Sunday, September 08, 2013

The Grey Family of Bradgate Park.

Near to where my mother lives is Bradgate Park.  It is an ancient park, the fallow (pictured)

and red deer living there, descendants of medieval deer belonging to medieval aristocracy including Thomas Grey, the grandson of Elizabeth Woodville, who built this little pile (below) for himself in 1520.

It is one of the first grand unfortified houses in Britain, and one of the earliest examples of post Roman brickwork.  A ruin now, except for the chapel, but Lady Jane Grey, the queen for 9 days was once thought to have been born here in 1537 (now she is thought to have been born in London).   When I was a child, I heard that when she was beheaded, aged 16, the oak trees in the park were pollarded too in tribute.

The folly seen (in the middle distance below) from this spot is called Old John and was built by later members of the Grey family on some of the oldest rock in Britain.   Later still, a schoolboy called Roger Mason, in 1957, would find a fossil showing that even in PreCambrian times there was green life of a sort.

But by 1957, the Grey family was no longer living at Bradgate Park: the last member to do so being George Grey (9th Baron Grey of Groby, 7th Earl of Stamford and 3rd Earl of Warrington).  He died in 1883 leaving Bradgate Park to his widow (his second wife Catharine, who had been a circus bareback rider, and when she died it passed to his niece who then sold it to the city and county of Leicester in 1928.

Interestingly (well, at least to me), the very last descendant of the Grey family of Bradgate (and heir of Lady Jane) was Roger, 11th Lord Grey of Groby and 10th Earl of Stamford.  He had inherited Dunham Massey Hall in Altrincham, but not Bradgate Park itself.  This particular Lord Grey of Groby didn't marry, and on his death in 1976, his peerage titles became extinct with him and he bequeathed Dunham Massey Hall to the National Trust.

Although he never owned Bradgate Park, there is a memorial to Roger Grey at Bradgate.  I suppose it is fitting to acknowledge the end of a family that had been owners of the park since 1445, but more fitting still is the plaque to one Charles Bennion, a local industrialist and philanthropist.  It is because of Charles Bennion that Bradgate Park can be enjoyed by anyone.   When the council could not raise the enough money needed to purchase the park from the heirs of the Greys of Groby, he purchased it for them and then  donated it to the people of Leicestershire 'for their quiet enjoyment'.  It is a beautiful place preserved, just as Charles Bennion dictated, in its natural state - and thereby providing for us all a glimpse into the past.


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