There is evidence of human occupation of the area now covered by Bradgate Park going back to the Upper Palaeolithic period some 15,000 years ago. The archaeology of the Park is only now being investigated but there are suggestions that the area was settled in the Bronze Age and Iron Age and has been more or less continuously inhabited ever since.
At the time of the Battle of Hastings (1066) when William the Conqueror came to England, Bradgate was part of the waste of Charnwood Forest. It would have been a wild stretch of wooded country, crisscrossed by ancient tracks left by earlier inhabitants including the Saxons, Romans and even Druids.
Charnwood was never uniformly forested and the area eventually chosen for enclosure would have been open woodland with much scrub, gorse, bracken, and rock outcrops and suitable for the “chase” and would have become an area reserved for hunting – both for sport and to provide food. The population of the Forest was sparse and it was inhabited by wild boar, red deer and wolves.
By 1241 Bradgate was enclosed, within a ditch, bank and wooden fence, as a deer park and in due course contained both red and fallow deer. At that time the Park was much smaller than the area we know today and its boundaries were progressively extended over the centuries.
In the medieval period Bradgate Park belonged to the Manor of Groby and by 1445 the Estate was owned by the Grey family, influential nobles in Medieval and Tudor England, who married into the Royal family. Sir John Grey of Groby married Elizabeth Woodville and upon his death, she married Edward IV. Sir Thomas Grey, her eldest son by her first marriage (and created first Marquis of Dorset in 1475) started to build Bradgate House (one of the first unfortified brick-built great country houses in England) around 1499. The first phase of construction (contemporary with Hampton Court) was completed by his son, in about 1520. Further additions were made over the following century.
LEICESTERSHIRE YEOMANRY WAR MEMORIAL
The background to this striking landmark, those whom it commemorates and the date of the next Memorial Service are explained in a separate section under “Visitor Information”.
Information on how Bradgate Park and Swithland Wood became a public park and the generosity of the gifts of Charles Bennion and the Rotary Club of Leicester as well as how the Park is managed today are given in a separate section under “The Bradgate Park Trust.”
Henry Grey, the grandson of Sir Thomas, was created Duke of Suffolk in 1551 and he and his wife, Lady Frances Brandon had three daughters, Jane, Katherine and Mary. These children, on their mother’s side, were related to Henry VIII, being the grandchildren of Princess Mary, Henry’s younger sister. Lady Jane, the eldest daughter, was born at Bradgate in October 1537 and spent the greater part of her short life there.
In May 1553, Jane Grey married Lord Guilford Dudley, son of the Duke of Northumberland. Following the death of her cousin, Edward VI, she was proclaimed Queen of England, on 9th July 1553, only to lose 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, Lord John Grey of Pirgo.
BRADGATE AFTER LADY JANE
In 1628, Henry 2nd Baron Grey of Groby was created Earl of Stamford and was later a senior commander in the armies of Parliament during the English Civil War, although he later supported the restoration of the monarchy. His son, Thomas Lord Grey of Groby was a more ardent Parliamentarian and was one of the signatories of the death warrant of King Charles I in 1649.
After the 4th Earl succeeded to the title in 1739, the family ceased to live at Bradgate and the Park was used as a sporting estate. The small walled woodlands that are a feature of the Park were planted in the 19th Century as coverts to hold game birds for shooting.
In the 1920s, the Leicestershire Estate of the Earls of Stamford, of which Bradgate formed part, was sold by the then owner, Mrs Grey (niece of the 7th Earl of Stamford). 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 in 1928.
Since 1928, other land has either been donated to or purchased by the Trust. One important donation was Swithland Wood, which was generously given by the Rotary Club of Leicester in 1931.
Today, the Bradgate Park Estate extends to around 1,300 acres and is managed by a Registered Charity, The Bradgate Park & Swithland Wood Charity, known as 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.
This extensive area of beautiful woodland is managed as part of the Bradgate Park Estate.
Swithland Wood consists principally of mature Oak along with Birch, Small-leaved Lime and Alder trees with hazel coppice, which the Bradgate Park Trust is gradually restoring. These support a rich and varied flora and fauna, including a wide ranging bird population, great variety of butterflies and moths and wonderful diverse array of wild flowers and ferns.
The great richness of Swithland Wood’s flowering plants, ferns, mosses, lichens and fungi means that it ranks highly amongst nationally important woodland areas.
Virtually all of the 160+ acres are open to visitors to walk through and enjoy this special area of Woodland. There is an extensive network of waymarked footpaths and bridleways throughout the Wood and car parks on both the North and South boundaries.
The Wood contains outcrops of interesting late Precambrian rocks – over 500 million years old. These blue/grey to green rocks were used as roofing slate and building stone in Roman times. Quarrying was re-established by 1260 and continued on a small scale for the next few centuries. Stone and slate were used on many important Leicestershire buildings as well as being made into headstones, sundials, sinks and fireplaces. More industrial extraction of slate took place in the 1800’s with large and deep Slate Pits being formed both on the north boundary of the Wood and at the Great Pit in the centre of the Wood. Extraction was abandoned in 1887 when the Great Pit had reached a depth of some 190 feet. The abandoned quarries quickly flooded, creating attractive tree-surrounded features. Sub Aqua Diving is permitted, by authorised Clubs, in the centre Quarry by prior arrangement.
The Annual “Bluebell Service” is held in Swithland Wood in Spring to celebrate the spectacular spring displays of Bluebells which carpet parts of the Wood. The Service is held just to the north of the former quarry in the centre of the Wood and all are welcome.