In 1751 George William Coventry inherited the title 6th Earl of Coventry, Croome Court and 15,000 acres of land in Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. He was 29 years old and the speed with which he set about improving and modernising his inheritance implies that he had already made plans about what he would do.
His first act was to employ up and coming landscape management expert Lancelot Brown to work with him on the project. Brown was an instinctive engineer who knew how water and land could be moulded and controlled – he knew the ‘Capabilities’. The two men had met through a mutual association with Lord Cobham at Stowe and the young George William had recognised Brown’s potential. So it was that in 1752 the two began working in partnership; they first of all turned the existing 17th century house into a modern, symmetrical Palladian style mansion and then went on to create a vast, idyllic English landscape around it.
Whilst the basic ideas, and the boldness of style and design, were almost certainly the Earl’s, it was probably Brown’s skills in land and water management that gave him the confidence to have the 760 acres of land surrounding the house sculpted on a monumental scale, never before attempted.
The basic project took over ten years, but Brown continued to be involved – making adjustments to drainage right up until his death in 1783. So grateful to him was the Earl that he erected a monument in his memory beside the beautifullake he had created out of a ‘Morass’.
The creation of the Landscape Park had become a lifetime obsession for the 6th Earl of Coventry. He had also employed Robert Adam to design iconic buildings to form focal points and draw the eye to views that observers were intended to see. In this Adam, Brown and the Earl had worked closely together. However, by 1794 Brown and Adam were both dead, but the George William wasn’t finished.
Whilst he now had buildings to decorate the inner park, he was thinking on a wider scale and brought in the latest ‘must have’ architect, James Wyatt to finish the job. There was already an ‘eye-catcher’ to the south in the shape of gothic style Dunstall Castle, which Adam had designed in 1765, but now he wanted eye-catchers to the north, east and west of the house, to be placed on the most visible pieces of high ground that he owned. So, between 1794 and 1801 Wyatt designed the Panorama Tower to the west:
Pirton Castle to the north:
and, to the east, Broadway Tower.
Some miles to the east of Croome he owned Springhill House and some land on the high ridge near the village of Broadway and Wyatt’s design, in the Romanesque style fashionable at the time, completed the Earl’s vision of the ideal, allegorical landscape. The Tower could also perhaps have been intended as a monument to himself – standing proud on the hilltop, only distantly visible from Croome, but with views over sixteen counties. If this was the case, it worked because 220 years later, people still ask “Who built this? The answer is George William. 6th Earl of Coventry – thus his name lives on. So far from being a ‘Folly’ – it was a statement and had a purpose.
Croome Heritage Trust, 2020