1. Donington in Early Times 7
2. The Rise of the Hastings 16
3. The Park in Early Modern Times 21
4. The Hastings come to Donington Park 28
5 The Reign of Countess Selina 32
6. The New Hall 36
7. The Fall of the Hastings 46
8. Donington Park in the Twentieth Century 52
9. The Race Track 57
10. Donington Park Today 64
Bibliography and References 69
The name Donington Park is known world wide on account of the international racing circuit which was first established here in the 1930s and which today is the scene of all manner of sporting events, including formula one racing. But the ancient park of Donington, the subject of this study, is barely glimpsed by the visitors to the racetrack. It lies immediately to the north and is an area of three hundred or so rolling acres of natural grassland, grazed by herds of deer and dotted with ancient oaks. Its northern edge lies along a steep escarpment overlooking the Trent. Here there is a sharp drop to the river with gloriously wooded views, especially in spring and autumn. To the west lies the parish of Melbourne in Derbyshire and to the east the village of Castle Donington and the East Midlands Airport, with international connections of a different kind.
Donington is one of the finest surviving areas of natural English landscape and compares favourably with Bradgate, Leicestershire’s ‘other’ and better known deer park and subject of an earlier book ‘Bradgate Park, Childhood Home of Lady Jane Grey’. At both places red and fallow deer have grazed from at least the early thirteenth century. In each case the park we see today began life as a much smaller enclosure and expanded over the years. At Donington, too, the evidence of the distant past is to be found in the ancient oaks, some of which are as old as any of those at Bradgate. These trees are so rich in wildlife that they have earned both parks protection as ‘Sites of Special Scientific Interest’.
Unlike Bradgate, with its rocky summits and bleak hill slopes, the land of Donington is rolling and gentle in character. Bradgate is now a Country Park and usually alive with people, especially at weekends. Donington is in private hands with no public access and is, by contrast, a lonely place.
A further difference can be seen in the respective fortunes of the parks in the eighteenth century. Because the house at Bradgate was abandoned some time before 1740, the park escaped the attention of the improvers of the times. Donington, however, had its old hall rebuilt by William Wilkins and the grounds remodelled by the celebrated landscape gardener Humphry Repton. Far from being deserted, it remained a noble family’s home until the close of the nineteenth century.
Both parks have a long unbroken history because each was the inheritance of successive generations of two noble families, the Hastings at Donington and the Greys at Bradgate. The activities and fortunes of each, from the early fifteenth century to mid Victorian times, tell a story of constant bitterness and rivalry. Their vast estates lay adjacent to each other in this part of north-west Leicestershire, and the intense local animosity this caused was reflected and magnified at national level. Each family sought to serve or otherwise benefit from the sovereign, or even challenge for the crown. Through four centuries these two feuding families found themselves on different sides on almost every major conflict in their country’s history.
This book is a short account of not only the park of Donington but also, inevitably, the history of two great noble families.