History of Brodsworth Hall
Brodsworth Hall was built between 1861 and 1863 for Charles Sabine Thellusson. It survives as a mid-Victorian vision of a comfortable country house, with many of its original furnishings and the formal gardens laid out around it. However, Brodsworth had fallen into disrepair by 1990 when it was given to English Heritage. Since then its fragile interiors have been gently conserved, while the gardens have been returned to their earlier formality.
There is a much longer history to Brodsworth than the Victorian house and gardens might suggest. The house and village lie on a broad limestone ridge, a fertile area in which there have been settlements since the Iron Age. Running along the ridge is a major route north used by the Romans, whose garrison nearby developed to become Doncaster.
Land farmed around the adjacent villages of Brodsworth and Pickburn was transferred into Norman ownership in 1086. A manor at Brodsworth was owned from the 12th to 16th centuries by the Darrell and Dawnay families. This was acquired by the Wentworth family in the 17th century, one of whom, Darcy Wentworth of Brodsworth, became embroiled in the Civil War on the Parliamentarian side.
The exact size and site of the manor house of this period are not known. It may have been incorporated into the 18th-century house near the church of St Michael and All Angels. Evidence of a deserted medieval village has also been found to the east of the church.
A ‘Spacious and Noble Mansion’
Archbishop Hay Drummond clearly had architectural ambitions, commissioning plans from Robert Adam between 1761 and 1765 for both a new house and alternatively an addition to the existing house at Brodsworth.
The architect of the scheme actually undertaken over the next ten years is not known, but it seems to have involved major rebuilding and refacing of the house. Photographs, maps and paintings record a huge house with canted bays at the centre of its main façades. A long 13-bay front overlooked the village and church, with short wings at each end reaching back to the stable block.
The archbishop did not enjoy his ‘spacious and noble mansion’ for long, dying in 1776. His eldest son became the 10th Earl of Kinnoull in 1787, inheriting Dupplin Castle and estates in Scotland, and put the Brodsworth estate up for sale once more.
A Divided Inheritance
The effect of the will for Brodsworth was that the estate was managed and enjoyed mainly by the trustees, probably with little investment in the house, for half a century. This may have been one of the reasons for the drastic changes undertaken by the next member of the Thellusson family to own Brodsworth.
After a legal judgment in 1858 the inheritance was finally divided the next year between two of Peter Thellusson’s great-grandsons. Frederick, 4th Lord Rendlesham, received the estate in Suffolk and remaining Caribbean property, while Charles Sabine Thellusson (1822–85) was granted the Brodsworth estate. Both used their inheritance to build new country houses.
Charles Sabine Thellusson had grown up with an impecunious father but the great expectation of inheriting the Thellusson fortune. He spent a few years in a smart regiment, the 12th Lancers, and in 1850 married Georgiana Theobald, whose grandfather John Theobald was a horse-racing friend of his father.
Theobald had made money in the hosiery trade, later building up one of the largest studs in the country at Stockwell, then south of London. The paintings of racehorses still at Brodsworth today were inherited from John and his son William Theobald.
After Charles Sabine Thellusson died in 1885 each of his four sons inherited Brodsworth in turn. With falling agricultural income, it became increasingly difficult to maintain the house, which remained relatively unchanged.
The third son, also called Charles, leased land to the Brodsworth Colliery Company to sink a pit on the estate in 1905, which brought some additional income. Charles and his wife, Constance, were able to entertain and live in some style, redecorating rooms and introducting electricity to the house in 1913. After Charles’s death in 1919 the last brother, Augustus, who lived in Kent, tended to stay at Brodsworth only for the winter shooting.
In 1931 Brodsworth was inherited by Charles Grant-Dalton, the son of Charles Sabine Thellusson’s daughter Constance. Charles, his wife, Sylvia, and their 12-year-old daughter, Pamela, came to live at Brodsworth. By this time the house and estate were badly in need of investment, but economic depression and death duties ruled that out. They made the Victorian house more habitable and manageable, however, with ever fewer servants, by closing some rooms, brightening others with a lick of plain paint, and introducing a few modernisations such as a lift and an Aga cooker.