The Red Wing
When we "checked in" upon our arrival at Croome, the NT Volunteer made particular reference to the Red Wing, suggesting that we should not miss visiting that part of the house and to make further enquiries when we reached that point. So one of our first questions for Pamela, just inside the front door was, "How can we see the Red Wing?" You might recall her answer from a previous post, so when we spotted a chap in a blue shirt whilst we were in the basement, I hurried over and told him that Pamela had sent us!
The name arises from the colour of the brickwork. Unusually for a house of this kind, the household staff and related quarters were situated in this wing of the house, rather than the more usual "downstairs". This part of the house, more than any other, is in serious need of repair and I looked forward to seeing the progress.
So, we grabbed our hard hats and followed Paul up a small flight of stairs to begin our tour.
We were advised to stay close and to take care. The reason for that was clear to see in the first room we peered into!
I had no plans to disappear through those weak floorboards!
But the perils of the Red Wing were not only beneath our feet and the need for a hard hat soon became apparent.
Paul was an excellent guide and put all of the skeleton into perspective, with stories of the time when the building housed a school for boys, run by a community of Nuns. There were tales too of the Hare Krishna community who'd lived here for some time more recently. But most of all, there was the story - and long long list - of work to be done to secure the future of this part of the building.
Once more, I found myself thanking the NT for their confident decision to open up what must have been a Risk Assessor's nightmare to visitors. It's so interesting to see work in progress like this, never mind the chance to see how these old buildings were constructed. In some parts, it's a wonder the whole place is still standing!
Around every corner there is a reminder of the many challenges the builders face.
But slowly, beams are being replaced and it was good to see new structures already there, reinforcing those rotting timbers, some of which have been there since the 17th century. Paul pointed out one particular beam of that vintage, which bears evidence of reuse, suggesting that when it was put in place to begin with, it already had a history of supporting another, older construction!
We saw evidence of rather more modern inhabitants, too, including this sweater, labelled "found stuffed up a chimney". Well, I suspect that any building that small boys have inhabited will contain all kinds of surprises here and there!
One of our last stops was the former kitchen, where two enormous hearths had been used to cook the meals for both the family and the household. Like many such places, it would have been a hot and steamy place to be!
I kept my distance and held onto my hat!
I did, however, wonder, when Paul said, "let's go upstairs". What!?
But actually, (of course) it was all perfectly secure. A sturdy staircase (with handrails!) had been built to access a boarded out part of the first floor, allowing access to a part of the house with an unusual construction method. Here, the ceiling was lined with a kind of lime-set straw; a clever means of insulating the rooms in respect of both sound and temperature. I'm assuming the NT will restore that in a similar style?
Making our way downstairs again, we commented on the enormity of the task ahead and thanked Paul sincerely for what had been a highlight of our visit.
These big old houses are - and always were - money pits, with an endless succession of things to repair and restore. I'm sure one of the strategies for increasing awareness of the constant challenge is for the NT to highlight such things, reminding visitors of the need for continued support.
Another such reminder lay on a table elsewhere in the house. There were three small plastic bags and a note explaining that occasionally "bits drop off" and when they do, they are gathered in such bags and placed into a "bits box". I suppose it was quite comforting to think that similar things happen at home, but at least all the odd bits we find here and there about the house fit in the kitchen drawer. I suppose Croome needs a rather bigger box, don't you?
Finally - yes, really - I was considering a separate post about another of Croome's "special exhibitions", "Soul to Sole", which is showing in the basement rooms of the house right now. A variety of artists have represented characters from the history of the house in pairs of shoes.
It's a really imaginative exhibit and one I'd have lingered longer over, but time was pressing and as you can tell, there was so much to see here. Taking photographs proved tricky and as you can see above, there are reflections and lighting issues too. So, I'll just suggest you take a look here at a better representation and more details than I gleaned on our short whizz through!
I think that sums it up for Croome, at last. What an amazing place! Definitely one to revisit, too.