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Bramham Park was built in 1698 and its famous landscape laid out over the following 30 years by Robert Benson, 1st Lord Bingley.
After 300 years, which include the South Sea Bubble, the untimely death of the heir, dissipation by illegitimate children, crippling gambling debts, a devastating fire, the ravages of two World Wars and death duties, the same family still lives at Bramham and cares for its heritage.
Bramham Park is currently the family home of Nick & Rachel Lane Fox, their five children and five dogs.
The children, in age order are:
The dogs are:
Robert Benson (1st Lord Bingley) 1675-1731
Born at Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield, in 1675. His father was a lawyer, who managed to prosper under Charles I, the Commonwealth and the restored Charles II. He was twice Lord Mayor of York and five times MP for the City. When he died in 1676, he left the infant Robert “£3,000 per annum in land and £120,000 in money”. From his mother, Dorothy, a daughter of Tobias Jenkins, he also inherited St.William’s College in York (which remained in the family until the turn of the C20th).
Benson completed his education in 1697 with a Grand Tour of Europe. In Rome he met the future Earl of Aylesford, whose sister he was later to marry. More important he started to formulate his grand design for Bramham, based upon what he had seen of Italian architecture and French garden design. He probably masterminded the choice of site, the layout of the house, gardens, park, water and woodlands himself.
Away from Bramham, Robert Benson’s career prospered both in politics and business. He was elected MP for York in 1705 and joined the Government in 1710, first as Commissioner of the Treasury and then Lord Treasurer to Queen Anne. In 1713 he became Ambassador to Spain and was created Lord Bingley. His last appointment was as Treasurer to the Household of George II.
In business, he was a director of the South Seas Company. An angry mob is reported to have stoned his carriage in Cavendish Square after the South Sea Bubble burst.
Horace Walpole (4th Earl of Oxford and builder of Strawberry Hill) dismissed Benson as “a person of no extraction” and on his elevation to the peerage, his lack of a coat of arms was remarked upon, but he found favour with Queen Anne; she was his guest at least once at Bramham. He also seems to have been accepted into society as he married Lady Elizabeth Finch, daughter of the 1st Earl of Aylesford. By her he had a daughter, Harriet, who succeeded him in 1731. He is buried in St Paul’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey.
Harriet Benson 1705-1771
She inherited £100,000, a rent roll of £7,000 per annum and her father’s talent for landscape design. She and her husband, George, were responsible for building most of the temples at Bramham.
George Fox Lane (2nd Lord Bingley) 1697-1773
George married Harriet Benson in 1731. Twice MP for York and twice for Yorkshire, he was also ambassador in Vienna. He added Lane to his surname, when he inherited the Irish estates of his uncle, Lord Lanesborough. He was created Lord Bingley in 1763.
Robert Fox Lane 1732-1768
George and Harriet’s only son. He was elected MP for York in 1761. He married first Mildred Bourchier, who died within the year and second Lady Bridget Henley, daughter of the Lord Chancellor, Robert 1st Earl of Northampton.
He had no children and died before either of his parents in 1768 in Bristol. They commissioned John Carr of York to build the Obelisk in Black Fen, in his memory.
Mary Goodricke d.1792
The illegitimate daughter of Robert Benson and half-sister to Harriet. She inherited Bramham for her life, on George Fox Lane’s death. She had a difficult relationship with Harriet, demonstrated by some interesting letters of acid tone between them. Her brother Gen. John Burgoyne surrendered to the Revolutionary forces at Saratoga in 1777, during the American War of Independence.
Mary married Sir John Goodricke of Ribston Hall, just north of Wetherby and between them they despoiled Bramham, carrying off household silver, furniture, stone garden ornaments and cutting down ‘a fine oak wood’.
James Fox Lane 1774-1821
As a nephew of George Fox Lane & Harriet, he succeeded to an estate that was considerably reduced in value in 1792. However, by the end of his life, he left his very extensive estates to his son, whilst he left a further £300,000 to his wife and then to his younger children, in addition to their marriage settlements.
Before inheriting, James married Marcia Pitt, youngest daughter of George 1st Lord Rivers in 1789 and was elected MP for Horsham in 1804.
He was a man of great charm and kindness of heart and was known locally as “Owd Jimmy Fox o’ Bramham Park”. He was devoted to sport and country pursuits and organised the Bramham Moor Hunt on regular lines: collecting the hounds into a pack and hunting regular days over a defined area. He was a close friend of the Prince Regent, who frequently visited Bramham to go fox-hunting. The traditional toast of ‘The Bramham Moor and five-and-twenty couple’, which survives to this day, was initiated by him. He turned the family surname around to ‘Lane Fox’
Pitt the Younger, offered to renew the Bingley peerage for him, however Jimmy declined politely, saying that he “being one of the few old English families – a commoner (not a trader), of high birth and position, piqued himself upon that”. For all this modesty, he lived in some state and was known for always going to church in a coach-and-four with an out-rider. He was so highly respected in the County, where he “resided with princely hospitality”, that during his last illness, the newspapers of Leeds were delayed to announce the state of his health.
