CHARLES BENNION AND HIS GIFT OF BRADGATE PARK
Following the end of the First World War, landowners all over the country were putting their Estates on the market. The great rural estates were being broken up and the Bradgate Estates of the Grey family were no exception.
Outlying parts of the Estate were sold in 1921 and the entire village of Newtown Linford and other nearly villages were sold in 1925.
The sale of Bradgate Park itself was held back until 1928 when Katherine Duncombe, heiress of the Grey family, began negotiations with Charles Bennion of Thurnby, (founder of the British United Shoe Machinery Company) for him to purchase Bradgate Park. Mr Bennion finally bought the Park, after Katherine’s death, from her daughter Cecily in December 1928.
Charles Bennion then, by prior arrangement, gave the Park in trust to be managed “in perpetuity as an open space or public park for the purposes of recreation” by the people of Leicestershire and visitors to the county.
This wonderful gift is commemorated on a plaque on a large boulder alongside the carriageway – mid way between the Newtown Linford entrance and the Ruins.
The great grandson of the Donor is today one of the Bradgate Park Trustees.
Swithland Wood was one of the first disposals of the Bradgate Estate by the Grey family in 1921. It was purchased by a local timber merchant who felled much timber. To prevent the removal of further timber and in order to preserve the Wood, as one of the richest and most attractive areas of woodland in the Midlands, the Rotary Club of Leicester launched an appeal to purchase the Wood in order to preserve it for public access for ever.
Leicester Rotary purchased Swithland Wood in 1925 and managed it themselves for a few years.
When it became clear that the efforts of the Bradgate Park Trust in the preservation of and arranging public access to Bradgate Park, were a great success, the Rotary Club of Leicester decided to offer Swithland Wood to the Bradgate Park Trust for it to be managed by the Trust under the same regulations as the Park and to ensure it remained available for public use for ever.
The transfer of ownership of Swithland Wood (situated directly across the road on the northern side of Bradgate Park) to the Bradgate Park Trust was completed in 1931.
This generous gift is commemorated in an inscription on the rock face of the former slate quarry in the centre of the Wood and on a plaque on the nearby surfaced track through the Wood.
The generosity of these two Benefactors and others who have, over the years, also kindly gifted additional land (or made it available for purchase on advantageous terms) means that the Bradgate Park Estate today extends to over 1300 acres and includes not only Bradgate Park (830 acres) and Swithland Wood (146 acres) but also a peripheral belt of farmland and woodland which helps protects the boundaries of Leicestershire’s most popular rural recreational facility
THE BRADGATE PARK TRUST TODAY
The Bradgate Park Trust (or to use our full title ‘The Bradgate Park and Swithland Wood Charity’) is a Registered Charity (no 521476) with a total of ten Trustees. In accordance with the terms of Charles Bennion’s gift, three Trustees are nominated by Leicestershire County Council, three by Leicester City Council and three by the National Trust. Following a review of governance by the Trustees in 2014, up to a further three Trustees can be appointed by the Board itself.
The Trust is governed by a Charity Commission Scheme of 1980, which updated the original 1928 Trust Deed.
The charity has two objects (charitable purposes):
The provision of a public park and recreation ground, and the maintenance and improvement thereof, for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Country of Leicestershire and of visitors thereto, with the objects of improving the conditions of life for such persons
To advance the education of the public in the appreciation and care of the environment.