Visit to Brampton Bryan Hall and Gardens

11 September, 2015 (All day)
Brampton Bryan Hall, Herefordshire
Photograph of a Civil War canon at Brampton Bryan

At the invitation of Edward Harley, currently High Sheriff of Herefordshire, and his wife Victoria, supporters of the Herefordshire VCH gathered at Brampton Bryan, in the north-west corner of Herefordshire, seat of the Harley family since the 14th century. The Herefordshire Victoria County History Trust had arranged an afternoon of talks by Professor Timothy Mowl and Dr Jane Bradney, tours round Brampton Bryan Hall gardens led by Victoria and Edward Harley and an address by Edward Harley under the walls of the castle. Dr Bradney is the joint author with Professor Mowl of Historic Gardens of Herefordshire, in a series under the general editorship of Professor Mowl.

Both speakers were lively enough to keep us awake after lunch - a challenging time. Professor Mowl told us about Sir Uvedale Price (1747–1829), of Foxley Hall, Yazor and his neighbour Richard Payne Knight (1751–1824), of Downton Castle. These Herefordshire landscape theorists had in common that they thought 'Capability' Brown was terrible, but otherwise were rivals. Knight was a radical and eccentric Jacobin, mocked by Price. His ideas about his collection of phallic objects got him blackballed from his club; he advised against the purchase of the Elgin Marbles as poor Roman copies. But his castle and wooded lands at Bringewood were improved to illustrate the spirit of the sublime and he wrote The Landscape: a Didactic Poem in 1794.

Sir Uvedale wrote the other founding text of the movement in his An Essay on the Picturesque (also 1794) and with his father laid out the estate to illustrate his theories. He and Price put Herefordshire on the map as regards Sublime and Horrid landscapes, and opened the eyes of the fashionable to the Picturesque possibilities of a wild gorge with a mad hermit. A tourist craze was started, tended by the guide books of John Gilpin, that filled the crags of west Herefordshire and the Wye valley with earnest sketchers. Jane Austin laughed at it all in Northanger Abbey.

Brampton Bryan Hall gardens weren't at all horrid and Dr Bradney took us through their history with slides showing evidence of continuity from early times, with orchards, water supply and plantings deduced from old prints and remaining features. We were then led round the actual grounds and learnt the history of the Castle, standing under its walls. Much of its substance had been destroyed by bombardment in 1643, then pulled down after its capture. But the gateway and outer barbican survive substantially, showing ballflowers, the trademark of the early 14th century in Herefordshire.

Afterwards, Edward and Victoria Harley took half the group each around the gardens, giving fascinating glimpses of the history of the family and their home. The first Harley at Brampton, Sir Robert, married the heir to the estate Margaret de Brampton in 1309. There is an effigy of Margaret in the parish church, St Barnabas, holding her heart.  St Barnabas is a rare Commonwealth church, built by Sir Edward Harley in 1656, the original building having been destroyed by Royalist besiegers during the Civil War. The castle too was sacked and slighted in the Civil Wars after heroic resistance by Brilliana Harley. Her husband Sir Edward, who was an MP at Westminster, had urged her to flee with the children, but she stayed to command the resistance and died there. [Brilliana was named after the Dutch town Brill where she was born. A younger sister was less fortunate in her town of birth – Helegenwagh, and was known as Wacke in the family.]

A wonderful and apparently unending tea of delicious sandwiches and cakes, generously provided by the Harleys, came on afterwards, which kept me from seeing the church. But this was made up for by my winning Ron Shoesmith's, et al, excellent Goodrich in the raffle.

Philip Weaver