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Madresfield Court

I had a very interesting and enjoyable afternoon yesterday. I’d applied to the Estates Office for an invitation to take a guided tour around Madresfield Court, the closest thing that Malvern has to a Stately Home. I was sent joining instructions, and told to be in the “playroom” in the Stable Block ten minutes before the tour started. My name was crossed off a list, and the group was given the ground rules – we’d be counted into and out of the house, accompanied everywhere by two guides to tell us about the house and contents (and also keep a close eye on us to check we weren’t light-fingered!), no photos were allowed in the house itself, and, above all, Don’t Touch Anything!

Madresfield Court is a moated manor house, with medieval origins, that has undergone several major rebuilds, first in the Tudor period, and then again in the 19th century when the Lygon family inherited some serious money and went on a major spending spree. The result is pretty much a High Victorian pastiche of an Elizabethan manor house. It’s still lived in by descendants of the original owners.

Madresfield Court

The inside was absolutely stunning. As well as spending a small fortune on extending the house, the family purchased an Earldom, and went on collecting trips all over Europe, buying up an eclectic mixture of “stuff” for the house – furniture, porcelain, paintings, stuffed animals, mismatching suits of armour (one with two left arms!), statues, books – you name it, they bought it! The entire family seem to be inveterate hoarders, and it looks like nothing has ever been thrown out – including a musket ball that injured one of the Lygon family at the battle of Waterloo! Wherever you looked, there was something of interest, and I could have spent an hour in each of the major rooms, just looking at the contents.

The 7th Earl Beauchamp was a devotee of the Arts and Crafts movement, and spent a fair chunk of his money on decorating the house in that style. One of the gatehouses was by Voysey, there are William Morris textiles all over the place, and the frescoes in the chapel are by Henry Payne. I think one of my favourite rooms was the Library, which had the Tree of Knowledge carved in low relief on the end of one of the bookcases.

There was lots of dark wooden panelling everywhere, which I remembered from my previous visit as a child, but overall it was a lot less shabby and much warmer than I had recalled. I think I must have visited at the time of the last Countess Beauchamp, and it seems that when her niece, Lady Morrison, inherited the estate she did a lot of work refurbishing the house. She has now retired to live elsewhere on the estate, and her daughter took over as the chatelaine about three years ago. Apparently, one of the first things she did was to install a new biomass boiler, with the result that the house is surprisingly warm with remarkably effective central heating. The guides were very grateful – they said that Countess Beauchamp and Lady Morrison were clearly immune to the cold, but the guides definitely weren’t!

My own private Daffodil Saturday

One of the reasons I’d chosen yesterday from the list of dates I’d been given, was that I hoped that the daffodils in the grounds would still be flowering. And indeed they were. After the tour finished, we were able to wander round the grounds on our own, but everyone else passed up the opportunity, so I had the grounds completely to myself. I hadn’t seen any advertising in the local paper about Daffodil Sunday, the annual event when the grounds are thrown open to the populace of Malvern, and the guides said that it wasn’t being held this year. It wasn’t held last year either, and they suspect that it’s one of the old traditions that the new chatelaine will just quietly drop – possibly in favour of a summer open day instead. So I had my own private Daffodil Saturday.

Overall, it was an absolutely fascinating afternoon. It’s a shame that there is such a rigmarole about visiting – but it’s still a family home, and they clearly have a very ambivalent attitude towards tourists. There is absolutely no advertising, but if you are keen enough to work out how to apply for a ticket, then they’ll take your money and show you round – but strictly on their terms. Fair enough I suppose!