Three Great Houses
Three great houses and their landscapes dominated my childhood in those late wartime and postwar austere years when petrol was severely rationed and pleasures had to be taken close to home.
And so I’m going on a journey of rediscovery to Eye Manor, the North Herefordshire rennaisance mansion where I grew up, and to those other great North Herefordshire houses, Croft Castle and Berrington Hall.
From Croft to Eye Manor, down winding green lanes, is three miles and from Eye on to Berrington one mile across the red Herefordshire earth.
Croft and Berrington are now owned by the National Trust and open to the public. Eye Manor is no longer owned by my family and, though open in my parents’ time, is now closed.
I ask myself, how did spending my youth in and around those places and their parkland affect me? In no way were these great houses splendid in those times. Rather, they were at their lowest ebb for all the hundreds of years they’d been there, there were draughty winds blowing along their historic corridors.
The past is a different country. These are the days of consume, consume, go on, you know you deserve it. Those days were of austerity and scarcity, patch up, make do, and keep it. Is your journey really necessary? asked a stern notice on our railway station.
Then I saw nothing unusual in the lives I and my sisters led, growing up in the vast cold rooms at Eye Manor. My parents and their like clung to their country house status, even though their houses were falling down around them. Traditionally, in the great country mansions, one would break the ice on one’s washbasin on cold winter’s mornings. Comfort was sacrificed for some sort of fairytale ideal to do with myth and status, half poetry; legendary, and fragile.
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