Who lived at Dean Hall?

Dean Hall has always had a special place in my heart. Since the days of my childhood until the present day I have felt a particular affinity with the place. Its atmospheres and moods have always tingled my senses, often creating  intangible and inexplicable sensations of belonging  and deja vu.
My parents came to live at Dean Hall in the mid 1950s. My grandmother knew that one of her mother’s Penberthy cousins from Cornwall bought a house in Gloucestershire, but she knew not where. That was Major Professor John Penberthy of  Trewergie, whose family owned Dean Hall between 1998 and 1938.He was a 4th cousin of my father’s grandmother.
It is only as a result of the internet that I now know that my mother’s great grandmother Eleanor Nevill, was a direct descendent of the Dene family, the lords of Dene, who built  the original house which still carries their name to this day. Equally surprising is that the Braynes, Bridgemans and Pyrkes, families which owned the Hall from the early 16th to the end of the 19th centuries, were also kinsmen of my mother’s Nevill and Lewknor ancestors.
Finding that my family has significant family and ancestral links with the place, does’nt change how I feel about it.  It does however quicken my pulse and it gives me an explanation as to why I have from time to time felt so deeply attached to it. Before I sold the main part of the house in 1997, I always considered ownership of an historic house in the late 20th century was more a custodial privilege than a personal thing. I still believe that to be the case. If anything my own family association with Dean Hall gives me more desire to conserve and share that part of Dean Hall in my care with those who are interested in all the historic complexities of this remarkable place.

The Victoria County History gives the following account of who lived at Dean Hall since the middle of the 16th century, based on surviving deeds in the Gloucester Records Office:-

“A house outside the village by the Newnham road, known by 1628 as Littledean Hall and later as DEAN HALL,  became the centre of an estate built up by the Pyrke family. The house belonged until 1611 to the Cockshoot estate in Newnham, which Richard Brayne settled in 1552 on his son John,  later described as of Newent. In 1599 John, together with his son Richard, sold the estate to his nephew Thomas Brayne (d. 1604) and in 1606 Richard, who under Thomas’s will had a reversionary right, acquired it outright from Thomas’s widow Catherine. Richard sold the house in Littledean in 1611 to Richard Brayne of Bristol, a grocer, who sold it in 1612 to Charles Bridgeman of Poulton Court in Awre.  Charles, who bought land around the house, made it his residence  and at his death in 1643 left the small estate to his wife Catherine  (fl. 1657). His grandson Charles Bridgeman sold it first in 1657 to John Wade,  the chief administrator of the Forest of Dean,  and, having bought it back from Wade in 1662,  secondly in 1664 to Thomas Pyrke of Abenhall, a landowner at Mitcheldean.  Thomas took up residence in the house and enlarged the estate,  which at his death in 1702 passed to his wife Anne in jointure. She released it in 1703 to his son and heir Nathaniel in return for an annuity.  Nathaniel, who in 1710 added the Cockshoot to the estate,  died in 1715 leaving his son Thomas as his heir.  From Thomas (d. 1752) the estate passed in turn to his wife Dorothy (d. 1762) and his greatnephew Joseph Watts.  Joseph, who changed his surname to Pyrke, took possession in 1764  and died in 1803 leaving the estate of 185 a. in Littledean and Newnham to his son Joseph Pyrke  (d. 1851). From the latter it passed to his son Duncombe (d. 1893), whose son Duncombe  broke it up by sales. In 1897 H. J. Austin, a Lancaster architect, bought the house and c. 30 a. and in 1898 he sold the same to John Penberthy.  Penberthy, who bought other land in and around Littledean,  died in 1927 and, following the death of his wife Eleanor in 1938, his daughter Enstice, wife of E. W. Jacques,  sold the house to M. G. Corbet-Singleton (d. 1964). Corbet-Singleton’s widow Enid left it in 1975 to Mr. David Macer-Wright, whose son, Mr. D. M. Macer-Wright, was the owner in 1989″.

My mother’s ancestors were Thomas Lewknor a 4th cousin of Thomas Brayne of Dean Hall (died1604), the Hon. Francis Nevill the 2nd son of the 5th Lord Abergavenny  was a 5th cousin of Charles Bridgeman of Littledean Hall and Francis Nevill, grandson of the above, was a 5th cousin of Thomas Pyrke who bought Dean Hall from Charles Bridgeman the Younger in 1664.


