Wednesday, 23rd September 2021 – Stanwick Lakes, Deene Park
Wednesday we were in pretty much the same territory as on Tuesday. There are a number of castles, stately homes and such over towards Corby, along the Nene Valley. We were planning on visiting another one we’d never been to (and in fact until I started digging around looking for places to see I’d never even heard of it before), Deene Park. Apparently there are a whole raft of such properties in the Nene Valley, many of them renovated or rebuilt around the same time as the newly rich looked for somewhere to impress their friends and neighbours with. In addition to Rockingham Castle which we have visited, they include Boughton House, Elton Hall, Lyveden, Southwick Hall, Kirby Hall, Delapre Abbey (where we have had dinner, but not seen the rest of the building) and, although it’s not a house in the conventional sense, Chichele College, so we have plenty of scope for days out in future.
The earliest we could get into Deene Park was after lunch, so I’d planned a stop off on the way to take a look at Stanwick Lakes which has a number of ancient sites within the park, and apparently lots of interesting wildlife. It was a lovely day, so a mooch around the lakes seemed like a good plan. The lakes are a country park that has been in place since 2006 on the site of 750 acres (304 hectares) of gravel pits. You would not know it to see them now. Disappointingly, the Visitor Centre, which contains artefacts found during a number of excavations between 1984 and 1992 is not open during the week. We grabbed a coffee in the sun, and then attempted to find any information about the heritage trail. The coffee shop had some leaflets offering various walks, but not the heritage one, and the woman behind the counter in the coffee shop had never heard of it.
There wasn’t much in the way of information about the artworks scattered around the lakeside either, and it wasn’t until I was able to root around in the website that I found anything about the Sculpture Trail. Apparently it’s around a mile around Solstice Lake and we found it wholly by accident. There’s a giant fish, a willow labyrinth by the outdoor theatre (closed), frogs, owls, an installation representing the railway line that used to run through the site and finally a massive totem depicting the elements.
Firing up the Ordnance Survey app on my phone was slightly more helpful, so we headed off around one of the lakes, enjoying the scenery and trying to identify some of the birds we could see. After a circuit of one side of the park, we finally discovered a collection of heritage trail leaflets in a plastic display box attached to the barn. Thus armed, we set off in pursuit of the various items listed.
Each of the six sites is marked with a tall stone post, each carved with an historical era and three plaques, and they basically identify the location of an important historic settlement discovered at the time of the major archaeological excavations by Northamptonshire County Council and English Heritage in the 1980s and 1990s. Standing in front of each stone and looking over the top means you are looking straight at the original location of one of the original settlements.
Among the excavations, was a Roman villa dug up between 1984 and 1992. Several mosaics were found and one is apparently in the visitor centre, which made it even more vexing that the centre was closed. The website does at least have a photo of it, but I should have liked to see it myself.
Also marked by the posts are a medieval village excavated in 1985-1989 and an Iron Age settlement, which is now the site of a roundhouse which is currently looking a little in need of refurbishment.
We also stopped off in one of the hides for a while to just watch the water birds. It was rather lovely and strangely restful.
We walked back to an extremely hot car because although I’d parked in the shade on arrival, the sun was now directly overhead. We flung the doors open to let some cooler air in and then headed to Deene Park.
It’s a very pretty house, set in some lovely gardens, with its own lake. The website describes it as a house which “evolved through the Tudor and Georgian periods to the mansion it is today”. As with Rockingham Castle, it is still a family home, and so once again no photography was allowed inside. We were in good time for our timed entry, and were happy to once again wear facemasks and use the hand sanitiser provided at the entrance. The inner courtyard is a very attractive space, and you can see the massive Tudor bay window which is two storeys high, though with a blocked up section that is believed to have been there since the start.
Of the rooms, I liked the Great Hall very much. It dates from 1572, when Sir Edmund Brudenell laid the foundations which enlarged the previous hall to its current size and appearance. There is impressive panelling, stained-glass, and lots of large portraits. Here’s an official photo from their website.
