Deene Park, Northamptonshire is the ancestral home of the Brudenell family with whom the property has remained since 1514 when it was acquired by Sir Robert Brudenell (1461-1531).
Admittedly, this is an utterly self-indulgent piece! My own ancestors lived in the adjacent hamlet of Deenethorpe and were employed on the Brudenell estates from the 18th century. Though I have explored plenty of parish registers for the area, and I’m yet to view the relevant papers pertaining to estate workers, I do know that I hail from typical agricultural labouring stock and the odd shepherd! But that’s quite enough of that.
Deene Park has a far more diverse history. The manor of Deene belonged to Westminster Abbey and from 1215 the manor was let to various families including the Colets and Lyttons. Though Brudenell had legally gained ownership of the manor in 1514, Westminster Abbey was still able to subject it to a fee-farm rent of £18 per year which the family continued to pay until 1970, when the Church of Commissioners sold it to them for under £200.
Undoubtedly, the best thing about Deene Park is its irregularity and very obvious combination of different architectural and decorative styles. The appearance of present day Deene is the result of six centuries of expansion, development and remodelling with the earliest part existing as remnants behind the East front outside wall. Likely this was part of the original small manor house or ‘grange‘ connected to Westminster.
The guidebook for Deene Park notes how each generation seems to have made alterations and additions to the house. As much of the early Brudenell capital came from landownership and roles in government office, building work could be rather piecemeal. Yet, the more substantial alterations can be tied to particular events in the Brudenell lineage such as marriage, inheritance or ambitions for superior titles within the peerage.
The first of these to truly impact at Deene was the marriage of Sir Edmund Brudenell (1521-85) to Agnes Bussy, daughter of John Bussy of Hougham in 1539. This union was celebrated by both families in its early years and represented the ideal match sought out by elite families in order to expand capital. Though Agnes was not phenomenally wealthy at the time of her marriage into the Brudenells, she was set to inherit her family’s vast estates in Lincolnshire, Rutland and Derbyshire upon her father’s death.
Deene (renamed Deene Hall by this point), took on much of its present size and footprint during Edmund’s time and large-scale building work began in the 1570s. Yet, his motives for expansion would certainly have been twofold. The Brudenells and Bussys fought hard over Agnes’s inheritance after her father died in 1542; husband and wife quarrelled, cousins schemed, and Agnes was often forced to borrow ready cash from family members. On the outside things appeared more orderly and during the construction of the new house, Edmund was sure to decorate his new house with Brudenell and Bussy heraldry and insignia.
Sir Edmund Brudenell was also declaring his power in the Northamptonshire countryside, and he was not alone. Northamptonshire was a popular county in the 16th century for the established and expanding gentry alike. As quoted by Joan Wake in The Brudenells of Deene (1953), a contemporary of Sir Edmund Brudenell noted, ‘the fertility, good air, pleasant prospects, and convenience of this Shire in all things to a generous and noble mind, have so allured nobility to plant themselves with the same, that no Shire within this Realm can answer the like number of noblemen as are seated in these parts.’ Indeed, Northamptonshire is often referred to as the county of ‘Squires and Spires’ due to its vast numbers of country seats and churches.
Quarries near Corby and further east provided a plentiful supply of very good building stone for Brudenell, and it is no coincidence that houses at Rockingham, Apethorpe, Kirby and Southwick were also making their mark in the landscape during this period.
The next eras of substantial building work at Deene came in the early 17th and 18th centuries when Sir Thomas (1578-1663) and George (1685-1732) were eager to secure themselves notable titles and a good reputation respectively. Sir Thomas was created Baron Brudenell in 1628 (a title which he bought for £6,000), becoming Earl Cardigan in 1661 because of his Royalist support during the English Civil War. George Brudenell, 3rd Earl of Cardigan was the stereotypical young elite gentleman who had experienced the Grand Tour and a life of suspiciously licentious quality whilst away, but made solid attempts to overturn this behaviour shortly after coming of age in 1706.
Both Brudenell men were passionate about art and architecture and were certainly the product of a sophisticated education thought compulsory for the male heir in a time when culture was regarded as the signifier of wealth.
With finances also enriched through beneficial marriage, Thomas added the distinguished crenelated tower to the north-east corner at Deene as well as similar decorative aspects to the north wing during much of the 17th century, and added a chapel sometime before 1640. George and his wife Elizabeth (née Bruce) were instrumental in making drastic changes to the interiors at Deene which had grown dated by the time of their residence in the early years of the 18th century. Modernisation took place in the principal rooms, a new staircase was put in, sash windows were added where appropriate, the Great Hall was repaved, new cellars were constructed and marble chimney pieces were put in – amongst many other things.
