Various weekends over the last month or so I have wanted to visit Benthall Hall, a sixteenth century country house near Broseley, a few miles from Ironbridge and Telford. Wanting a clear sunny sky which would allow me to take favourable photographs, the poor weather over the summer would not permit my visit. With no plans and a lovely sunny day, I decided to finally make the short drive to Benthall Hall.
A Little History
Built in 1535 by the Benthall family, who have lived on the site since the medieval period, Benthall Hall is a fine example of an Elizabethan manor house. Few external changes have been made since the building’s construction, though the gardens and interior have undergone some small changes over the years.
During the English Civil War, Benthall Hall was captured by the Cavaliers and was used as a Parliamentary garrison. Royalist forces attacked but were unable to recapture the house, evidence of this attack can be seen in the table located in the Entrance Hall, which has square areas where damaged bits have been replaced.
The house was rented out during part of the nineteenth century, before being sold by the Benthall Family in 1843. Benthall Hall was bought by George Maw of the Maw & Co tile company, who laid tiles in the entrance hall, using the house as a sales mechanism showcasing their products. In 1934 the house was bought back by the Benthall family who still live in the house to this day. In 1958 ownership of the house fell to the National Trust, rented to the Benthall family and as part of the trust’s ownership, the house is open to the public four days a week from February until the end of October.
When you first arrive, you enter the house in order to pay for admission to the house and gardens, photographs are permitted downstairs but not upstairs due to the family’s use of the bedrooms.
The first room you enter after walking through the porch is the Entrance Hall.
The Entrance Hall
The Entrance Hall is a large room leading to the Dining Room, Drawing Room (via the Staircase Hall) and the tea shop. The size of the table in the middle of the room isn’t really given justice in the photo above, I’m uncertain how it would have been moved into the room. During the Civil War the table was damaged by musket fire whilst being used as a barricade, the damaged areas have been cut out and replaced with chunks of wood, though the repair is very noticeable. At some point in the house’s history the table was sold and later found in a farmhouse in a Shropshire village. In the 1960s the table was bought back and returned to the Entrance Hall.
During George Maw’s ownership a tile floor was in the Entrance Hall, the current wooden flooring was laid over these tiles, a small section of which is on show.
To restore the tile flooring would cost the National Trust a substantial amount of money, over two thousand pounds to restore just the small section in the photo above.
The first of the main rooms you will see when visiting Benthall Hall is the Dining Room, the first door on the right from the Entrance Hall.
The Dining Room
The Dining Room is smaller than the Entrance Room and features a substantial bay window not visible in the photo above. The wooden panelling was once painted white but was later restored to its original state.
Walking back through the Entrance Hall and through the far door, you will enter the Staircase Hall and then the Drawing Room.
The Drawing Room
The Drawing Room is a little larger than the Dining Room, but smaller than the Entrance Hall. The wooden panelling has been painted white, though a picture on the table behind the sofa shows the room with its original dark wood panelling, I think I would prefer the room with dark panelling.
After the Drawing Room, you are able to walk up the staircase and view a few of the first floor rooms.
The Staircase Hall
The staircase was built in 1618 and is adored with grotesque heads. It leads to the first and second floors of the manor house, but only a few of the rooms on the First Floor are open to the public.
The Great Chamber / Library
The Great Chamber, also known as the Library is located above the Entrance Hall. The room houses two bookcases full of old hardback books, I noticed a copy of William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, but no Jane Austen.
Next to the fireplace there are two paintings by Felix Kelly, the first “Fantasy” painted in 1965, depicts Benthall Hall next to the Ironbridge. The painting below it of Lindridge, a country house in Devon which was demolished and replaced with an apartment block. Lindridge was inherited by Lady Ruth Benthall following the death of her father Lord Cable. Her husband Edward Benthall lived in the house and left it to his son Michael who sold the house, having no use for it and the as a result of the decline of the family’s fortune after Indian independence. A fire broke out in 1962 leaving the house a burnt out shell.
Above the Porch is the Priest’s Room, a room used by the family’s Catholic Priest. In 1935 a hiding place was discovered beneath the floor, where the family’s religious items would have been hidden.
Next to the Priest Room, above the Dining Room is one of two bedrooms the public are able to view. Above the tea shop, behind the staircase is the Study housing Benthall family photos and items relating to the family history.
The room above the Drawing Room is the second of the two bedrooms open to the public, still used by the family when they are in residence. Due to their regular use, the bedrooms do not feature many old antique furniture often found in National Trust houses, no four poster bed or elaborately decorative armoires.
After exploring the first floor, you walk back down the staircase and exit the house the same way you enter, to explore the gardens.
The gardens were created at different times in the house’s history, particularly by George Maw and Robert Bateman.
To the left of the house is a small plant and shrub garden complete with a decorative sun dial and a dovecote.
The garden also features a few small yew trees, which are a feature of many of the country house gardens I have visited.
At the right hand side of the house, a path leads to the kitchen garden.
The kitchen garden is still used to grow fruit and vegetables, lettuce and my new favourite fruit; raspberries.
Walking down the path, I saw a man taking close up photos of something on the trellis arch, interested in what he could have been photographing, I took a look.
In front of the house is a formal lawn with an ha-ha overlooking a field.
St Bartholomew’s Restoration Church
Next to the house is St Bartholomew’s Church, a seventeenth century church built after the destruction of an earlier church on the same spot, during the Civil War. The church has been redundant since 2007 and unfortunately was not open to visitors during my visit to Benthall Hall. The church was extended in the nineteenth century when a new door was added. Above what was the old entrance is a sundial with a decorative eye, something I thought was quite unusual. The small churchyard, also overlooking the surrounding fields, is the resting place of a number of the Benthall ancestors.
Tomorrow I will be going to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour which I expect I will write a blog post about later in the week, it will be an experience I am sure though the train journeys there and back, I am not looking forward to.
- http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/benthall-hall/ – National Trust Website