modelled on Tempietto Romano in Rome, which was designed by Donato Bramante.
Designed by James Wyatt in 1801, Pirton Castle is located on a ridge called Rabbit Bank. It was designed to be viewed from the park at Croome and was deliberately built as a ruin to make the 6th Earl of Coventry’s estate seem much older than it actually was.
Designed by Robert Adam in 1766 and has been known locally as The Owl's Nest, as it used to be a home to a barn owl. This Grade II listed building, which overlooks the parkland and has fantastic views to the court along the river, was restored in 2007.
Lancelot 'Capability' Brown designed the Rotunda, which was built between 1754 and 1757 as a comfortable relaxing 'garden room'. The interior plasterwork was created by Francesco Vassali, who also did a lot of the work inside the house.
Read about Croome's eclectic history, as a home to the 6th Earl and the Coventry family, its time as RAF Defford's airbase, a school for boys, Hare Krishna centre, and the people that helped shape it.
Croome was 'Capability' Brown's first commission. Not only did he re-design the whole landscape but also remodelled Croome Court.
Discover our current exhibitions, Marcus Coates: Conference for the Birds, 'Thomas Bewick: Looking Closely', and 'Threads: My Happy Place' as well as beautiful interiors, contemporary exhibitions and innovative installations.
Discover the major conservation work we’ve undertaken at Croome Court, as part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project to protect the house from further deterioration.
Learn about people from the past, discover remarkable works of art and brush up on your knowledge of architecture and gardens.
From landscape gardeners to LGBTQ+ campaigners and suffragettes to famous writers, many people have had their impact on the places we care for. Discover their stories and the lasting legacies they’ve left behind.