Thursday, September 13, 2018

Croome, Worcestershire

A connoisseur of views

On a couple of occasions in the past I’ve explored the grounds of Croome Court in Worcestershire, and have looked not only at a building in the park near the great house but also further out, to take in structures built as eye-catchers in the wider landscape. One of these outlying buildings that I’d not seen was the panorama tower, which was put up on the western side of the estate, in part as an eye-catcher and in part as a place from which which to admire the views. Recently I set off to find the panorama tower, an exercise that first off all meant getting over to the western side of the M5, the motorway having sliced through the old Croome estate, cutting the tower off from the house, park, and other eye-catchers. Coming out of the village of Kinnersley, I missed the place where I thought it was, and so pulled in where there was a parking space near a road junction. As soon as I got out of the car and peered over a gate I realised that I could see the tower not far away across a field – I’d reached the right place, by accident rather than design.

The tower, I saw, was round, domed, and classical in design. James Wyatt was the architect but apparently he based the tower on a drawing by Adam, so its design is earlier than the years on either side of 1810 when it was built. It’s very plain – the columns are Tuscan, the niches blank, the cornices simple, the dome shallow. Yet the overall effect is satisfying, thanks to the rhythm of the openings, the relationship between the lower section and the small domed upper storey, and the modest way in which the building occupies its elevated position, not dominating it but offering itself up and affording views eastwards towards Croome itself and westwards towards the Malverns and the Welsh hills.

The tower’s builder, the 6th Earl of Coventry, had a thing about towers and views, as many landed aristocrats did in the 18th and 19th centuries. The panorama tower beautifully complements the medieval-looking eyecatchers elsewhere in the park and also reminds us that the earl built the great Broadway Tower, miles away to the southeast on his Spring Hill estate. This is a sizeable and impressive presence on the Cotswold scarp, built to give views over thousands of square miles towards Croome and, again, far into Wales. Although much preoccupied with gardening and building, the earl must have been aware too of the beauty of Britain as a whole, and his towers – pigeonholed by some as ‘mere’ follies, both enhance that beauty and aid its appreciation.

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