The Estate is a traditional, quintessentially English country estate of 8500 acres. Shropshire boasts rolling hills, big skies, grazing cattle, wild flowers, birds of prey & the River Severn, which all provide a magnificent backdrop for the Estate.
The Hamilton family has maintained & restored the Estate including – woodland, fencing, hedgerows, buildings, ponds, streams, roads & paths. The Apley farming team has continued to farm 2000 acres in hand, alongside 12 tenant farmers. The development has included the installation of a hydro electric plant & wood boiler, forming part of an ongoing renewable energy programme that encourages self-sufficient, environmentally-friendly power generation using wood from the Estate & water power to generate heating & hot water.
Following the restoration of the monarchy, complete sections of the town required rebuilding & it was at this time that the Whitmores, who also had trading businesses in London, were able to increase the estate closer to the 8,500 acres we have today. For nearly 300 years the Whitmores lived at Apley. Members of the family were MPs for Bridgnorth for almost the whole of this period.
1811 saw Apley Hall rebuilt & enlarged to become a mansion in the ‘Strawberry Hill’ Gothic fashion popular at the time. Following on from this, the parkland surrounding the mansion had been landscaped (most probably by John Webb) & helped turn Apley into one of England’s most important & imposing estates.
Queen Victoria & Prince Albert shortlisted Apley Hall as one of their chosen country retreats before finally settling on Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight. Furthermore, it also rumoured that Adolf Hitler had earmarked Apley for his residence following a successful invasion of the British Isles. Apley Hall is widely regarded as the primary inspiration for PG Wodehouse’s Blandings Castle occupied by Lord Emsworth & his prize pig the Empress of Blandings.
Apley was sold by the Whitmores in 1867 for a then record sum to William Orme Foster, an ironfounder from Stourbridge whose business Foster & Rastrick had been responsible for designing & building the first steam train run in the USA – the Lion of Stourbridge.
The estate had been allowed to deteriorate during the latter years of the Whitmore’s ownership due to dwindling funds & the new owners immediately began a programme of improvement & refurbishment to the farmland, the estate cottages & the farm buildings. The new farm buildings at Apley Home Farm were highly innovative for the time, built to the standard of railway architecture & including steam driven machinery & a piped water supply to the farm buildings & field troughs. In its heyday the estate employed more than 100 people in the Hall, its formal & kitchen gardens, the estate woods, on the farm & as gamekeepers.
1940 saw the parkland given over to food production for the war effort. The deer herd was culled to make way for more productive cattle & pigs & the arable acreage was increased. Stockton Buildings, now the location of Apley Farm Shop, was run as a dairy enterprise with prizewinning Dairy Shorthorn cattle, producing milk, butter & locally known Apley cheese.
The owners of the estate have always farmed part of the estate themselves. As recently as the latter part of the last century, the estate’s own farms employed 12 people producing potatoes, sugar beet & arable crops as well as sheep, pigs, cattle & dairying. Change in the farming environment has accelerated over the last 25 years & the estate no longer produces milk & has also ceased keeping sheep & pigs.
The closure of the sugar beet factory at Allscott in 2006 has had a significant impact on the estate farm & led to further changes. The farms currently employ 4 people full time farming over 2000 acres mainly with arable crops & beef cattle. These are usually sold through the local markets & often are amongst the best in sale.
Major A W Foster, died in 1960 & being unmarried was the last of the family to live at Apley Park. It was converted in 1962 into a state run boarding school (one of only two in the country) & remained so until 1987. In the 1990s it was sold to a developer & eventually converted into 19 apartments.
Although modern day farming practices have changed the estate, its heartland remains very much intact under the ownership of Lord [Gavin] Hamilton, 5th baron Hamilton of Dalzell. Lady Hamilton now works full time on the marketing of Apley Farm Shop, Apley Walled Garden & developing the Apley Archives.
Apley Farm Shop, Norton, Shropshire, TF11 9EF
Please note that Sat Nav error may try to take you to Stockton Church!