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.