“A culture is no better than it’s woods” – a thought on trees.

We love trees! The Roman Temple site has regenerated itself in a relatively short time and we have planted other species to increase biodiversity and also the enjoyment for us.

The red berries of the rowan intermingled with the autumn leaf colours, the still green grass and the moody November skies.

Trees are such an important part of our plans for the garden, this area, the country and our world.  They gather and hold carbon, they provide habitat for countless (and still counting) species of animal, lichens, mosses and other plants whether parasitic or symbiotic.  They give us material to build with on small or large scales, warmth to cook with and be comforted by and beauty whether in their being or in the hands of a craftsperson.   W.H. Auden wrote “A culture is no better than it’s woods”
A thought backed up by recent studies by David Beresford-Jones, of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge into the disappearance of the Nazca. There are a number of great articles around, one from The New Scientist is no exception.  Of course this is extreme and I am in no way linking it to the happenings about us…..

The Chinese have wood as their fifth element and in the customs of  Taoism “woodsmen of the T’ang and S’ung Dynasties …….. would bow to the trees which they felled, and offer a promise that the tree would be used well” (R. Macfarlane, The Wild Places.)  An idea that maybe we have lost in the west.  There is that episode of The Simpsons where a whole tree is taken into a factory and planed down and down until a single pencil (or is it a matchstick – I forget) comes out the other end.  Exaggerated but I am sure it has some grain of truth.
Trees, themselves, are wonderful organisms.  Their ability to react and change to their environment.  Their strength and flexibility.  It is no wonder that many ancient cultures look to trees to show the way for humans.  On the site we have examples of trees that have naturally grafted themselves together.  If you climb up into “Old Jack” the oldest of the sweet chestnuts you will see a tangle of branches now all interconnected through friction and healing – an incredible sight and a wonderful adventure playground.  We have examples of trees that have been weighed down with undergrowth and the throttling bramble and have just produced numerous new shoots, 90 degrees to the original, heading up for the sun.
Robert Macfarlane writes in his book The Wild Places, of visiting a wood where
“In a clearing, I found a storm-felled birch, prostrate but alive.  It had been blown over two or three years earlier, I guessed, from the exent of the growth since then: an ordered row of healthy branches which shot up from the main trunk.”
Trees are common, they line our motorways, are in our gardens and our parks.  So common, in fact, that we take them for granted. “…they are easily overlooked, especially perhaps by eyes turned to the movements of tiny birds[…..]. Their impact on our surroundings is overwhelming as that of landforms or weather [….] only when we look at old photographs or confront the effects of a freak storm do we realise with a jolt how much of a difference the growth, the loss and the variety of trees can make” (Collins Tree Guide, O.Johnson and D. More).  Living in the Forest of Dean, it is perhaps even easier to take trees for granted.  It is an area which lives up to it’s name and it’s woods stretch for many a mile, holding boar, deer and other such creatures from the “Wildwood” myths.  To us, however, each tree is special and we aim to conserve the ones we can and, if necessary, be a voice for doomed trees that are not within our protection.
Specimen trees are planted by humans, for humans.  The tree’s status allows it to grow to its maximum and , in so doing, shows off it’s utter beauty and  grace but there is something lonely, almost unnatural, about a “specimen” tree.  Just like a specimen tiger or great bear in a zoo. Robert Macfarlane writes of his late friend Roger Deakin.
“Trees to him were mutual organisms, best understood when considered in their relationships with one another”
We plant the specimen trees and so we feel an ownership of them, even though they will,given a chance, inevitably outlive us and perhaps many of our descendants to come.  However, ownership comes with responsibilities and some people, when moving in to an area, a new home, can not handle that.  At first opportunity they wish to strip, cut and fell these wonderful beasts and even Tree Preservation Orders don’t count for much when human aspects are taken into account.  A tree near us recently got cut down.  An old, beautifully large Sycamore was felled in a day.  It was hollow inside, according to the tree surgeons and “had to come down”, maybe, but it broke our hearts.  This tree stood in a field with no livestock  or children (that I have ever seen).  The drive to the property ran along side it.  I really can’t see why such a giant of a tree needed to be felled when it did not pose direct risk to life or limb, just a bit of inconvenience if it were to fall across the drive.  I am being emotional about this,  in plain terms of Health and Safety, of legal and legislation there was no choice, but it still saddens me deeply.