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Normanton Park


N the middle of Rutlandshire, on a rising ground midway between the towns of Oakham and Stamford, stands Normanton, one of the picturesque homes of England. The house, a large and elegant mansion, is surrounded by extensive lawns of richest verdure, interspersed with plantations of noble trees; the oak, the beech, the ash and the lime, in all their varied beauty growing here abundantly, their contrasted foliage having a fine effect, and bringing out the house of pure white stone in strong relief.

The house consists of a centre flanked by two wings, in admirable proportion, and has much architectural beauty. The principal entrance is by the north front, and passing through it we find ourselves in a hall or vestibule, very light, elegant and airy.

The dining-room is a superb apartment, with an especially fine vaulted ceiling in ornamented compartments ; the drawing rooms are splendidly decorated, and the gardens admirably laid out. They command fine views from different portions of them. The park is bounded on the northwest by the river Gwash, and the surrounding country is said to be the most fertile in England.

Normanton was the possession of the De Normanvilles after the Conquest, and continued theirs for fourteen generations; then the estate passed to Alice Barings, a Rutlandshire lady, who married Thomas Mackworth, of Mackworth, in Derbyshire He gave up his early home - a castellated manor house - for the bright and rich dwelling of his young wife, and the family henceforward resided at Normanton.

They were a generous, hospitable race of men; spending freely, but occasionally marrying heiresses, who retrieved any diminution of the family wealth. Sir Thomas Mackworth was High Sheriff of his county in the reign of Elizabeth, and married the sister of the staunch Cavalier, Lord Hopton. The bride of his son, Sir Henry, was an heiress, and her husband rebuilt the old manor house.

The Mackworths were most loyal Cavaliers; they aided their king during the civil wars with their purse as well as their sword, and, as was too often the case, found themselves at the end of the war nearly ruined - their estates sequestered, their means straitened.

A contested election completed the ruin of the family.

It was the memorable contest for the representation of Rutlandshire between Messrs. Mackworth, Finch, and Sherrard. Mackworth won the seat, but was utterly ruined by the expenses of the election. He was obliged to sell the lovely home so long the possession of his family, and retired to Kentish Town, near London, where he died in 1745.

The baronetcy could not of course die; it passed to an apothecary who lived in Huntingdon, and from him to his cousin, Sir Henry Mackworth This gentleman, old, landless, and poor, though the descendant of a loyal and ancient county family, accepted a home at the Charter I-louse, and became one of its Brethren.

The present proprietors of Normanton are the Heathcote family, descended from Gilbert Heathcote, Alderman of Chesterfield.

His son, a man of great integrity and ability, was appointed one of the Directors of the Bank of England, and became Lord Mayor of London in 1711. For several years he represented the city in Parliament; received Knighthood from Queen Anne; and was created a baronet in 1733.

He was buried at Normanton, where a fine monument by Rysbraek is erected to his memory.

The fifth baronet of this branch of the Heathcote family was created Baron Aveland, of Aveland, in Lincolnshire.

Dyer, in his poem " The Fleece," mentions both the place and the family thus,

"The coloured lawns
And sunny mounts of beauteous Normanton,
Health's cheerful haunts, and the secluded walk
Of Heathcote's leisure.

Oakham, the county town of Rutlandshire, was the birthplace of a celebrated Dwarf - little Jeffrey Hudson.

George, Duke of Buckingham, was, in 1619, the possessor of Burleigh-on-the-Hill, in Rutlandshire, and had in his service a man called John Hudson, who was keeper and manager of the animals used for the Bullbaiting. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and strong, as were all his children but one; that one was Jeffrey, who, when seven years old, was scarcely half a yard high, but without any deformity, and very well proportioned. A pretty little creature he must then have been, and such no doubt the Duchess of Buckingham thought him; for between his seventh and ninth year she took him into her service, dressed him in "silks and satins," and gave him two men to attend on him.

When Charles I. and Queen Henrietta Maria were making a progress through Rutlandshire, they visited Burleigh-on-theHill, and at the banquet prepared for them, little Jeffrey was served up in a cold pie, from which he issued, to the surprise and amusement of the royal guests. Henrietta Maria was so charmed with the tiny creature, that the Duchess gave him to her, and he continued in her service for many years. He grew proud in the atmosphere of a court where he was petted by a queen, and refused to recognise his father when he came to see him; for which unfilial conduct Charles ordered him to be punished.

In 1630 Jeffrey was sent to France by the queen for a nurse; and he must have greatly pleased and amused the French court, as he received, we are told, 2,500 from the royal family and the courtiers in presents. On his way home, however, the poor boy's ship (he was only eleven years old, having been born in 1619) was taken by a Flemish pirate who carried him prisoner to Dunkirk, and robbed him of all his money.

But he was finally restored to his royal mistress, and at the commencement of the civil war received a commission as a Captain of Horse in the royal army. With this rank he accompanied the queen when she fled from Exeter to France. Here, unfortunately, he had a quarrel with the brother of Lord Crofts, and challenged him. The gentleman, thinking it rather a good joke, accepted the challenge, but came to the rendezvous armed only with a squirt. "The little creature," says Walpole, "was so enraged, that a real duel ensued, and the appointment being on horseback with pistols, to put them on a level, Jeffrey with the first fire shot his antagonist dead."

For this act Jeffrey was imprisoned and afterwards banished the court. He was then thirty years old, and had not grown at all. But he was to go through strange vicissitudes, which actually even at that age accelerated his growth. The ship in which he was returning to England was taken by a Turkish Pirate, and he was sold for a slave in Barbary. Here he was treated with great cruelty; made work very hard, and was often beaten. He then grew to the height he remained till his death, i.e. three feet nine inches. At length he was ransomed, and returned to his native place. The Duke of Buckingham and some other noblemen who remembered him at the court, granted him a small pension. With this he went to live in London, and during the disturbed period of Titus Oates's pretended Popish Plot he was arrested as a Papist and imprisoned in the gatehouse at Westminster, where he remained a long time a prisoner. The poor little man seems to have been singularly unlucky.

Soon after his release he died, in the sixty-third year of his age, 1682.

Our readers will remember how Sir Walter Scott used this dwarf as one of the characters concerned in the plot of "Peveril of the Peak."

He was both brave and loyal.

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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004