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24 September 2014

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You are in: Hereford and Worcester > Places > Places Stories > Croome Court wartime memories

Croome Court

Croome Court

Croome Court wartime memories

RAF Defford was a top secret base during WW2, situated on the Croome Court estate...

Geoff Sherwood takes us back in time... to his childhood, and life below stairs at Croome Court in Worcestershire.

This was life before the Second World War; both his parents worked for the Coventry family - his mother was a maid to Lady Coventry.

The Coventry's lived at Croome Court for more than four hundred years.

6th Earl Coventry and Capability Brown

VI Earl of Coventry and Capability Brown

Landscaped gardens

In the mid 18th century, the 6th Earl commissioned Lancelot Capability Brown to landscape the gardens, which the national trust has spent ten years restoring.

Brown was also asked to design the present house.

Largest employer

Four generations of Geoff's family worked for the Coventrys, and in the massive Croome Estate archive at Worcestershire's public record office his family, the Sherwoods, are part of the history.

Jill Tovey has worked on the archive for the past 20 years, and she thinks they would have been the biggest employer for miles, covering about a quarter of the county, and giving work to hundreds of people.

The 10th Earl of Coventry was killed at Dunkirk and his family left Croome in 1948.

Michael Barnard, Albert Shorrock and Joan Gill

Michael, Albert and Joan

RAF Defford

Albert Shorrock first arrived at RAF Defford on the Croome Estate in 1942; he was an airframe fitter.

An RAF base was transferred here from the South coast, to escape the bombing.

He returned in 2008 to what were the hospital blocks, to relive those years with fellow veterans, Joan Gill and Michael Barnard.

Top secret

Back then, they needed to be quiet so the scientists could settle down to their work.

The job was the development of radar.

Joan Gill was the Commanding officer's driver, and Michael Barnard arrived later, as a 17 year old trainee pilot.

There are few photos of the piece of its history involving the veterans, as photos were largely forbidden because of the radar tests.

All they've got is their memories and, to them, the thought that their recollections will live on is a source of pride.

Hospital Block at Croome Court

Hospital Block at Croome Court


One wartime block has already been restored; it's hoped the rest will follow as part of the major restoration plan of the nearby Croome Court, which will allow the public inside this historic building for the first time.

Various owners

Once home to the Earls of Coventry, it later became a school and then a Hari Krishna commune.

After years of private ownership, the house has been bought by the Croome Heritage Trust, and the National Trust's hoping to raise millions to restore it.

last updated: 14/05/2008 at 08:17
created: 13/05/2008

Have Your Say

Tell us your memories of Croome Court

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Steve Hopkins (Sakhyaras Prema Das)
I first visited Croome Court in February 1980. It had just been purchased by The International Society for Krishna Consciousness head administration for UK. I, like many of our society, really loved the place, inspite of the many ghosts hanging out and paying untimely visits to our sleeping quarters. We transformed the old church into a beautifull temple and revamped the school with its many classrooms. I particularly liked the 'long room' which was in the west wing. We used it as a food hall and theatre too. We also set the east wing areas up as a recording and filming facility under 'Metavision'.We also had our mail order and type setting depts in the east wing. I helped run a few summer camps over there in the gorgeous grounds up near the entrance arch. I really loved the basement kitchen where many wonderful pure vegitarian feast were prepared. I cooked spaghetti once for about 40 kids... it was 'ecstatic'! Even though I'm still a 'Hare' though more hairy these days, along with many Krishna devotees of the early 80s, I still love Croome Court.

Patrick Joseph O'Hare
I was at Croome Court in about 1951. It was very strict. I remember Dave Parkes, Bertie Brown, a lad whose surname was Lawson. The nuns I remember were Sister Louise. I was known as Paddy and I was an alter Boy for a while. I moved up to Besford Court after Croome Court. I remember the Queen coming to Pershore in 1953 for her Coronation. I am 65yrs old now and have many fond memories of my time there. I did visit there about 2oyrs ago. If anyone remembers me i would love to hear from you.

ray spite
i went to school here it was a wounderful place until the hares took over the building

My name is Joseph Smart
I thing the shool was a great place, it gave me confidents in myself i was there in 1964 to 1971.with Roy Becford,gladstone white,and all the others it was fun.

just two say hello 2 all u lads and boys i`v not seen in years i wos at croome/besford roundabout 1966/1971 there was good and bad but for me i had some great times fun and memories with my mates stevie,con,lenny,dave,ant, pete,later on up at besford we called ourselves the chavies.i now live in co cork mallow ireland. i drive back and forth to europe and uk in my married 33years.4 sons danny,34.patrick,30.rory,28. luke,23. grandchildren,6 nearly 7 any reuions il be up for it.god bless all. from timmy

Pamela Wrighton
Message for Bob Wearing. Would your mother be Lilian Maud? daughter of William Ernest Clifford? His father Joseph Clifford was the Gamekeeper as his brother William Clifford (my great great grandfather) both were Gamekeepers at Croome Court. My family go back to George Clifford of Besford who was the Parish Clerk. There are some gravestones near the church dedicated to the Cliffords erected by the 9th Earl of Coventry.

michael hunter
i was at croome & later besford court, there was no corporal punishment.

matthew francis o,reilly
i was at croome in 1951 and moved on to besford and left there in 1957. loved was nice to read your letter nick name was frank.