George Lane Fox ‘The Gambler’1793-1848
George Lane Fox was a very handsome man, who stood 6’5″ in his stockings and was of magnificent physique, unfortunately he had become a member of the gambling, hard-drinking set that collected round the Prince Regent. Several times his father had to settle his debts, but, by the time his father died in 1821, he was again deep in debt.
He was not helped by his marriage to the extravagant Georgiana Buckley, who was described as a handsome woman and a brilliant talker. The marriage was not a success and they eventually separated. Described by the contemporary diarist and gossip, Thomas Creevey, as “the notorious Mrs. Lane Fox”, the pretty, witty Georgiana maintained a salon in London, the resort of wits and politicians and eventually had to be paid-off with a costly settlement.
George was typical of his period: he had a great capacity for port, grew to 19 stone and became a martyr to the gout. However, though prone to violent tempers, he was generous and much loved by the country people. One of his younger brothers, Sackville, a Guardsman, ran away with Lady Charlotte Osborne, the only daughter of the Duke of Leeds and married her at Gretna Green.
It was whilst George was away at Lord Rivers’ funeral that a fire destroyed the House.
George Lane Fox ‘The Squire’ 1810-1896
On death of George ‘the Gambler’ in 1848, his eldest son, also George, succeeded. He was a great character and sportsman, known to all and sundry in Yorkshire as ‘The Squire’. He married Katherine Stein in 1837. His life was not made any easier by inheriting debts of over £175,000 from his father. In due course he managed to pay these off, but did not have, at the same time, the means to rebuild his family home. He was very popular with his tenants and his portrait was presented to his wife by his tenants ‘as a memorial to their landlord’s generosity’. He was also one of the finest amateur coachmen in England, having learned on the long journey south to school at Eton College. The four-in-hand, which he drove with such skill, is to be seen in the Castle Museum in York.
The Squire’s elder son, George, had a vocation for the priesthood and father and son agreed that he would not succeed to the Estate.
James Lane Fox ‘The Soldier’ 1841-1906
The Squire’s younger son, James, succeeded on his father’s death. His health was, however, always affected by a serious fall he suffered in the hunting field. He served as a Captain in the Grenadier Guards and there formed a friendship with the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), which lasted until his death in 1906.
George Lane Fox ‘The Politician’ 1870-1947
In 1903 George Richard Lane Fox married Agnes, the daughter of 2nd Viscount Halifax. The combination of her wealth, his determination and the compulsory purchase of the family’s Irish estates, allowed George to honour a promise he had made to his grandfather, The Squire, to rebuild the House. The family reoccupied in 1907.
George was wounded in the First World War, serving with the Yorkshire Hussars, a regiment he later commanded. He had been elected to Parliament in 1906 and held several government posts including Secretary of State for Mines in 1923.
In 1933 he was created Lord Bingley, however, he had 4 daughters and on his death the title again became extinct.
Marcia Lane Fox 1904-1980
Lord Bingley’s eldest daughter, Marcia, met Joe Ward-Jackson (an officer in the Household Cavalry) when she was visiting her uncle Lord Irwin, the Viceroy in India. They were married in 1929 and he adopted her surname, Lane Fox, in 1937.
Much work was done during their regime, repairing the temples and ornamental stonework and sealing the ponds so that once again they held water all year round. They also undertook the task of replacing old trees, a project well in hand at the time of the Great Gale of 1962, when 400 mature beech trees were uprooted in the Garden alone.
George Lane Fox 1931-2012
The post-war restoration work of his mother and father was continued by George Lane Fox, who, after 20 years following his father in the Household Cavalry, set the Estate onto a modern business footing. He developed the in-hand farming business and the forestry, starting the Bramham International Horse Trials in 1974. The House and Grounds are used for filming and other events on a regular basis.
Nick Lane Fox b.1963
George’s eldest son, Nick, also served in the Household Cavalry for 10 years before a career in business in Leeds and London. In 1989 he married The Hon. Rachel Baring, eldest daughter of the 2nd Lord Howick of Glendale. Together they have 5 children.
Following his mother’s death in 1997, Nick and his family moved into the House and he took over the management of the Estate from his father. He has further developed and diversified the businesses of the Estate.
In 1999, with a grant from English Heritage, he commissioned a Landscape Management and Conservation Plan, to serve as a guide for the continued restoration of Robert Benson’s grand design. In 2003 the Leeds Rock Festival moved to Bramham, further enhancing the Estate and allowing the restoration of the Southern Parkland, which had been ploughed-out during World War II.
Nick & Rachel continue to develop Bramham, the 10th generation of the creator’s family, preserving it for its next 300 years.
A year after construction began the 1.2MW anaerobic digestion plant at Wothersome Grange became operational in September 2015.
After 300 years, which include the South Sea Bubble, the untimely death of the heir, dissipation by illegitimate children, crippling gambling debts, a devastating fire, the ravages of two World Wars and death duties, the Lane Fox family still live at Bramham and continue to care for its heritage.