THE HISTORY OF BRAUNSTONE PARK..


The first records of Braunstone are found in the Doomsday Book of 1086 where it is referred to as Brantestone or Brant's Tun. Braunstone was a daughter settlement of nearby Glenfield and was established in the late 8th or early 9th Century, sited at the southern edge of Leicester Forest. As a result of the Norman Conquest much of England was divided amongst William I's noblemen. Braunstone was given to Hugh de Grantemesnil, one of his most trusted Barons and the son of Robert Burdet is named as holding the land. The village consisted of eight households and was worth about 60 shillings. Over the centuries many noble families were connected with the Manor and lands of Braunstone, either as owners or as tenants. In 1246 Roger de Queney is named as owning the land; on his death it passed through the female line to the Ferres of Groby. At one time it appears that the Hastings held the land jointly with the Greys and by 1299 Hugh de Braunstone gave a life interest to William de Herle. Between the 13th and 16th centuries, the Harecourts held an overriding interest in the estate. In the late 16th century several portions of Braunstone were sold off. 150 acres of arable land were sold to the Manners family in 1579 and a further 100 acres went to the Bennett family ten years later. In 1596 over 240 acres of land was converted to pasture by The Hastings Family.


- The Winstanley Family -


During the Civil War (1642-1649), Sir Henry Hastings, a younger son of the Earl of Huntingdon, held allegiance to the royal forces of King Charles I. After the war his estates were confiscated by the Parliamentarians and the fine of £2,072 led to bankruptcy. The Winstanleys came to Braunstone in the mid 17th century. James Winstanley purchased the estate from the executors of the Hastings family after the death of Henry Hastings in 1649, for the sum of £6,000. A quitclaim in 1651 gave him freehold interest in the estate of Braunstone. The Winstanleys played a vital role in determining the future economic and social history of their properties in and around Braunstone and Kirby Muxloe for the next 275 years. They had a reputation for being fair-minded and judicious, holding important roles as leading dignitaries in The Leicester Corporation. Their decisions influenced the lives of the communities of both Braunstone and Leicester. James Winstanley was a Puritan and a lawyer by profession in the service of the Duchy of Lancaster before taking up residence in Braunstone. He and his wife Catherine had three children. Their home was an old Elizabethan Manor originally built in approximately 1480 and is thought to have stood south of Braunstone Lane, close to the site of Old Hall Farm which was demolished in 1967. The Manor had stonewalled cellars and above the ground floor, two upper overhanging storeys of oak frame infilled with daub and wattle or brick. James Winstanley was a member of Gray's Inn and the Recorder of Leicester, a position he held until his failure to conform in 1662. While in office he proclaimed Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector. He died in 1666 and the estate passed to his eldest son Clement. Clement like his father was a member of Gray's Inn and his wife was also called Catherine. Clement died in 1672 and was buried in the family vault under the altar of the 12th century church of St. Peter's in Braunstone village. Their eldest son James became the third Winstanley to inherit the estate. He was also a member of Gray's Inn and MP for Leicester. James married Frances, daughter of James Holt of Castleton, and their only son, also named James, took over on the death of his father in 1719. He was elected to the post of High Sheriff of Leicester and married his cousin Mary Prideaux. In 1750 he bored for coal near the lakes on Braunstone Park, hoping to cash in on the lucrative trade. But one night after two weeks of hard work by his estate hands, saboteurs, thought to be from the Leicestershire Colliers, filled the bore hole with rocks and stones. With his attempt to find coal thwarted he never continued with the venture. He died in 1770. James was succeeded by his son, another Clement. In 1775 he commissioned the local architect and builder William Oldham (who later became the Lord Mayor of Leicester) to construct the present hall. The design typical of the period, a solid Georgian residence. The Hall was built on a rise with views overlooking Charnwood Forest and set in one hundred acres of fine parkland. During its construction scaffolding from the top floor collapsed, killing a labourer and a stonemason, with many more badly injured. This may have led to the first stories of the Hall being haunted. A water head made of lead still exists, inscribed with the date 1776. Clement also held the office of High Sheriff of Leicester and in 1774 a remarkable procession took place. It was the custom to accompany the Judge to the Assizes Court at the Leicester Castle. The procession left from Braunstone Hall in military fashion. Thirty gentlemen wearing blue coats with crimson collars, white waistcoats and breeches formed the main escort, with a further 400 horsemen in attendance. The spectacle drew large crowds of bystanders who cheered them on their way. His wife was Jane Parkins sister of the first Baron Rancliffe of Bunny, Nottinghamshire. He died in 1808. The next to become heir was their eldest son Clement, JP, Lieutenant-Colonel of the Leicestershire Militia from 1802-9. He was also the Chairman of the Leicester and Swannington Railway, which opened in 1832. He died unmarried in 1855.The estate passed to his nephew James Beaumont, High Sheriff of Leicester. He was only thirty when he mysteriously disappeared while abroad in Europe. When a body was found floating in the River Moselle in Germany the Winstanley family hired the private detective "Tanky Smith" to go to Germany to identify the body. A butler from the hall accompanied him and on the evidence of some clothing and a pair of cufflinks the body was identified as James Beaumont. The year was 1862. James was unmarried so for the first time the succession went to a female member of the family, his sister, Anna Jane Pochin. Anna Jane was married to Commander Ralph George Pochin RN of Barkby. In 1904 she relinquished the estate in favour of her son Richard Norman. Anna Jane and her husband are buried side by side in St. Peter's churchyard, Jane's memorial entwined with flowers, his with a chain and anchor. Richard Norman Pochin changed his name by deed poll to Winstanley. In 1911 he extended the south side of the Hall by adding a wing with toilets and bathrooms. The initials R & K can be seen in decorative brickwork. It was in 1925 while he, his wife Kitty and six children were still in residence, that the Leicester Corporation compulsorily purchased his land in Braunstone for much-needed housing. A stone tablet in the family church of St Peter's reads: "To the memory of Major Richard Norman Winstanley of the East Surrey Regiment, born at Braunstone Hall and died in Hampshire 25th August 1954".


