This afternoon I visited Brampton Bryan Park, in west Herefordshire, almost adjacent to the Welsh border, in company with a number of members of the International Dendrology Society attending meetings and events in that area. This is an extremely beautiful area of classic English parkland, grazing land with scattered trees, set in a natural shallow bowl of the hills. Bounded by six miles of fence, this is a statutorily protected Site of Special Scientific Interest on account of its ancient trees, grassland and adjacent woodland and the biodiversity they support: Ravens, Red Kites and Buzzards were conspicuous overhead while we were there.
Brilliana, Lady Harley (1600?-1643)
In the 1640s Brampton Bryan was in the hands of Sir Robert Harley (1579-1656), a Member of Parliament, and supporter of the puritan movement: it was at his instigation that the original Charing Cross was pulled down. as an 'idolatrous monument'. As the country descended into civil war he was away from home, and as the Royalist forces advanced on this Parliamentarian seat it was left to his wife Brilliana to defend the castle against a siege. It is fortunate that her letters to her absentee husband have survived as they give a vivid picture of her life both before and after the first siege, which lasted from 26 July to 9 September 1643, when the Royalist forces moved off to concentrate for what would become the first Battle of Newbury. The effort of defending the castle wore her out, however, and she died of a cold in October 1643. The castle was again besieged in 1644 and taken and sacked in April that year. It remains ruined, adjacent to the house the Harleys built following the Restoration.
In the meantime, however, Sir Robert fell out with Oliver Cromwell and was imprisoned for a while, and his sons were also treated harshly. Cromwell's death, on 3 September 1658, coincided with a strong gale that was widely seen as a portent of his passing. It caused great damage at Brampton Bryan, occasioning this bitter comment from Sir Edward Harley, who had succeeded to the estate: "I wish the devil had taken him any other way than through my park, for not content with doing me all the mischief he could while alive, he has knocked over some of my finest trees in his progress downwards." (Most information from Audrey Sidebotham's pamphlet Brampton Bryan Church and Castle, 1990.)