A Brief History...
by Sandy Haynes, Estate Archivist
The park and garden at Enville Hall retain the imprint of over 700 years of human activity and the grounds are listed as a Grade II* landscape on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens. The Hall and some of the buildings within the grounds are also listed.
Enville is the home of the Grey family who originated in Leicestershire and built Bradgate Park, once the home of Lady Jane Grey. A minor branch of the family moved to Staffordshire in the late 15th century and acquired through marriage the manor of Enville. Thomas Grey built a new red brick house with turrets and crow-stepped gables beside a deer park in the 1530s. The Leicestershire branch survived in spite of the setback when a large number of the family were executed in the early part of 16th century. In 1620 the 2nd Baron Grey of Groby married Anne Cecil, the youngest daughter and co-heir of William Cecil, 3rd Earl of Exeter. Through his wife, Henry inherited the castle, borough and manor of Stamford and in 1628 was created Earl of Stamford. The title was at first held by the Bradgate branch until the death of the 2nd Earl when it descended to his cousin Harry who lived at Enville. His son, also Harry, who became the 4th Earl decided to make Enville his main home. The Bradgate house was bricked up and the park there kept for hunting and game.
At Enville the 4th Earl, with the help of the Warwickshire architect Sanderson Miller and the poet William Shenstone, set about designing a great landscape garden in an already beautiful natural landscape of hills, pools and streams. The grounds extended over 750 acres with a variety of buildings, cascades and bridges from which the landscape might be viewed. Together with Shenstone’s garden at The Leasowes and Lord Cobham’s at Hagley it was one of the ‘must see’ places for any tourist from the 1750s onwards. When the garden was completed in the 1770’s the 5th Earl decided to modernise the house. Sir William Chambers drew up plans for a new Palladian mansion, but the 5th Earl eventually chose Thomas Hope’s design in which the original Tudor house was encapsulated within a gothic castellated front. This is very much what remains today.
The 4th, 5th and 6th Earls all married into wealthy aristocratic families, Booth, Cavendish-Bentinck and Charteris, which bought them more land and money. In particular the estates of the Earl of Warrington at Dunham Massey, Cheshire and much land in Lancashire where they were instrumental in building the town of Ashton-under-Lyne in the late 18th century.
In the late 18th century the family concentrated their activities on managing their various estates. Gardening remained a key interest, particularly growing exotic fruits such as melons and pineapples and collecting orchids. The Enville variety of pineapple was well known and grown throughout the country.
When George Harry, the 7th Earl, inherited the estate in 1845 he was only 18. For the next three years the estate was administered by guardians and trustees during which time he seems to have been planning a great new garden with all the latest technological features of fountains, conservatories and hot houses. Luckily he chose to develop this new garden away from the one laid out in the 18th century. Enville was at the forefront of Victorian gardening which was maintained by a permanent garden workforce of 35 gardeners. Throughout the summer months from 1854 onwards about 6000 people visited Enville every week to see the new gardens and this necessitated building a hotel and extensive stabling in the village to accommodate all the tourists. After the Earl died in 1883 his widow carried on, but after a period of vandalism in the gardens they were shut in 1892 never to reopen on a regular basis.
The gardens also formed part of sporting festivals with cricket matches held between the Earl of Stamford’s team and and All England XI. He was President of the MCC and the turf from Enville was taken to Lords Cricket Ground. Lord Stamford was also a keen horseman with a passion for hunting and racing and became Master of the Quorn Hunt in Leicestershire. He also bred racehorses, thus continuing an Enville tradition which was started by 1751 and continues through to this day.
In 1904 there was a fire at the Hall and the Countess died childless the following year. The three estates in Leicestershire, Staffordshire and Cheshire were divided between three relatives and the title died out with the 10th Earl of Stamford and Warrington in 1976. Bradgate, the Leicestershire estate is now a country park, Dunham Massey in Cheshire is owned by the National Trust and Enville Hall remains as a private family house.
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