Brooksby Hall & the Beattys
On October 10th 1911 David and Ethel purchased Brooksby Hall, having rented the Hall on a 14 year lease since 1906.
The Hall came with 186 acres and cost £22,000. David and Ethel were ardent hunters and at that time Melton Mowbray was still the centre of fox- hunting in England. From a base near Melton Mowbray it was possible to go out with a different hunt six days a week and Brooksby Hall was the ideal location for a hunting box, next to the railway station with extensive land.
Although The Beattys made quite modest changes to the Hall, they extended the gardens westwards into the parkland and constructed a lake and stream, a pergola (said to be the work of Lutyens but no evidence of this can be found) and an Italian style garden.Edwin James who farmed at The Elms in Hoby managed David’s farming interests at Brooksby.
In the 1920’s The Beattys acquired Dingley Hall near Market Harborough and after a burglary at Brooksby this became their preferred residence.
At the start of the First World War Brooksby Hall became part of the 5th Northern General Hospital and was turned over to a convalescent hospital staffed by nurses from the Voluntary Aid Detachment. Many of the survivors of the Battle of Jutland recovered there. In the days before the NHS, military hospitals were largely supported financially by donations from the general public and Ethel was a generous benefactor of Brooksby engaging doctors and providing equipment. Bandages, nightshirts, gowns and bed-jackets were almost all hand-made by groups and individuals who often paid for the materials out of their own pockets. Alice James, Edwin James’s wife, was a volunteer organiser of a War Hospital Supply Depot registered at Hoby and no doubt many of the supplies she organised went to Brooksby Hall.
David corresponded extensively with Edwin James, even during the war years; organising the buying and selling of horses or requesting that such and such horse be schooled ready for his return. The farm at Brooksby regularly provided the Fleet with turkeys at Christmas and lamb in the spring. There is a short piece of film in the Imperial War Museum archive of convalescing sailors catching turkeys to send to the fleet and of sailors playing football with the VAD nurses.
By Christmas 1919 the convalescent home had closed and Brooksby Hall was once again a family home. Charles Beatty, David’s nephew, wrote the following account of Christmas 1919 at Brooksby “Ethel had made a magnificent setting, there was an enormous tree covered with little electric lamps, in all colours (a novelty in those days), masses of flowers and traditional decorations and a gramophone …….. Even the crackers on the luncheon table were very special, for each contained a piece of jewellery, a watch or some other costly present. Lu got a gold ring with a large set single pearl.
Amongst young David’s presents was a scale model boat driven by an electric motor, which we sailed in circles on the ornamental pond in front of the house. Charles had a steam locomotive, but Uncle David had forgotten it needed rails, so we had to run it without and nearly burnt the house down when it set fire to the carpet in a corridor, being fuelled with methylated spirit which spread rapidly when the engine fell on its side”
When Ethel died in 1932 David put the Brooksby estate up for sale but it failed to sell. In a letter to the Duchess of Rutland David wrote “I cannot get use to the altered circumstances. We are strange creatures and truly conservative, and I miss poor little Ethel far more than I can say, forget all the difficulties and remember only the sweetness of her and try and console myself with the thought that she is happy and at peace and her turbulent soul is at rest………It seems terribly strange at present. Every corner reminds one. It is hard to sever a link of 30 years of a very stormy life. We shall go on living at Dingley and I want to sell Brooksby and for the present lease the Priory [their home in Reigate, Surrey]”
When the Second World War broke out Brooksby Hall once again became a convalescent home and after the war was acquired by Leicestershire County Council to provide a training centre for ex servicemen and subsequently the Leicestershire and Rutland Farm Institute.
The sources used to put together this exhibition all agree that David Beatty was handsome, charismatic, brave, reckless and arrogant and that he exploited his chances, in life, love and service with a ruthless selfishness. Some say that elements of his personality “bordered on the bounder” others that in a lesser man his personality would have been truly appalling. It is certainly true that he shared the sentiments and values of his class.
Whatever view you may hold of David Beatty, he was much admired, not only by his men, but in this part of Leicestershire for his contribution to life at Brooksby and the local area.