Erddig is an unusual National Trust “stately home” visit because the emphasis is not upon the “stately” but upon the ordinary working life of an estate - with particular emphasis on the role and welfare of the servants. Don’t expect portraits, elaborate furniture, lush drapes – although there are some – this is much more about the people who lived and worked here, masters, mistresses and employees alike. There are few glittering treasures “acquired” from overseas adventures – instead what you see is more homely and understated and the entire estate has the sense of authenticity from the moment you arrive.
Erddig Hall was originally constructed in the 1680s and was bought by a wealthy London lawyer, John Meller in 1716. He extended the house and in 1733 passed it on to his nephew, Simon Yorke. This began an unbroken line of ownership which lasted for nearly 250 years. Thus you have continuity of family tradition and custom which is reflected in the atmosphere of the house. The last Yorke died in 1978.
The visit begins, appropriately enough, with a servant’s workshop – the carpenter’s realm - where there is a comprehensive array of joiners’ tools.
Some belonged to Thomas Rogers who only escaped being press-ganged into the Navy during the Napoleonic Wars because the existing owner, Simon Yorke II, paid his ransom. He retired at the age of 90 in 1871.
The outlying workshops house many of the essential items that enabled the estate to function – in the Midden Yard are farm carts, the smithy, the saw mill and a carriage collection. In the Stable Yard the visitor sees stables, the tack room and a fine array of vintage bicycles and cars.
Inside the house on the ground floor you get to wander through the laundry, bakehouse, kitchen and scullery and butler’s pantry.
Below stairs was the servants’ domain and, for me, the focus of the visit, because of the clear respect and affection that the Yorkes had for their many employees over the years. On the walls of the corridor are poems designed to praise the characters, achievements and loyalty of the servants – blacksmiths, carpenters, coachmen, gardeners, nurses and cook-housekeepers – accompanied in the early days by portraits (itself very unusual) and in latter years by photographs.
This tradition began in 1793 and was carried on by successive Yorke owners, and the poetry comes across with humour and warmth. A small example is the tribute to the gardener dated November 1912:
When those who view our gardens ask
Who undertakes this arduous task
Of managing that spacious ground
And that which is within it found;
To such we joyfully confess
In him a treasure we possess,
And, tho’ but recent on the scene,
He a great power for good has been.
Documents and records of gifts by the staff to the Yorkes suggest that the feelings were generally mutual. Erddig must have been a better place to work than many such wealthy estates.
The house also has a unique collection of furniture, textiles and wallpapers and a small chapel to seat both owners and servants. However, the heart of the house seems to be in the downstairs areas rather than the more elaborate state rooms. You get the feeling that the estate owners themselves liked to be outdoors, and prized their farmland, outdoor workshops and gardens more highly than their indoor areas. And perhaps that they felt more at home with their household staff, skilled workers and craftsmen, than they did entertaining their equals.
The gardens of Erddig and the various walks around the estate are a delight. The 18th century walled garden has been fully restored and extended. There are formal areas including the Victorian Parterre, the extensive lawns, the rose garden, the avenue of pleached lime trees and the trained fruit trees. Further afield you can discover the fish pond, canal and screen and the moss walk. An unusual feature is the “cup and saucer” a cylindrical cascade, a weir, which rapidly drops the water level of the nearby stream through an internal waterfall. There are very attractive strolls through the woods and wild flower areas.
Erddig fell into decline in the mid 20th century and the last owner, Philip S Yorke, had no heir and decided to hand over the house and state to the National Trust in 1973 on the condition that nothing was to be removed from the house and that it was to be dedicated “to the enjoyment of all who may come here and see a part of our national heritage preserved for all foreseeable time”.
And, happily, this is indeed the experience of a visit to Erddig.
The address is Wrexham, LL13, 0YT, but it is recommended that you follow the brown signs from the A525 Whitchurch Road or the A483.
Route 2 from Oswestry and through Cefn Mawr ro Wrexham, Route 4 from Penycae, Route 5 from Llangollen. Stop at Felin Puleston, Rhostyllen and walk 1 mile through Erdigg Country Park.
Take a train to Wrexham Central (1.7 mile walk) or Wrexam General (1.9 mile walk). Walk on the footpath on Erddig Road.
The gardens usually open at 10.00am and the house at 12:30pm.
The visit is free to NT members
There is a café and there are facilities on site.