In the 1570s, Richard Parkyns of Worcestershire married Elizabeth, the widow of Humphrey Barlowe who had been one of the "Lords of the Manor of Boney". Richard managed to secure the sole ownership of the Manor of Bunny as his wife’s dowry. It is thought that he was responsible for the building of the original Bunny Hall where he and his wife raised eight children beginning a dynasty that was to exert power and influence over Bunny for nearly three hundred years.
When the last of the Parkyns to live in the Hall died in 1850, the fortunes of the Hall began to change and a gradual decline started, that by the end of the twentieth century has left the Hall a derelict yet still fascinating building.
Bunny Hall viewed from Loughborough Road
The direct influence of the Parkyns family began during the reign of Elizabeth I and continued until that of Victoria. Richard Parkyns’ will revealed an intention to leave his house and land as a legacy for many succeeding generations, by leaving a life interest in the house to his wife and afterwards to his eldest son, George. His wife’s will included specified goods and chattels signaling an intention that future generations should be provided for but that an heir should consider the house and contents as being held in trust for those who were to follow. George assumed those roles expected of the Lord of the Manor and the status of the family was further enhanced when he received a knighthood from James I in 1603. George died in 1626, a comparatively young man, but his wife Mary, who had borne him six children, went on to live for another twenty-three years. His eldest son, Isham, inherited at the age of twenty-four.
When Civil War broke out in 1642, Isham threw in his lot and that of his tenants with the king. The war ‘officially’ started when King Charles raised the Royal Standard at Nottingham on 20th August. Prince Rupert records in his diary that he and his troops "came to Mr. Perkinn’s howse" at Bunny. Later, the Queen Henrietta Maria was also received at Bunny Hall. Isham survived the Wars and returned eventually to Bunny. His son Thomas succeeded him.
Thomas was thirty-two when he inherited. (The family history can be little confusing at this stage, as there were four other Thomases to follow in succession!).
He married Anne Cressy who bore him three sons and two daughters. In 1681 Charles II awarded him a baronetcy supposedly in recognition of Isham Parkyns' services to the Crown during the Civil Wars. He was not to enjoy his elevated status for long as he died three years later, after only thirteen years as Lord of the Manor of Bunny.
It was another Thomas, who inherited the estate and the baronetcy. It is he who is arguably the most notable of the Parkyns’ heirs. The family fortunes appear to have recovered from the setbacks occasioned by the sequestration of the estates during the Civil Wars as Sir Thomas embarked upon an ambitious programme of building and renovation in his Hall and Park, and in the church, vicarage and farmhouses on his estate. He also bought more land, increasing his estates up to the boundaries of Costock, Keyworth, Wysall, Ruddington, Gotham and East Leake.
Sir Thomas married twice. His first marriage to Elizabeth Sampson was unhappy. She left him after she had borne him two sons, Sampson and Thomas. He married his second wife, Jane Barnard, the daughter of an alderman of York who later had two sons, Thomas and George, and a daughter, Anne. As both sons and a grandson from his first marriage had died whilst still young men, the eldest son from his second marriage, Thomas, inherited. By this time the Parkyns' estate had expanded even further.
The third baronet inherited in 1741 at the age of 13. Six years later he married his great niece, Jane Parkyns, who gave birth to his heir, Thomas Boothby Parkyns in 1755. She died six years later in 1760.
Sir Thomas took a second wife in 1765, one Sarah Smith, daughter of innkeeper Daniel Smith of Bunny and reputedly a housemaid at Bunny Hall. During the 30 years of their marriage she bore him two sons and eight daughters. Sarah died in 1796 when Sir Thomas was 68 years old. It appears that during the fifty-nine years that Sir Thomas was Lord of the Manor he held a much less public life than that of his ebullient father. The Hall remained in an unfinished state and suffered a partial demolition towards the end of the century.
Sir Thomas Parkyns' memorial in Bunny Church
Thomas Boothby Parkyns - the First Baron Rancliffe more than compensated for his father’s low profile. He married Elizabeth James, the daughter of Sir William James of Eltham in Kent, who had made his fortune as a member of the East India Company. On being elevated to the House of Lords following his time as Member of Parliament for Nottingham, he was awarded the Barony of Rancliffe in the Irish Peerage in 1795. The first Baron Rancliffe did not survive to enjoy his enhanced status. He died in 1800 at forty-five years of age, his father surviving him by 6 years. His wife had died 3 years previously, and of their nine children, only five survived the infant years. His eldest son George Augustus was to inherit from his grandfather in 1806 at the age of 21. His daughter Elizabeth married Sir Richard Levinge of Westmeath, Ireland and it was to his descendant that the estate eventually reverted in 1909.
