I visited Kent recently, staying in Whitstable and exploring the area of Oare marshes, but only found one monkey to add to the catalogue (in Teynham, ME28). However, I planned my return trip to stop off at Bradgate Park, a large deer park in Leicestershire. It is notable for being the home of Lady Jane Grey, who was briefly queen of England in 1553. That may be so, but for me the interest is in, well, the monkey puzzle trees. Some time ago I’d come across an image on Flickr which showed several trees at Bradgate Park, so it was on my ‘visit’ list. And, it’s very handily located just off the M1 north of Leicester – roughly halfway between Whitstable and Liverpool.
When I arrived at Bradgate Park it was just about to start raining, so I sheltered in the lychgate of All Saints church and put my waterproofs on.
I enter Bradgate Park from the car park at Newtown Linford village, where a stretch of water runs along the path towards the Cropston Reservoir.
Deer graze on the far bank.
And I start spotting monkey puzzle trees!
I walk from the gate across the park to the reservoir, passing the ruins of Bradgate House.
And I find eight monkey puzzle trees in that area.
Some history – Bradgate was part of Charnwood Forest, a wild stretch of open woodland with scrub, gorse, bracken, and rock outcrops. The forest was inhabited by wild boar, red deer and wolves. There is evidence of human occupation of the area now covered by Bradgate Park going back 12,000 years ago, having been settled in the Bronze Age and Iron Age. The area was used for hunting both for sport and to provide food. By 1241 Bradgate was enclosed, within a ditch, bank and wooden fence, as a deer park and with both red and fallow deer.
In the medieval period Bradgate Park belonged to the Manor of Groby. By 1445 the Estate was owned by the Grey family, influential nobles in Medieval and Tudor England. Sir John Grey of Groby married Elizabeth Woodville and after his death, she married Edward IV. Sir Thomas Grey, her eldest son by her first marriage started to build Bradgate House around 1499, it was one of the first unfortified brick-built great country houses in England. The first phase of construction was completed by his son, in about 1520.
Henry Grey, the grandson of Sir Thomas, had three daughters, Jane, Katherine and Mary. Lady Jane, the eldest daughter, was born at Bradgate in October 1537. In May 1553, Jane Grey married Lord Guilford Dudley, son of the Duke of Northumberland. Following the death of Edward VI, her cousin, she was proclaimed Queen of England, on 9th July 1553. She lost the crown nine days later – having been overthrown by Mary I. She was executed for treason early the next year, on 12th February 1554. Legend says that the foresters at Bradgate ‘beheaded’ oak trees in the Park as a mark of respect. Pollarded oaks, of a great age, are still to be seen at Bradgate today.
Jane’s father was also executed in the same year and the Estate passed to the crown. In 1563 the family regained favour and Groby manor including Bradgate, was restored to Jane’s uncle. After 1719, the family ceased to live at Bradgate and the Park was used as a sporting estate. I can’t find many details of what happened after that until the estate was sold in 1928. In 1871 Cropston Reservoir was constructed in the south-east corner of the park. So I wonder who planted the monkey puzzle trees?
In 1928 the estate was sold by the then owner, Mrs Grey. Mr Charles Bennion, a local industrialist, purchased Bradgate Park from Mrs Grey and presented it, in trust, to be managed for the benefit of the people of Leicestershire and visitors to the county.
The plaque reads:
In grateful remembrance of Charles Bennion who in the year 1928 with the helpful concurrenceof the heirs of the Greys of Groby purchased from them this park of Bradgate and presented it in trust for the city and county of Leicester that for all time it might be preserved in its natural state for the quiet enjoyment of the people of Leicestershire.
His true memorial lies around.
Today, the Bradgate Park and Swithland Wood Country Park Estate totals 1,263 acres and is administered by the Bradgate Park Trust. The greater part of the Estate is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The Estate, which welcomes over half a million visitors a year, was designated a Country Park by the Countryside Commission in 1970.
I found eight monkey puzzle trees at Bradgate Park, some seen from a distance. Perhaps there are more? I certainly didn’t explore the whole of the park, so if you find more, please let me know.
This ‘Monkey Map’ project is a personal project and the work of me, Sarah Horton. I am helped by my task of cataloguing all monkeys by keen monkey puzzle hunters who also do this in their free time. It is a work of personal passion and brings me great joy. Thank you everyone for your support.