History of Brodsworth Hall and Gardens

Brodsworth Hall was built as a new country house between 1861 and 1863 for Charles Sabine Thellusson and his family. It has survived as a mid-Victorian vision of an up-to-date and comfortable country house, with many of its original furnishings and the formal gardens which were laid out around it. However, Brodsworth was not easy for later family members to live in, and had fallen into disrepair by 1990 when it was given to English Heritage. Since then the house has been repaired, and its fragile and faded interiors gently conserved, telling the changing fortunes of the house, its family and their servants over 130 years, while the gardens have been returned to their earlier formality.

The south and east façades of Brodsworth Hall

The south and east façades of Brodsworth Hall

Early History

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.[1]

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.[2]

Robert Hay Drummond, Archbishop of York, who inherited the Brodsworth estate in 1758

Robert Hay Drummond, Archbishop of York, who inherited the Brodsworth estate in 1758
© York City Art Gallery/York Museums Trust

Creating an 18th-century Estate

The manor including ‘Brodsworth Hall’ was sold in 1713 by Sir John Wentworth to George Hay, Viscount Dupplin. After falling from political favour in 1715, Dupplin retreated to Brodsworth and probably rebuilt or improved the house. He is known to have laid out pleasure gardens and woodland walks, and planted trees across the estate.

Dupplin became the 8th Earl of Kinnoull in 1719, but lost his fortune in the South Sea Bubble speculation in 1720. The earl’s wife and children remained at Brodsworth while he then lived in London and for a period as ambassador in Constantinople, until his death in 1758.

The Brodsworth estate then became the home of the 9th Earl’s younger brother, Robert Hay-Drummond, who from 1761 was Archbishop of York. He divided his energies between his episcopal duties, building projects at Bishopthorpe Palace, just south of York, and entertaining and improving his childhood home and estate at Brodsworth.

 

The old Brodsworth Hall, coloured orange, is shown lying between the  church and stables in this enclosure map of 1815–30

The old Brodsworth Hall, coloured orange, is shown lying between the  church and stables in this detail from an enclosure map of 1815–30
© Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Archives  (P10/9/A2)

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.[3]

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’[4] 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.

The old house at Brodsworth as rebuilt by Robert Hay Drummond, photographed just before it was demolished in 1861

The old house at Brodsworth as rebuilt by Robert Hay Drummond, photographed just before it was demolished in 1861

The Thellusson Will

The Brodsworth estate was bought in 1791 by Peter Thellusson, who came from a family long established in European commerce. Originally French Huguenots (Protestants), they were later Swiss merchants and financiers.

Peter Thellusson settled in England in 1760, acting as an agent for the family and other banks. His activities included providing loans and insurance to slave-ship and plantation owners, and as a result of defaults on debts he gained interests in Caribbean plantations.[5] He commissioned a Palladian villa by Thomas Leverton at Plaistow near Bromley in the 1780s, before buying the substantial Brodsworth estate.

Peter Thellusson died in 1797 and is best known for his will in which he left the bulk of his fortune in trust for as yet unborn descendants. The protracted legal battles between family members which followed – and from which the lawyers and trustees seemed to benefit most – may have been one of the examples that inspired the labyrinthine case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House.

Fears about the vast fortune which might be amassed also brought about the ‘Thellusson Act’ of 1800, which limited the time for which property could be left to accumulate.[6]

A portrait of Charles Augustus Thellusson as a captain in the 12th Royal Lancers in about 1848, attributed to Alfred Courbould (1821–74)

A portrait of Charles Augustus Thellusson as a captain in the 12th Royal Lancers in about 1848, attributed to Alfred Courbould (1821–74)

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.

A watercolour, probably  by Brodsworth’s architect, Philip Wilkinson, to illustrate the proposed new house

A watercolour, probably  by Brodsworth’s architect, Philip Wilkinson, to illustrate the proposed new house

A Victorian Gentleman’s Estate

Charles Sabine Thellusson was a leading yachtsman and enjoyed yachting on the south coast in the summer and shooting in the winter. The Thellussons required a house and estate suited to family life and entertaining their social set. They soon decided to replace entirely the massive Georgian house with a more efficiently planned new house, setting it further away from the church and village in private gardens overlooking newly opened up parkland.

Thellusson commissioned a London architect, Philip Wilkinson, to build the Italianate mansion at great speed between 1861 and 1863. The London firm of Lapworths furnished it in the conventional taste of the day. It had a subsidiary wing for the servants to live and work in, with a separate laundry and gas works.

By the end of the 1860s the Thellussons’ remodelling of Brodsworth was complete. The gardens had been fully laid out and the estate improved, with woods to provide good shooting and well designed new farm buildings and cottages.

Sylvia Grant-Dalton at Brodsworth

Sylvia Grant-Dalton photographed at Brodsworth in the first-floor room over the main entrance, which was used as a sitting room from the early 20th century

Changing Times

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. 

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT BRODSWORTH’S DECLINE

The drawing room at Brodsworth today

The drawing room at Brodsworth today. Most of its lavish original fittings and furnishings survive – the carpet, gilt furniture and mirrors, chandeliers and delicately painted ceiling, though the wall silks have been patched

Saving Brodsworth

After her husband’s death in 1952 Sylvia Grant-Dalton remained at the hall for over 30 years. Widowed for a second time in 1970, she lived alone at Brodsworth, with eventually only one member of staff, until her death in 1988.

Brodsworth then faced an uncertain future because Pamela, by then Mrs Williams, did not wish to take it on. But Brodsworth’s qualities and impending crisis had been brought to public attention by Mark Girouard, Ben Read and the Victorian Society.[7] A solution was reached in 1990 when Mrs Williams gave the house and gardens to English Heritage. Almost all the contents were bought by the National Heritage Memorial Fund and transferred to English Heritage, which undertook to open Brodsworth to the public.

Major work was required to make the house safe and bring the overgrown gardens under control before Brodsworth opened in 1995. Its stonework and leaking roof were repaired and new services installed. Inside it was decided to conserve the interiors as far as possible as they were found, to preserve both what had survived of its original schemes and the distinctive character Brodsworth had gained from its later history and inhabitants.

              

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About the Author

Caroline Carr-Whitworth is the curator at Brodsworth and the author of the English Heritage guidebook to the hall.

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Footnotes

1. South Yorkshire HER, 00653/01.  
2. Brodsworth community archaeology project, 2006 (accessed 6 March 2015).
3. Both Adam drawings of Brodsworth are in Sir John Soane’s Museum (accessed 6 March 2015).
4. Hay Drummond papers, Borthwick Institute, York University.
5. S Seymour and S Haggerty, ‘Property, power and authority: the implicit and explicit slavery connections of Bolsover Castle and Brodsworth Hall in the 18th century’,  in Slavery and the British Country House, ed M Dresser and A Hann (English Heritage, Swindon, 2013), 84–8; also S Seymour and S Haggerty, Slavery Connections of Brodsworth Hall, 1600–1830 (report for English Heritage, 2010); P Polden, Peter Thellusson’s Will of 1797 and Its Consequences on Chancery Law (Lampeter, 2002), 35–60.
6. Polden, op cit, 191–212.
7. M Girouard, ‘Brodsworth Hall, Yorkshire’, Country Life (3 Oct 1963 and 10 Oct 1963, 876–9.  Also M Girouard, The Victorian Country House (New Haven and London, 1979); M Girouard, ‘A Victorian Masterpiece at Risk’, Country Life (24 Oct 1985); and B Read, ‘Vintage Victoriana’, Country Life, 183 (8 June 1989).

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