There are other rooms, obviously, including the library, which is still full of books, most of which belonged to the 1st Earl of Cardigan, who was infuriated when Cromwell’s troops took away all of his books after they sacked the house in 1643. He ended up having to buy them back, which would have infuriated me too! Another phase of damage to the house occurred in the 1940s, when the house was requisitioned by the army. One of the results was that the drawing room, which was originally hung with pale blue silk, needed to be completely redecorated. Sadly, to redo it in silk would have been far too expensive, so a wallpaper version of the design was used instead.
Also in the house are artefacts associated with Lieutenant-General James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, Lord Cardigan. He was an officer in the British Army who commanded the Light Brigade during the Crimean War and led the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava. These artefacts include a portrait of the Earl on his horse, Ronald, the horse on which he led the charge. They also include Ronald’s head and tail, preserved when Ronald died four years after his master. More interesting perhaps than the 7th Earl was his second wife, the scandalous Adeline, Countess of Cardigan. Born Adeline Louisa Maria Kilderbee, she seems to have had a chequered romantic history, before becoming the mistress of the Earl, despite him being considerably older and a friend of her father. The Earl was still married, although he had separated from his wife. It was only when the Earl was widowed in July 1858 that they married, in what seems to have been considered unseemly haste by many, in September the same year. Polite society, possibly taking the lead from Queen Victoria, shunned her in particular, the Queen refusing to receive her at court because she was actually a divorcee, having been married some time before.
The Earl died 10 years after the wedding in 1868, but Adeline’s life continued to be the subject of gossip. She may, or may not, have turned down a proposal of marriage from Benjamin Disraeli, depending on whose version of the story one believes. She definitely did not turn down a further proposal from Dom António Manuel de Saldanha e Lancastre, Conde de Lancastre, a Portuguese aristocrat who was a descendant of John of Gaunt. They married in 1873, and she then continued to annoy Queen Victoria by styling herself the Countess of Cardigan and Lancaster. The annoyance came about because the Queen liked to travel incognito in Europe as “the Countess of Lancaster”. The couple lived together for 6 years in Paris, but Adeline decided to return to England because her estates were suffering from her absence. The Count died in 1898, and thereafter Adeline became increasingly eccentric while continuing to shock all around her. She wore far too much make-up, smoked cigarettes in public, organised steeplechases through the local graveyard, and kept her coffin in the house, asking for opinions on her appearance while lying in it. She apparently “became everyone’s idea of a merry widow”, which probably led to her bankruptcy, forcing the sale of many of her clothes, carriages and horses despite her best efforts to hide items from her creditors. The bailiffs finally came in and removed most of her possession when she was in her late 80s.
Apparently she was often seen locally, cycling, dressed in her first husband’s regimental trousers, and she seems to have been regarded as something of a tourist attraction in her own right, dying at Deene Park in May 1915 at the age of 90. And after all that history, it was time for a cream tea again sitting outside in the sunshine, being grateful for the warm Autumn days we had so far been lucky enough to have during our time off.
We finished up by taking a wander around the gardens, which were still full of interest despite it being almost October. Again, the rose garden might not have been at its absolute best, but there were still blooms to admire. As with a lot of the grounds, the rose garden is a recent development, in this instance created by Charlotte Brudenell in place of some yew trees that were not doing well there. Working with Alice Atkinson, they used patterns based on the 1597 ceiling in the Tapestry Room and planted David Austin roses chosen because their names were reminiscent of family and close friends (Maid Marion for the late Marian Brudenell, Rosa Mundi for her godmother Rosamund, and do on).
The white garden is a secluded spot dedicated to the memory of Robert Brudenell’s parents, and it was still looking lovely on the day we visited. In fact it was all rather wonderful, and I would like to go back for the garden tour with supper that is hosted by the Head Gardener. In the meantime, however, it was getting close to their closing time, and we needed to go home and get tidied up before going out to dinner.