The alterations of the early 18th century did not stop with the house, as the 3rd Earl also turned his attention to the gardens at Deene. No doubt influenced by the changing trends in garden and landscape design, he sought to enliven the grounds with then quite fanciful features – sadly, the canal, stone bridge and kitchen gardens are the main remnants of this period.
Deene and the Brudenells stretch much further afield too. Two periods are significant here; the marriage of Francis Lord Brudenell to Lady Frances Savile in 1668, and the character and ambition of James 7th Earl of Cardigan during the middle of the 19th century.
The first is essential knowledge for any University of Leeds student who has ever resided in Headingley, Hyde Park or Kirkstall. The Saviles were extensive landowners in Leeds and much of Yorkshire by the 17th century. Sir John Savile was elected the first Alderman of the Borough of Leeds in 1626, and much of the Leeds coat of arms is based the Savile family’s own arms. The marriage of Lord Brudenell to Lady Frances saw two families unite their vast landed wealth and the Brudenells absorbed much of what Frances brought with her as part of the settlement. Today, these areas of Leeds are riddled with street names easily connected to the Brudenells and Saviles: Cardigan Road, Brudenell Street/Grove/Avenue, Savile Drive and sites such as Cardigan Fields, Brudenell Primary School and the Brudenell Social Club.
James 7th Earl of Cardigan is perhaps better associated with the Charge of the Light Brigade of 1854 during the Crimean War and there is a great deal of accessible material to read on the subject. Yet, it should be noted here that his role in this military campaign, and in the words of Joan Wake, ‘that brief twenty minutes which raised his status from that of the most notoriously unpopular officer in the British army to one of imperishable renown’ had certainly impacted at home. This ability to change public opinion also existed in the years beforehand.
Criticised for his harsh and abrupt nature towards his officers many had begun to feel demoralised and belittled by his apparent relentless chastising and frequent punishments. This reached a crescendo in the spring/summer of 1840 when Captain John Reynolds served a bottle of Moselle before it as decanted, causing Cardigan to reprimand Reynolds the next day. Reynolds’s written reply was seen as inappropriate by Cardigan who was already involved in matters surrounding a duel he had had with a junior officer. Such was the frustration involved that Reynolds was placed in open arrest and by the autumn of that year Reynolds was tried by court martial. The episode became known as the Black Bottle affair.
At Deene during the same year, the gulf between the immensely wealthy Brudenells and those living and working on the estates was growing ever wider. Cardigan had used his power and personal finances to wriggle his way out of bad form with his officers, but between September and November 1840, the papers attacked him, calling him ‘captious and tyrannical’. By February the following year this had all changed. The large majority of people of nearby Deene, Deenethorpe, Stanion, and Glapthorne were suddenly in receipt of a ‘quartern loaf and ale’ each. This may not have been a first, but the papers were sure to make a great deal more of this gesture than they had done previously.
Interestingly, successive gestures were not issued in Cardigan’s name, but that of his first wife Elizabeth’s.
Deene Park is the product of the ambitious, often ruthless, but very typical landowners of their time. The Brudenells are perhaps a very good example of how the elite have functioned over the centuries, and how marriage, inheritance, and title have all created pivotal moments in a family’s history. The house has simultaneously been the silent backdrop and active player for all of these. And this is what makes Deene an intriguing place, but its steady presence in the Northamptonshire countryside has almost kept it out of mind for many. Though rich in country houses, the county clearly has its favourites, and Deene could be one of them. Yet, coming from an academic background, I have only ever been aware of studies which focus upon Lamport Hall, Kirby Hall and Kelmarsh Hall. There is something alluring about Deene because of this obvious absence.
Poignantly, my ancestors made the decision to move out of Deenethorpe (and Northamptonshire altogether) in the 1880s, and I know it was not easy. I have been the first to look back, and I am sure to continue my own story.
Deene Park website http://www.deenepark.com/
Deene Park on Wikipedia with good references http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deene_Park
A bite size history http://www.touruk.co.uk/houses/housenorthants_deene_park.htm
Northamptonshire on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northamptonshire#cite_note-15
Statement of Nene Valley Association for the areas covering Oundle and Thrapston, including notes on the topography and history of the area http://www.east-northamptonshire.gov.uk/downloads/00200_-_Nene_Valley.pdf
Famous Brudenells http://freespace.virgin.net/brudenell.forum/famous.html
Joan Wake, The Brudenells of Deene. (1953)
Deene Park. Guidebook (1998)