Nick Jordan



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Bragate Park

There is a legend that the oak trees at Bradgate Park, the home of Lady Jane Grey, were 'pollarded' at the news of her execution

"This was thy home, then, gentle Jane!
This thy green solitude; and here
At evening, from thy gleaming pane,
Thine eyes oft watched the dappled deer
(Whilst the soft sun was in its wane)
Browsing beside the brooklet clear.
The brook yet runs, the sun sets now,
The deer still browseth -- where art thou?"

There is no more picturesque spot in England than Bradgate Old Manor, the birthplace of Lady Jane Grey. It stands in a sequestered corner, about three miles from the town of Leicester, amid arid slate hillocks, which slope down to the fertile valleys at their feet. In Leland's Perambulations through England, a survey of the kingdom undertaken by command of Henry VIII, Bradgate is described as possessing "a fair parke and a lodge lately built there by the Lorde Thomas Grey, Marquise of Dorsete, father of Henry, that is now Marquise. There is a faire and plentiful spring of water brought by Master Brok as a man would judge agyne the hills through the lodge and thereby it driveth a mylle." He also informs us that "there remain few tokens of the old castelle," which leads us to believe that at the time of Lady Jane Grey's birth Bradgate was a comparatively new house. The ruins show that the mansion was built of red brick and in that severe but elegant form of architecture known as the "Tudor style." Worthy old Leland goes on to say that Jane's paternal grandfather added "two lofty towers at the front of the house, one on either side of the principal doorway." These are still remaining.

In Tudor times the park was very extensive and "marched with the forest of Chartley, which was full twenty-five miles in circumference, watered by the river Sore and teeming with game." Another ancient writer tells us, in the quaint language of his day, that "here a wren and squirrel might hop from tree to tree for six miles, and in summer time a traveller could journey from Beaumanoir to Burden, a good twelve miles, without seeing the sun." The wealth of luxuriant vegetation in the old park, the clear and running brooks that babble through the sequestered woods, and the beautifully sloping open spaces, dotted with venerable and curiously pollarded oaks, make up a scene of sylvan charm peculiarly English. Here cultivation has not, as so often on the Continent, disfigured Nature, but the park retains the wild beauty of its luxuriant elms and beeches that rise in native grandeur from amidst a wilderness of bracken, fern, and flags, to cast their shadows over heather-grown hillocks. On the summit of one of the loftiest of these still stands the ruined palace that was the birthplace of Lady Jane Grey. The approaches to Bradgate are beautiful indeed, especially the pathway winding round by the old church along the banks of a trout-stream, which rises in the neighbourhood of the Priory of Ulverscroft, famous for the beauty of its lofty tower. When Jane Grey was born, this Priory had been very recently suppressed, and the people were lamenting the departure of the monks, who, during the hard winter of 1528, had fed six hundred starving peasants.

Bradgate Manor House was standing as late as 1608, but after that date it fell into gradual decay. Not much is now left of the original structure, but its outlines can still be traced; and the walls of the great hall and the chapel are nearly intact. A late Lord Stamford and Warrington roofed and restored the old chapel, which contains a fine monument to that Henry Grey whose signature may be seen on the warrant for the execution of Charles I.

A careful observation of the irregularities of the soil reveals traces of a tilt-yard and of garden terraces; but all is now overgrown by Spanish chestnut trees, wild flowers, nettles, and brambles. The gardens were once considered amongst the finest in England, Lord Dorset taking great pride in the cultivation of all the fruits, herbs, and flowers then grown in Northern Europe. The parterres and terraces were formal, and there was a large fish-pond full of golden carp and water lilies. Lady Jane Grey must often have played in these stately avenues, and there is a legend that once, as a little girl, she toppled into the tank and was nearly drowned -- a less hideous fate than that which was to befall her in her seventeenth year.

Many curious traditions concerning Lady Jane are even now current among the local peasantry. Some believe that on St. Sylvester's night (31st December) a coach drawn by four black horses halts at the door of the old mansion. It contains the headless form of the murdered Lady Jane. After a brief halt it drives away again into the mist. Then again, certain strange [1] stunted oaks are shown, trees which the woodmen pollarded when they heard that the fair girl had been beheaded. The pathetic memories of the great tragedy, reaching down four slow centuries, prove how keenly its awful reality was felt by the poorer folk at Bradgate, who, no doubt, had good cause to love the "gentle Jane."'

Richard Davey - The Nine Days' Queen, Chapter I (Bradgate Hall and the Greys of Groby)