Birtsmorton Court is a fine example of a moated grange, much of which was built in the 15th Century. Some of the original foundations laid in 1241 form part of the Court today. In the 15th century the Court was home to the Nanfan family for some 300 years, and their connections with the Royal House of Tudor are recorded in the oak and plaster carvings in the Banqueting Hall.
The earliest reference to Birtsmorton Court is found in the Domesday Book. The present house, partly timbered, is built on a courtyard plan and dates back to the 13th century. In 1424–25 Birtsmorton became the seat of Sir John Nanfan, who had most of the earlier structure demolished before his death in c. 1447. The house was remodeled for Giles Nanfan in about 1572, as heraldry in the Great Hall suggests. The last male heir, Bridges Nanfan, left the estate to his daughter Catherine. The present aspect of the house is in part due to restoration by Frederick S. Waller, 1871–72. The east range was destroyed by fire in the 18th century and rebuilt in 1929–30 by A. Hill Parker and Son, under the ownership of Francis Bradley-Birt. Bradley-Birt married Norah Spencer-Churchill in 1920. (a cousin of Winston Churchill).
William Huskisson was born at Birtsmorton Court on 11 March 1770 and spent his childhood here until he was 13. Huskisson was made famous as the world’s first railway casualty as he was run over and killed by George Stephenson’s locomotive the ‘Rocket’. The house was a setting for William Samuel Symonds’ historical novel Malvern Chase.
There are perhaps around 5,500 moated sites in Britain, of which no more than 30 still contain water and only a handful have a double moat like the one at Birtsmorton in West Midlands. The moat and other waters are full of fish, a reminder of the days when they once supplied the larder of the house.
The moat is filled from the streams of the Malvern Hills via a large collecting pond to the west of the house, known as the Westminster pool. Tradition has it that the Pool has the same dimensions as the nave of Westminster Abbey and was dug in the same year of its consecration, which would date it to 1269 or earlier.
The second moat lies to the east of the house, and was dug to create a safe night-time sanctuary for livestock, protecting it from attack by wild boar. A stone boar now sits defiantly in the center of the space The clay sub-soil is critical to maintaining the flow of water, which is also supported by a series of sluice gates.
The Great Hall, now used for civil ceremonies and drinks receptions, is the oldest room in the house. It has a large open fireplace and timbered walls, with a great coat of arms painted on the plaster about the paneling. The beautiful William and Mary ceiling was added in the late 17th Century.
In the Great Hall you can see the lower part of the old staircase that leads up to the Cardinal Wolsey room. From this room ther’e a view onto the courtyard through a stained glass window with the inscription CW, which was installed in Wolsey’s memory. Before becoming cardinal, Thomas Wolsey was presented to King Henry VII by a member of the Nanfan family.
The Courtyard has seen the full range of minor and major changes to the Court’s architecture over the years. It is here that you can see the house develop its own unique identity over 9 centuries and flourish as one of the most unique wedding venues in Worcestershire and all West Midlands.
The extensive formal gardens at Birtsmorton are perhaps its most appreciated feature. The top lawn is the best place to get an overview of the gardens which includes the ancient Wolsey tree, the topiary and the White Garden. Legend has it that Cardinal Wolsey, whilst working for Sir Richard Nanfan at Birtsmorton, foresaw his own execution one day as he sat beneath the Wolsey Tree.
The White Garden lies in the middle of the yew tree topiary and was created by Mrs. Rosalie Dawes in 1997. It features extensive ironwork and a gazebo which contains a wide variety of white shrubs and perennials. The arches are covered with Iceberg roses, jasmine, white clematis and wisteria.
Just outside the brick walls lies the Potager which comprises four square gardens divided by two wide cross tunnels. The Potager is surrounded by a large variety pf espaliered pear and apple trees, and contains a mix of permanent plantings alongside rotated annual vegetable crops.