Bradwell Grove, Gloucestershire

Akeman Street, the old Roman road leading from Cirencester to St Albans, travels straight as a die, sometimes as a green lane and sometimes as a metalled road. It passes right by Bradwell Grove and gives the place an ancient and settled feeling in this flat and uneventful Cotswold country just south of Burford. The Grove is a pretty regency gothic house of modest proportions complete with battlements, pinnacles and tall clustered chimneys. It was built in 1804 by William Hervey on the site of a smaller Jacobean house. He later obtained permission to build a new church on the site of a small Chapel of Ease at Holwell, the village nearby.

William Fox, the son of an ironmaster from Sheffield who had made his fortune by inventing the Fox Frame umbrella, bought the Bradwell Grove estate in the late nineteenth century. He was a generous and well liked man who, every Christmas, gave his innumerable employees presents of umbrellas or suits. The estate became famous for its cricket matches and was a popular meet of the Heythrop Hounds for Oxford undergraduates in the days when Lord Redesdale was the master.

After the death of “Squire Fox” as he became known, Bradwell Grove was bought by Colonel Heyworth-Savage who raised a famous herd of Red Poll cattle on the estate which won many prizes. His Labrador dogs also won prizes at Crufts. Colonel Savage, like Squire Fox, enjoyed cricket and Bradwell Grove had a first rate cricket team captained by Chris Harris, the estate office steward. The vicar, the Reverend Charles Lambrick, used to coach local boys in batting and bowling, and proficiency in cricket was a good recommendation for a job on the estate.

In 1970 John Heyworth who had inherited the estate from his grandfather Colonel Savage, decided to keep wild animals at Bradwell Grove. His son Reggie, a knowledgeable zoologist, has added to the collection and created the most exemplary and beautiful wild life park in the country. The stables, which once housed dozens of hunters and coach horses, are now the home of Morelet’s crocodiles, thirty foot long reticulated pythons, Rhinoceros Iguanas , Egyptian fruit bats and tarantulas. The most alarming inmate I saw was a tiny frog of fluorescent green and black whose diet of Fire Ants causes it to produce a high toxic skin secretion of which one ten thousandth of an ounce can kill a man.

Thanks to former owners the surrounding grounds are now graced with fine mature trees – oaks, cedars and a hundred and twenty foot high wellingtonia . Lion, tiger and zebra houses are discreetly placed in areas of leafy seclusion. Flamingos and cranes wander around the edge of the lake, wallabies and tapirs roam among shrubs and a glorious narrow –gauge railway runs all around the park.

The level of gardening is as good as it gets and the planting is always stunning, whatever time of year you visit , particularly in the walled garden where bananas and cannas survive the winter and complement the exotic birds and animals. Here there are penguins and otters swimming around bosky rockery islands ; Meerkats, ever inquisitive, sitting up on their haunches or basking in the watery winter sun; giant aviaries housing Hornbills and parrots and a tropical house built on the same site as the original estate conservatory where peaches and carnations were once grown. It now provides a home for Red-crested Touracos, Mousebirds, Rollers and White Eyes.

At this time of year and particularly during the school term time, you can have Bradwell Grove to yourself, talk to the keepers and, if you can’t afford to visit the Galapagos, the animals, birds and reptiles will refresh your memory of Darwin’s theory of evolution just as well.
Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens is open every day except Christmas day from 10am to 3.30pm.

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