Bradgate Park is a historic Medieval deer park in the heart of the ancient Charnwood Forest, just northwest of Leicester. It is Leicestershire's largest, most visited country park. It retains much of its original landscape with small woods, grassy slopes and rocky outcrops. The River Lin runs through the park, flowing into Cropston Reservoir which was constructed on part of the park in 1871. To the north-east lies Swithland Wood. It opened to the public in the 19th century. The park still has herds of red and fallow deer.
In the reign of Edward the Confessor, the area was owned by Ulf. The first mention of Bradgate Park is from 1241, when it was laid out as a hunting park. A parker, living in a moated house, was the only occupant until the late 1400s, maintaining stocks of deer for the lord of Groby Manor to hunt. The park was then greatly extended by the first marquis. In 1445 it passed from the de Ferrers family to the Greys, who retained it for the next 500 years.
In 1928 Bradgate Park was bought by a local businessman, Charles Bennion, and given, as a plaque in the park describes, 'to be preserved in its natural state for the quiet enjoyment of the people of Leicestershire'. Bradgate Park and Swithland Wood were merged in 1931. Precambrian fossils have been found at Bradgate; the only known fossils of this kind in Western Europe. Because of the risk of vandalism and damage, specific locations of these are not disclosed and no rocks in the Park can be chipped, hammered or removed.
An important part of the history of Bradgate Park are the ruins of Bradgate House, the possible birthplace of and home to King Henry VIII's great niece; Lady Jane Grey, who was Queen for nine days before being beheaded at the age of 16 in 1554. She was the first daughter of Sir Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, and Lady Frances Brandon, daughter of Henry VIII's sister Mary and Charles Brandon.
Edward Grey's son, Sir John Grey of Groby, married Elizabeth Woodville, who after John's death married King Edward IV. Their son Thomas Grey, 1st Marquess of Dorset, prepared for building Bradgate House in the late fifteenth century but died before he was able to begin, and his son Thomas, the 2nd marquis, built the house and probably completed it in 1520. Further additions were made in the 1540s and in the 1600s. The red brickwork is reminiscent of Hampton Court Palace and other great houses of the period.
This magnificent building once consisted of two main storeys and was about 200 feet in length from east to west, with two wings joined by a Great Hall. The great kitchen, bakery and servants' quarters occupied the west wing, and the east wing contained the family apartments and the Chapel. The first wife of the 2nd Earl of Stamford set fire to the north west Tower and the house suffered damage, but it was repaired in time for King William III's visit in 1696.
Lady Jane received an excellent humanist education and was one of the most learned young women of the 16th century. She also became a committed Protestant. When her family left Bradgate House for hunting parties, she stayed behind to study and read books. When the scholar Roger Ascham came to visit Bradgate, he found her at home reading Plato, and complaining about her parents' harsh treatment of her.
|Lady Jane Grey, the "Nine Days' Queen".|
|Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon, Jane's grandparents.|
|Jane's mother, Lady Frances. According to|
most historians, she was a stern and very strict,
sometimes violent mother.
|A painting depicting the execution of Jane.|
|Jane Grey and her not so beloved husband were buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower.|
After the death of the Earl in 1719 it was left empty and, sadly, it slowly fell into decay. The ruins are preserved by the Bradgate Park Trust, but the outline of the house can still clearly be seen; towers, cellars, drainage channels, the kitchen fireplace, bread ovens. The Chapel still remains entire, containing an alabaster tomb, a memorial to Lady Jane's cousin Sir Henry Grey (created Baron by James I in 1603) and his wife Anne Windsor.
Another prominant landmark is the 'Old John' Tower, a folly built by the Greys on a hilltop in the 1780s. It is, by local legend, a memorial to an estate worker named John who was killed in a bonfire accident. However, according to old maps the hill was already known as "Old John". During the 19th century it was used as a viewing point for horse-racing.