Hidden Treasure Houses

Tuesday 23 January: 19.15–20.00
Another chance to see an episode of the fascinating series in which art and antiques expert James Miller visits different stately homes throughout Britain, meeting the owners and telling the story of their architecture and art. The houses have all been lived in by the ancestors of the current occupants, with the architecture, art and antique collections reflecting the narrative of these great families and the political machinations of the times.

In tonight’s programme, Miller visits Deene Park near Corby, Northamptonshire. This country house has remained in the hands of the Brudenells for over 500 years. Today, Miller is being shown around by Marion Brudenell, who married into the family in 1955. She and her husband Edmund have made restoring Deene their life’s work.

Their first stop is the courtyard. At the time of Sir Robert Brudenell, who built Deene, this would have been at the core of a much simpler manor house. Each successive generation has since rebuilt, remodelled and added to the house, culminating in what Miller describes as “the architectural feast” that is Deene Park today. At the end of the 16th century, Sir Robert’s grandson Edmund extended the house by adding an Italian-style porch, after marrying a wealthy heiress in 1570. According to Marion, the heiress was murdered by her husband for failing to bear him children! “I had twins in nine months and a few days,” she tells Miller. “I thought it would be safer!”

Miller’s next stop is the Great Hall, which was also added by Edmund in the 16th century. This elaborate banqueting room boasts myriad coats of arms, a table and bench dating back to the 16th century and a complex, multi-beamed roof. The wealth of features reveal the rich history of this family, who can trace their lineage back to William the Conqueror.

Despite the fluctuations in fortunes over the centuries, the Brudenells have retained many family portraits, including one of Sir Robert that was painted in 1620 – a century after his death. Others line the Elizabethan oak staircase which leads up through the oldest part of the house to the tapestry room. “Heavens, what a ceiling!” exclaims Miller as he enters the room and spots the elaborate carvings overhead, which date from the 1590s. Dominating the room is a magnificent 17th-century tapestry depicting the biblical tale of Joseph.

Most of the changes at Deene were made by the third Lord Cardigan, who inherited the house in 1703 at the age of 18 and decided that it and its gardens were too old-fashioned. The landscape has sincebeen remodelled, and ten years ago Marion Brudenell created a new parterre – a geometric formal garden on the terrace which echoes the style of the 17th century – taking the pattern from that of the porch.

Back inside, Miller takes a look at the dining room and the family portraits displayed there. The room is dominated by a painting of one of the most famous members of the family: the seventh Earl of Cardigan, who led the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War. In the so-called White Hall, Marion Brudenell shows Miller some of the artefacts of this Earl and his times, including the stuffed head of Ronald, the horse he rode that day!

Elsewhere in the house, Miller sees the beautiful drawing room which has been restored by Marion Brudenell, investigates Deene’s impressive library, which the current Edmund Brudenell is busy restoring, and delights in the teapot-shaped topiary. It is comedy touches like this, remarks Miller, that mean Deene Park will never become a museum piece.

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