- The Sale -


The seeds of demise for the Winstanleys and their reign in Braunstone was set in progress by a harmless but rousing speech made by David Lloyd George on 13th November 1918, only two days after the end of the First World War. "What is our task?" he said, "To make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in." Over the years the passage evolved into the quote, "Land fit for Heroes." From the speech echoed the call for land to build new houses to replace the squalid and cramped conditions many of the working class lived in. Light airy rooms and most importantly provision for proper sanitary conditions were to be incorporated in the plans. Under the Housing Acts of 1890-1924, councils all over the country were bound by law to provide land and to build houses, bringing about the modern housing estates of today. The process of breaking up country estates gathered momentum. In Leicester amongst the larger estates to be effected were Braunstone and the nearby estate of Westcotes. Allotments held by various small holders in the immediate district also came under the notice of the compulsory purchase order. Major Richard Norman Winstanley objected to the compulsory purchase of his land on the grounds that his family still lived in the Hall, pointing out that the remaining park and Hall would be completely surrounded by land that the Leicester Corporation had earmarked for housing. He explained he had recently improved and modernised the Hall at great expense. He felt the housing scheme would affect the value of his remaining property and the quality of life of his family whose forebears had lived in Braunstone since 1650. A Ministry of Health Inquiry on the Compulsory Acquisition of land in Braunstone District was held in the Town Hall on Tuesday 18th November 1924. Amongst those present were the Mayor of Leicester Mr. Cllr. Hallam, Chairman of the Housing Committee, Mr. Millard, Medical Officer of Health, Major Richard Norman Winstanley, his Land Agent Mr. Joyce and other interested persons who had reason to contest the compulsory order. The Town Clerk opened the proceedings with the case for the Corporation. There were 1,091 acres of land of which 219 acres were in the City and 872 acres in the County. Major Winstanley owned 949.174 acres all of which came under the compulsory order. During the debate Major Winstanley stated, "I do not think the land, a goodish lump, is required. I should like to point out that I have in no way held up building." I have attempted during the past two years to make arrangements for the erection of houses on the Narborough Road, but these could not be built because the width of the road had not been settled, then when I got leave to build the compulsory order was thrown at my head." It was not only the well-known landowners who were affected by the order. Mr. William Wathen wrote objecting on behalf of his fellow allotment owners; in his letter he writes, "..thus robbing the working man of years of toil, to say nothing of the real necessity of an allotment to the average working man." He even has a solution to the problem of the housing shortage, "Instead of robbing us of our gardens why not turn a few of the empty villas into flats and so solve the housing question? There are plenty standing empty". He concludes, "Now, I beg you as the representative of the working man not to consent to the robbing of the working man of his one bit of pleasure." The protestations were overruled and by November/December 1925 Major Winstanley had agreed to sell the "Mansion House and Parklands and Plantations known as Braunstone Hall", as well as "Farmhouses messuages tenements buildings and cottages - together with closes or parcels of land, plantations and allotments." The purchase price was £116,500. The land surrounding Braunstone Hall was opened as a public park in the early 1930s. In 1932, after refurbishment, Braunstone Hall opened as a 'Senior School'. However, as younger families moved into the new housing estate the need for a Junior School was more essential and in 1933 the Braunstone Hall Junior School was opened. It served the local community as a school until it was closed (most likely due to vandalism) in 1996..


