THE CLOCK is ticking, the days are passing, and a bunch of flowers of a hundred varieties or more are ready and waiting in the wings, their collective scent and radiant colours preparing to mesmerise an admiring public, for in just over a week’s time All Saints Church in the Shropshire village of Claverley will once again open its doors at the start of its annual four day flower festival.
Bring on the sunshine, and from Saturday 11th through to Tuesday the 14th of July the peaceful atmosphere that normally envelops Claverley will be filled with the bustle of visitors, many from the Black Country, eager to enjoy the ancient village, the beautiful scenery and creative floral exhibitions. This year the theme of the 33rd annual Flower Festival will be Once Upon a Time, and included in approximately 36 arrangements will be subjects ranging from Tales of Peter Rabbit to Cinderella. Doors open at 10am every morning and close at 8pm, except on Tuesday 14th July when an early closing at 7.30pm will be followed by Songs of Praise in the church. Other attractions include teas, sundry refreshments, stalls in the lychgate and a grand raffle. Parking is free and will be well signposted, and the charge for entry into the flower exhibits is £2.50.
Every year on the Sunday of the festival (12th July), and complimenting the event in Claverley, Mr and Mrs Keith Smith, who live just a mile from the village, swing open the giant gates of their impressive family home at Ludstone Hall and allow the public a once a year, unique opportunity to tour the extensive and varied gardens, enjoy refreshments, and for only the second time since it opened, spend a useful half hour or more engrossed in the many exhibits that are now on show at the Coach House Museum.
Since his arrival at Ludstone Mr Smith has always harboured an ambition to convert one of the outbuildings into a museum where he could display as much history of the hall as possible, for the enlightenment of those who attend his annual open days. He has turned the first storey of the old coach house into a superb visual entourage of artefacts and items of interest related to the hall and surrounding area, and devoted another room to his own family history. The displayed items reside behind glass fronted wooden cabinets, and the walls are crammed with photographs and other information. It’s an attraction that all visitors to Ludstone’s Open Day will no doubt fully appreciate. Admission into the gardens is £3 adults, children free, between 10am - 5pm on the Sunday, with all receipts going to the Flower Festival.
The gardens that surround Ludstone Hall speak for themselves, manicured to perfection and currently taking shape like the unfurling of a new rose. The Bugle was lucky to be invited for a sneak preview by manager Graham Bishop, who did our cameraman proud, not only with a visit to the museum, but also a guided tour of the complete garden. Every view, every vista reveals different perspectives, one minute an open lawn, next the view of a lake older than the hall itself. The moat, currently a carpet of while water lilies, separates the hall from the rest of the garden; then over a wall of multi-coloured towering flowers, the famous Knot Garden sets out its stall, hedges trimmed and manicured into the shape of playing card symbols.
In almost every direction a magnificent statue flaunts its beauty, sometimes accompanied by the trickle of fountain water, and in the far distance the valley that retains Ludstone Hall as a hidden gem in the Shropshire countryside caters for ducks, geese and swans on a stretch of water, and a herd of black cows grazing on the lush, green grass.
The current Ludstone Hall, built in the Jacobean style, has been a home and a place of work for 400 years, but its history goes back much further to when Luddesdun, as it was originally spelt, was owned by Roger Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury, in 1086. In 1098 the estate passed into the hands of the Deans of Bridgnorth and was run as a farm under monastic rule until the time of the Dissolution in 1547. Around 1548, Sir Robert Broke, a politician and one-time Speaker in the House of Commons, resided at Ludstone and is buried in a splendid renaissance tomb in Claverley church.
The present mansion was built in 1607 by John Whitmore and remained in the Whitmore family for 250 years. Then from 1870 brick manufacturer Joseph Round Cartwright lived at Ludstone until his death in 1910. It was Cartwright who was responsible for the careful and sympathetic restoration of the Jacobean house, as well as building the Gatehouse lodge and the Coach House, which now houses the museum. He also created the beautiful gardens that exist today, from land that had been part of the working farm for over a hundred years. Ludstone Hall and its gardens are a credit to the current owner, Keith Smith, and those men before him who had the foresight to keep such a serene and beautiful place intact.