Croome, a National Trust house and parkland in south Worcestershire, was the first large-scale commission of Lancelot "Capability" Brown. His patron, the sixth Earl of Coventry, wanted his newly inherited house and estate redesigned to reflect his refined taste.
Brown created a "natural" landscape, complete with flowering shrubberies, temples and follies to add interest, carriage drives and a hand-dug 1¾-mile serpentine river and lake. The planting was extensive and by the early 19th century Croome was described as "second only to Kew Gardens".
Croome fell on hard times in the 1940s after the tenth Earl was killed in World War Two. With the financial depression and increasing estate maintenance costs, the Coventrys were forced to sell. The parkland was neglected to the point of near ruin.
The National Trust acquired the parkland in 1996 and set about restoring it to its 18th century splendour. To date, external grants of more than £8m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Natural England, English Heritage and other partners have helped to transform the parkland.
When the National Trust began work, the river and lake were silted up and clogged with vegetation, its temples ravaged by brambles and statues left in disrepair or smashed into fragments. The secretive shrubberies had become overgrown and the pasture ploughed under an intensive arable regime. Many features, like the 18th century Chinese bridge, had been completely lost.
The restoration has taken nearly 20 years and has been a labour of love for the team at Croome. Follies and temples have been cleaned and repaired, statues restored, the lake and river dredged, tens of thousands of trees and shrubs replanted in their original positions, shrubberies reinstated and arable land reverted to meadow and pasture.
Most recently, the lost Chinese bridge has been reconstructed over the river, thanks to £230,000 from Monument 85 and Croome Court Appeal Committee. A staggering amount of research was used to reinstate this significant feature that has completely changed and improved the whole site by its presence.
The restoration work is still ongoing. The next project on the list is to restore the lost boathouse and reinstate boating on the lake and river — a leisure pursuit lost in the early part of the 20th century that would bring another new lease of life into the estate.
SEE ALL CUSTODIAN AWARDS 2017 WINNERS