- The War Years -


During the Second World War, the park was put to agricultural use. Wheat, barley and potatoes were some of the crops grown while sheep grazed the remaining pastureland. The Local Home Guard was based in Braunstone Hall, the park keeper being amongst their detachment. Mr. D.C. Hamilton remembers being on sentry duty when a land mine was dropped and exploded on the park. The park keeper was on duty at the time of the incident and was duly dispatched to locate the mine, which he did when he fell into the crater in the pitch black of night! Between 1943 and 1945 the 168 Battery of the Royal Artillery and the 52nd/53rd Field Regiment Royal Artillery were stationed on the park, the 53rd Regiment coming directly from active service in Italy in June 1945. Throughout this period Braunstone Hall School remained open, coping with the many difficulties that arose from being surrounded by a "friendly invasion". On 14th February 1944 the 82nd Airborne Division arrived in Braunstone with Major General Mathew B. Ridgeway as their Divisional Commander. Victoria Park was the major camp in Leicester with the Divisional Headquarters on Braunstone Park. The War Room was set up and staffed twenty-four hours a day. The Nissen huts, erected in advance of their arrival, were to be their home for the coming months. The 82nd Airborne Division was formed on the 15th August 1942 for service in North Africa. They had been on active service in Sicily and Italy before the troops were pulled out to come to England in preparation for "Overlord" and the D-Day Landings in Normandy. During their stay in Braunstone, General Gavin was appointed Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, becoming the youngest General since the American Civil War. After the war, due to the severe housing shortage the camp was used to house displaced families until permanent homes could be found for them.


- The Ghosts -


Braunstone Hall and the park have long been associated with ghost stories, with too many sightings for them to be dismissed or ignored. Stories of ghostly carriages drawn by black horses that disappear into the bleak spinney at the dead of night, a forlorn boy dressed in Victorian clothing whose shady figure stares out of an upstairs window. The young groom who died a tragic lonely death hanging from a beam in a room above the stables. One of the most famous stories relates to a young girl in white who walks the corridors of the hall. Her appearance was so regular that the apparition was almost thought of as normal. The apparition frightened the young Winstanleys and their servants. They would have had nothing but a candle for light as they made their way along murky corridors to their quarters on the top floor passing the governess room where most of the sightings occurred. The young girl could be one of two sisters who left the Hall to join a Roman Catholic convent; tragically the younger, May Winstanley, died of tuberculosis at the age of 18 while still a novice. Her sister Georgina died thirty-four years later in 1933..


- The Walled Garden -


The Walled Garden is approached through an arched gateway from the stableyard and has a long and varied history. Originally the kitchen garden for the Winstanley household, the first reference to it was as early as 1792, when it was described as having hothouses of considerable magnitude, and the garden walls planted with choice fruit trees. The hothouses provided a large and diverse range of fruit and vegetables: nectarines, peaches, cherries, apricots and melons, all benefiting from the close proximity of the stables! The garden also had a vinery and orchard filled with a variety of fruit trees. In later years after the land had been acquired by the Leicester Corporation. The garden was used as holding beds for trees and shrubs before they were distributed to the various parks in the city. In the early 1980s the garden was cleared, redesigned and opened to the public on 22nd May 1983 by Councillor R.A. Flint, JP. Formal floral displays encompassed by a parterre and sweeping lawns have taken the place of vegetables and fruit, presenting a riot of colour throughout the year. The old walls provide shelter for a rich variety of herbaceous plants and colourful shrubs under planted with spring flowering bulbs. Braunstone Park achieved an award for horticultural excellence within parks from the East Midlands in Bloom Committee in 1996 when it was "Highly Commended".


- The Park Today -


The park covers 168 acres of beautiful open parkland, ancient spinneys, wooded areas and meadow land with evidence of ridge and furrow cultivation. Two lakes on the southern boundary attract migrating birds and a wide variety of wildlife. Braunstone Hall stands proudly in the centre of the park along side the refurbished stable block accommodating offices and a Visitor/Information Centre that was opened 4th June 1989 by Councillor David Taylor. Part of the stables have been left unaltered and still retain many period features including hefty wooden stalls, hay troughs and the original stone flooring. The Hall and stable block are both Grade II listed buildings. (Written by Pat Varman, Parks Information Officer).


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