Marian Brudenell: Admired chatelaine of Deene Park

 

When Michael Heseltine invited the All-Party Gardening Group to visit the arboretum and garden he had developed at his Northamptonshire home, he exclaimed to us, "No one in 150 years' time will care about what the deputy prime minister did or did not do in the 1990s. But they might ask themselves, 'Who created this garden?'"

In the same county of Northamptonshire there is another wonderful garden, which was rescued from being overgrown and was developed and enhanced for half a century. It surrounds the lovely house of Deene Park and its saviour was Marian Brudenell, chatelaine of Deene Park.

Born Marian Manningham-Buller, she was younger than her brother, the present Viscount Dilhorne, and older, and no less formidable, than her sister Eliza, who was destined to become head of MI5 and a Baroness who speaks authoritatively in the House of Lords. She was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College.

Her father, then Reginald Manningham-Buller KC, went on to serve as Harold Macmillan's attorney-general. In 1962, as a weeks-old MP, I inherited the care of a mightily difficult and persistent constituent, involving recondite legal issues in both Scotland and England. I wrote an official letter to Manningham-Buller, who had become Lord Chancellor. I was astonished to be asked to go to see him in his Commons office.

Late at night (due to protracted Commons votes), there he sat. He had gone to the trouble of personally acquainting himself with my constituent's problem. When I recounted this to Marian, she replied, "Typical. That was my childhood. He was an extremely caring and painstaking father."

Her mother was Lady Mary Lindsay, daughter of the 27th Earl of Crawford and Balcarres, Chairman of the National Gallery and patron of the arts. He owned arguably the greatest collection of 17th and 18th century books in private hands in Europe, partly residing in the shelves of books that came from Rubens' house in Antwerp.

In 1955 Marian married another knowledgeable and generous patron of the arts, Edmund Brudenell, kinsman of Lord Cardigan of the Crimea. Theirs was a strong marriage; her many friends thought – rightly – that Marian was wonderful in the way she cared for him, and travelled widely with him.

As Chairman of Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland from 1988-97, Deputy Chairman of the National Heritage Memorial Fund (1999-2005) and Chairman of the National Museums of Scotland (2006-12), Sir Angus Grossart is in an ideal position to testify to the Brudenells' generosity towards the arts. "Marian was a strong spirit," he told me. "There was no challenge she would not take on. I have the highest admiration not only for the way in which she rescued Deene Park but also for how she brought back family mementos of the Earls of Cardigan, which had been sold off by Edmund's father and previous generations, and restored them to the house."

Chatelaine of a great house, open to the public and welcoming specialist groups, is a full-time, exhausting and ever-demanding occupation – at which Marian excelled. For many years she organised a monthly weekend country-house party in the Edwardian style, picking up guests on a Friday at Peterborough Station and sending them home on Sunday afternoon. She brought Deene Park alive and made it famous for its hospitality. She was an outstanding bringer-together of people from all walks of life.

***

I was only seven when my sister deserted me (as I felt at the time), married and moved to Deene, writes Eliza Manningham-Buller. My early memories are of a freezing house (we kept on our coats in the winter) and rare bathrooms with eccentric plumbing. With Edmund, she made it her life's work to transform this uncomfortable and half-empty mausoleum, through which her mother–in- law used to bicycle, into a beautiful and welcoming house, full of flowers. Tam Dalyell was one of many friends who enjoyed wonderful (and warm) parties at Deene. Her plans for the celebration next summer of the Brudenells having lived at Deene for 500 years are well advanced. It is sad that she will not be with us.

Marian Cynthia Manningham-Buller, gardener, and chatelaine of Deene Park: born London 26 November 1934; married 1955 Edmund Brudenell (two sons, one daughter); died Kettering 10 August 2013.

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