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'The Devenish Family at Little Durnford Manor' - REVIEW

Little Durnford Manor. Image Wikipedia Mike Searle CC BY-SA

Stratford sub Castle Guild 10 January 2024

The new year started with a talk by Ruth Newman on the Devenish Bradshaw family living in Little Durnford Manor. This was postponed from October, when Ruth had Covid. A full house enjoyed her description of this comfortable but not really wealthy, and certainly not noble family, mostly as experienced by Dorothy Devenish, who recorded many of her memories in her book “A Wiltshire Home”.

The story began with Matthew Whitty Devenish, who bought the Manor in 1896. He was the son of a bookseller and printer and started his career as a clerk in the Wilts & Dorset Bank in Blue Boar Row (now Lloyds), where he rose to become the General Manager, before retiring but retaining the position of Managing Director. Not only was he successful at work, but his investment strategy gave him sufficient money to buy this minor stately home, the 300 acre Home Farm in Little Durnford and the nearby 95 acre Longhenge Farm, where Dorothy was born in 1912.

Noel Devenish succeeded his father in 1913, and held typical views of his class at the time, and while not cruel, was fairly stern and restrictive on the lives of both his wife (Agnes) and his daughter (Dorothy). He was quoted as saying “A woman should emulate the invisibility of a sitting partridge”- no signs of “wokeness” there! Dorothy loved life on the farm and wanted to go to agricultural college, but was prevented from doing so by Noel. When Noel died in 1934, Dorothy and Agnes forged a new life together, with a little more freedom.

Dorothy married John Bradshaw in 1935, and 150 guests including the whole estate, attended. They moved to Canada - John's homeland, and Peter Bradshaw was born in Ontario in 1938. Some moving backwards and forwards between Canada and Wiltshire ensued, with Peter making his life primarily in Canada, whilst Dorothy settled back in Durnford. Whilst in Canada, Dorothy wrote “A Wiltshire Home: A Study in Little Durnford”, which received positive reviews on both sides of the Atlantic.

Dorothy died in 1991, and Peter, living in Canada, took the opportunity over the next 20-30 years to make a number of charitable donations in the Salisbury area. In particular, 60 acres of land to form The Devenish Nature Reserve, donated to Wiltshire Wildlife Trust; Laverstock Water Meadows to the community, especially to the Community Farm; Salisbury Museum (a game-changing amount used to fund the current expansion and redevelopment).

This was a delightful and affectionate glimpse into the lives of local landowners at the time when agricultural practices and social norms were changing very significantly.

Richard Death


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