George Augustus Henry Parkyns, the 2nd Baron Rancliffe and godson to the Prince of Wales, was a wealthy and charming man. In 1807 he married Elizabeth Forbes but the marriage broke down in 1815 or thereabouts following a notorious scandal. As he was unable to obtain a divorce (his behaviour had been as bad as hers), he was not in a position to take another wife and produce a legitimate heir, so the peerage was lost to the family. George Augustus represented Nottingham and the radical cause in Parliament from 1812 to 1830, after which he retired and settled at Bunny Hall. He had extensive re-modelling of the Hall carried out between 1826 and 1835, presumably at great expense, but much of this was lost at sometime around the turn of the century as the result of a serious fire. His death, without issue, in 1850 marked the end of the hereditary title of Baron Rancliffe.
His will prompted a furious reaction from his closest relative, brother-in-law Sir Richard Levinge, as the Hall and the entire Bunny estate, much depleted by this time, was left to his housekeeper Mrs. Burt. At this point the real power of the owners of the Hall and estate began to dissipate. The successors to the Parkyns family, beginning with Mrs. Burt, were not members of the ruling classes and did not undertake those roles (magistrate, justice of the peace, sheriff etc.) that had been the province of the landed gentry. Neither were they vastly wealthy on the scale of the Parkyns family. The new owners’ power lay in their still considerable, but diminishing, roles as landlords and employers of local people.
Mrs. Burt married a Mr. Alexander Forteath and continued to live at Bunny as Lady of the Manor. When she died in 1875, her niece, Arabella Hawksley, inherited, but for her lifetime only. Whilst Miss Hawksley appears somewhat straight-laced, there was a lighter side to her in that Bunny Hall and its Park were used for all manner of social gatherings and the Quorn met there during the hunting season.
Mrs. Forteath had entailed the estate to the family of Sir James Levinge. So, on Mrs. Wilkinson Smith’s death in 1909, Sir Richard Levinge of Knockdrin Castle, Ireland came into his fortune.
Sir Richard Levinge came to Bunny for only a few months. He gave his tenants notice to quit and set about arranging the sale of the Hall and its contents, and the estates of Bunny and Bradmore including the farmhouses, land, houses and cottages all of which belonged to the Lord of the Manor. In 1910 Mr. Albert Ball (Mayor of Nottingham) bought the whole estate of Bunny and Bradmore for £100,000. After selling off the Hall, its Park, and Bunny and Rancliffe Woods to Dr. R. H. Cordeux, he went to each of the tenants on the remainder of the estate giving them the chance to buy their rented farms, houses, and land. There was much moving out and moving in. Some villagers took the option to buy their homes or those of their former neighbours. Others, who had lived or farmed in the village for many years, had to move away.
Dr and Mrs. Cordeux, their son and five daughters moved into Bunny Hall in1910 and set about re-furnishing the empty rooms and making a place for themselves in the community. Tragically, as a family, they were to enjoy barely five years of their new life in Bunny. Dr Cordeux died in August 1915 and, his only son, Lieutenant Edward Cordeux was killed in action near Ypres during the First World War.
For a short time during the Second World War the Broadgate Girls’ School was temporarily evacuated to Bunny Hall where the first and second floors were altered to accommodate them. The Hall was lost as a centre of social activity with the death of Mrs. Cordeux.
In 1942 the Hall and estate, now comprising Bunny Hall Park, Bunny Park Farm and Bunny Hall Nurseries were bought by Mr. Bertram D. Edwards, a Nottingham business man and hotel owner. Although Bertie himself did not take up residence, his niece, her husband and their children came to live in the Hall.
It must be recognised that the relationship between the Hall owners and the village had changed dramatically since the early years of the century. The Parkyns family, Mrs. Forteath and Mrs. Wilkinson Smith as actual owners of the village, its houses and farms had a completely different relationship with the villagers (who were their tenants) from that existing between the Cordeux and Edwards families and the independent villagers of the twentieth century.
During the Cordeuxs' time at the Hall, links with past started to break down. In 1910 long-established families moved out when the estate properties were sold. This continued when later on more newcomers moved into the semi-detached houses built in the 1920s and 1930s.
When Bertie Edwards bought Bunny Hall, its Park and farm during the Second World War, instead of living in it himself, he allowed his niece and her husband, Captain Thompson to live there. This rapidly accelerated the rate at which the last remnants of the old feudal system disintegrated. By the time Bertie’s son, John, inherited in 1970, the old relationship no longer existed. John had been living in the Hall for a good many years and considered it as just a family home.
By the end of the nineteen eighties, John and his wife Jane decided that the Hall was too much for them and put it, the barns and much of the Park up for sale. There was huge interest and by 1991 they were able to move into the re-furbished (and infinitely more comfortable and convenient!) Old Laundry House. This Thomas Parkyns’ building was sensitively restored and John and Jane were given a Rushcliffe Design Award for Conservation in 1993.
The barns were sold and converted into six separate dwellings. They too won an award, the 1995 Rushcliffe Award for Design in Conversions.
During the ten years that the Hall has been unoccupied, nature and the weather have taken their toll and it faces an uncertain future. Most of us who know Bunny Hall, and have an affection for it as a link with Bunny’s past, hope that this historic building will continue to be a part of the Bunny skyline and come to life once more as new generations make their homes within its walls.
Bunny Hall viewed from Bunny Church Tower