I went to Croome after it opened as a school 1948 or 1949. I was the first alter boy to serve mass at the new church thay built while I was there. The grounds in front of the house was the sports field and football pitch. We used to play the senior school Besford Court each year. I will allways remember when we beat them 3-0. I scored a hat trick. Of course we went on to Besford at the age of 12 in thoes days. I have no bad thoughts on the school - yes we got the cane if we did wrong. Even if you had holes in your socks. The things I got up to to get out of that one. My dorm was right over the front door. The nuns were great - Sister Fleicia was a favourite. We had one nun with one leg - she lost it in the war.The back of the house was the field used for playing on in the summer evenings and play times. You only used the front on match days and sports days. That was a great day each year. I was in blue troup and got in blue troop when I moved to besford. There was a nun in the kitchen who made the best iced finger buns I have ever had. They were fresh thick and big. I have been trying to find old school friends from Croome, but no luck. I even tried friends reunited. I would love to see a round the house and the grounds again as I loved the place. Thank you Croome Court

Rob Davenport
Worth mentioning that Croome also gave its name to HMS Croome, a Hunt Class Destroyer commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1941. She served with distinction, mostly in the Mediterranean, and survived the war without serious loss or injury - a lucky ship, but scrapped in 1957.

Anne Roebuck
Defford as well as being a RAF station also had a Fleet Air Arm section(Royal Navy). My father, William Wall, was an Air Frame Fitter and Petty Officer at Defford, before being sent to Brunswick,Maine,USA, as an instuctor on Corsairs. My mother, May Shinie, was a Wren at Defford, and that is how my parents met. Dad used to go to Birmingham on a motorbike to deliver and collect packages which were soething to do with the development of radar. He got to know the back streets of Birmingham very well indeed. Various civilian "boffins" from Malvern were based at Defford. The Germans suspected that something was happening at Defford so one night they flew over and covered the airfield with foil in an attempt to disrupt whatever it was. Sadly my parents are now dead, but I know they would be happy that Croome Court was being restored. Mummie often used to talk about the kindness of Lady Coventry to the Wrens at Defford. The photograph which you showed of service personel sitting in front of a plane was of the Naval Section. Both of my parents are on it-Mummie sitting on the ground at the centre of the photograph.

Mike Hammond, Evesham
I was very interested in your article on Croome Court shown on TV two weeks ago, I am now retired, but you may be interested to know I served my apprentice ship as a decorator and worked at Croome Court when it was a boys school, and recall Mr Edwards as the caretaker (your report featured Mr L Edwards who I would assume was Mr Edwards son) many of the boys had mental problems who attended the school, and often found themselves in trouble.A few years later I was running my own decorating business, when I received a phone call one evening from one of the administrators of the Hare Krishna group at Croome Court, asking me to quote for some decorating works at the stately home. I duly visited on an appointment, and was taken to the very top of the building, and shown two bedrooms that needed decorating, I measured up, left the building and later posted my quotation off to them. I received a phone call to say my quotation was acceptable and agreed a starting date.I arrived at Croome Court in my van, loaded up with all materials to decorate two bedrooms, only to find another decorator was already involved in painting and wall papering them.I contacted the administrator (I am sure he was called Kamsa Hunta) who said he was sorry that they had given the work to somebody else, but asked me if I could apply gold leaf, I said I could. He took me into the Main Reception Room now called the Drawing Room, as you enter the building from its front doors, it is the first room on your left hand side, and I believe it was designed by Adams.The Krishna’s had done a large amount of preparation work, they had stripped down all of the panels and mouldings and rebuilt the wall and ceiling surfaces in pastel matt colours, I recall a portable scaffold tower being in the middle of the room, the administrator asked me to wait while he got a colleague into the room so that I could demonstrate my abilities too them. We lay on our backs on the scaffolding while I started applying the gold leaf to a lighting centre piece on the ceiling while the Krishna’s watched. They gave their approval to my work, and I finished up spending nearly a year working for them at Croome. In the Drawing Room I used many shoe boxes full of books of gold leaf, and I swapped my paint brushes for artist brushes to decorate and shade the vines of fruit hanging from the centre of each wall panel. My wife was beginning to think that I had been persuaded to join the Krishna’s for the time I was spending at Croome, and always coming home smelling of incense. When work was beginning to come to an end the Krishna’s held an open day, and the public was invited in, so I took the wife along to show her what I had been doing, I recall we were in the Drawing Room, I was trying to be just another tourist at the back when our guide singled me out and told all the guests that I was responsible for the work in this room, quite embarrassing for me at the time.I also decorated the Ballroom, I recall Mr Edwards saying in your presentation that his mother had decorated the ornate ceiling. I used an airless spray while on a portable scaffold, we used the spray gun to blow the dust from the ornate mouldings, and then loaded up to spray the paint, If my memory serves me correctly in took 20 gallons of emulsion just to do the ceiling.My recollection of the Hare Krishna’s while I was at Croome Court, was that they were a friendly bunch of people who got up very early in the mornings with the children being taught in their own school from very early am, and who all rested in the afternoon, in fact you could never find anybody in the afternoons. In Croome Court they bought, packaged and sold, paintings to celebrities all over the country including the Beatles.

