Brockhampton in Herefordshire offers the Slow Traveller a glimpse into the world of the English Manor from the Middle Ages through to the 20th century – not a stately home full of ornate furniture, glided treasures and expensive art, but a small working farm with everyday objects and tools: comfortable but not at all grandiose. It’s set in a beautiful valley with stunning views, and there are walks through orchards, woodland and parkland to add to the delight of the visit.
Turning across the cattle grid on the mile-long drive downwards to the house there are some spectacular views across the valley. The first glimpse of the white-washed house and gatehouse also elicits exclamations of admiration – the contrast of the white against the surrounding green of the countryside on a sunny day is exceptionally picturesque.
There is plenty to explore.
The estate has probably been farmed since before the 12th century but the earliest artefacts – pottery fragments - that have been discovered date to the early 13th century. These were found under the tiny ruined chapel that sits alongside the house. The chapel was constructed between 1200 – 1225 but was altered in the late 14th or early 15th century with new windows added, most likely as the manor house was being built for the Domultons, the owners of the state. An archaeological dig in 2012 found evidence of the stone walls of a previous manor house, indicating that a village, probably the lost village of Studmarsh, may once have been situated here.
Entrance to the moated timber-framed manor house is by a very unusual (and slightly lopsided) two storey gatehouse. It was added probably about 1530 – 1540, not for defensive purposes but simply to demonstrate the status of the family. Some of it has been restored but the bargeboards at the back and the studded door are original. In the early 20th century the upstairs seems to have been used as storage for farm and game keeping equipment, and latterly as a chicken coop.
The National Trust took the decision to display different rooms with the furniture of different ages of the house. This is slightly confusing chronologically as the first room gives the visitor a sense of the last occupant in his study – John Lutley – who left the estate to the National Trust in 1946. The Great Hall is from medieval times and is only small, despite its name. It was initially the centre of the household for the whole family with a firepit in the centre of the room. It has a Minstrel’s Gallery and stairs leading to the bedrooms, one with a magnificent four poster, one with a modern tapestry showing images of the working life of the estate in the 18th century.
One room has the uniform that would have been issued to the estate worker, Albert Sprague, who volunteered to fight in 1915 and was killed, aged 21, in 1917. Back downstairs the kitchen shows life in 1910 and the sitting room shows the lives of tenant farmers who lived in the house in the 1950s.
In the grounds there have been strenuous and imaginative efforts over the last years to restore the traditional orchards that were once a feature of this estate. Many varieties of apple, damson, pear, plum and quince have been newly planted, and visitors are encouraged to walk among them, and in the lowland flower meadows that surround the property. Wooden play areas are being developed for children. The Hebridean sheep keep their distance, others are more curious.
You get the feeling that this has been a much loved building and estate throughout the last 600 years – and now is equally cherished by the volunteers who work there and the casual visitors who come to see it and learn something of its history.
This one is indeed a National Trust gem.
Visiting Brockhampton Estate
Address: Brockhampton Estate, Bringsty, near Bromyard, Herefordshire, WR6 5TB
Opening Times: 10am - 5pm
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