Nick Walker
Am I not right in thinking that Croome Court was used during the 1960-61 period as the headquarters of the main contractor (A Monk & Son) for the construction of the M5 motorway? I worked for them for three months during the summer of 1960, and although I was based at a subsidiary office at High Green my memory is that the overall HQ was at Croome Court.

Pete Finch
My mother (Winnie Jones) worked at Defford Aerodrome during the war, I believe she worked in the stores area.

Peter Robb
I first started my school days in 1964 and my top teacher was Sister Ursula. She took us to the Cheltenham Races and to the Black and White Minstrel Show at the London Palladium. Our school teacher was Gabriel Nugent. We went up the Malvern Hills and he told us the story of the Welsh giant "Gargantuin", and I went inside his cave. We had two xmas pantos and I played Joseph in one. I had many school friends, there was Anthony Knight, Micky Fellows and Andrew and Nigel Norton. There was Sister Felicia and Sister Peter who worked in the kitchen. George used to work in the kitchen, he had a corgi dog called Rusty. Sister Francis Clare was our headmistress. I always have great memories of that school. After I finished school in June 1973, I came to live at CARE Villiage in Leicestershire. It would be good to have a reunion.

Helen Garfield
My husband Stuart and I are following with interest the stories about Croome Court. Back in the mid 1980's the building opened to the public for a short time as a restaurant with plans that it should become a hotel and conference centre. Those plans were never realised and the building soon closed again. We were fortunate enough to celebrate our engagement at Croome Court and have photos from Dec 1985 as memories. As it was such a special occasion we were shown round some of the rooms not open to the public at that time and had our photo taken in front of the Adam fireplace in the main ballroom. We live a few miles from Croome Court and often visit the gardens. We have often said how good it would be to see the building restored and open to the public and are thrilled that this is going ahead.

brian beards
I was with the Hare Krishna's when they bought the house and lived there for a while.

Bob Wearing
My mother, Lilian Clifford, was born in Severn Stoke in 1906. Many of her family were in service at Croome Court, and her uncle, also called Clifford as far as I am aware, was the Head? Gamekeeper on the estate - a very important man, so she said. She spent much of her childhood there, and I remember her telling me that one day she was walking with her uncle beside the drive when the Earl's coach passed, and he stopped to exchange a few words with his gamekeeper. My mother was told to curtsy deeply, and keep her eyes on the ground until the coach had pulled away. She never did see who was in it!

Eric Robinson (now retired to the Wirral)
I was a Squadron Commander at Royal Air Force Station Pershore from 1958 to 1961 and for a time I was President of the Officers Mess at Croome D'abitot. During this period I flew a variety of aircraft on Research and Development for the Royal aircraft experimental establishment at Malvern. What was secret in those days is now in common use in civil and military aircraft. It was a very interesting and often exciting time flying all over the UK and often abroad to such places as Norway, Africa and the USA. Pershore was a very happy and friendly station, we lived in wooden huts as married quarters for a time on the station before moving out to rented houses in Pershore town.

Ros Payne
My parents met at Defford during the war and to this day we don't know what my father did, except that he was working on radar development. He came from Bournemouth and mum is from Solihull (she was a tracker at the airfield). Would love to know more about his work as he died 18 months ago.

Donna Cosstick
My great grandfather, Frank Turton, was a "whipper in" for Lord Coventry in the late 1800s. I have a letter from Lady Maude Coventry to my great grandmother with condolences for the death of Frank in 1882 when he was about 32 years old.

Malcolm Walford
I have worked for the Croome Estate since 1953. I have been involved in the maintenance and repairs when the Court was owned by the Hare Krishna's and also Period and Country Houses. My late wife Mary worked at Croome Court in the Repair Room repairing/sewing childrens clothes during the Catholic period. She also worked there when it was run by the Manpower Services as Catering Manager. My late son Kevin worked at Croome Court on the maintenance side during the Catholic's time and also when it was owned by Period and Country Houses in the 1990's.

Alan Langford
My uncle, Robert Holman, now deceased, is believed to have worked on the development of radar, although the family knew little about his work and his widow is also deceased. But we know he'd worked at the British Science Museum in London and then moved to the Malvern area. Watching the feature about Croome Park on Midlands Today made me wonder if my uncle Bob may not have been one of the team of scientists who worked there during World War II. I would be fascinated to know more.

John Connelly from Billingham
I went to Croome Court when it was a school in 1953 when I was 10. It was very, very strict, horrendous, and can remember being told to kneel on marbles. Corporal punishment was also commonplace. There was though one special nun, Sister Maria who was an angel and looked after me. I named my daughter after her. I returned to Croome recently to have a look around for the first time in 30 years.

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