History relates that Bestwood Lodge was once a Royal residence, much used for hunting purposes. King Edward III issued letters patent, dated “at his Park at Bestwood” in 1364 and earlier still, Henry I granted to the Priory of Lenton permission to have “the right of having two carts to fetch deadwood and heath daily out of the Royal Forest of Bestwood” This grant might appear to us today to be a petty privilege but then Forest laws were more savage and drastic than any laws since. Within the Forests, the beasts, which were the objects of Royal hunting, the red and fallow deer and wild boar, were protected against poaching by harsh penalties. To poach a deer from the Royal Forest of Bestwood put life and limb in peril and it was not only the game that was protected but also the timber, which could not be cut without permission and the land itself could not be ploughed.
The First Lodge
Prior to his visit to Nottingham in 1363 King Edward III sent instruction to Robert Maule of Linby, the custodian of Bestwood to fell sufficient timber to enclose the park in order to build a suitable lodge on the most attractive part of the enclosure, somewhere for the King to stay whenever his wished.
In nearly every reign it is possible to find some reference to the Royal Hunting Lodge at Bestwood. Edward IV stayed at Nottingham Castle for three weeks from 1st October 1469 and availed himself of the joys of hunting in Bestwood while in residence at the Castle.
Nottingham Castle was Richard III’s ‘Castle of Care’ and he too enjoyed hunting at Bestwood whenever he was in residence, his last visit was on Tuesday August 16th 1485 when he rode out with a few friends to visit the Lodge.
In Elizabethan times, Thomas Markam, a courtier and servant of Elizabeth I was keeper of Bestwood and before that Sir John Byron, a great favorite of Henry VIII. In 1593 Thomas Markham received a warrant from Queen Elizabeth’s Lord Treasurer to fell 86 trees from Bestwood Park ‘for ye repair of Bestwood Lodge’
The Lodge at this time was built of wood and plaster, covered with slate and tiles and contained 38 rooms with several cottages, farmhouses and barns.
In 1683 King Charles II granted Bestwood Lodge to his illegitimate son Henry Beauclerk, the First Duke of St Albans. Henry’s mother is said to be the infamous Nell Gwynn.
The Second Lodge
Down the decades, subsequent Dukes held court in the house, but it was the 10th Duke along with the top London architect S.S. Teulon who created the house we see today. The original house was demolished in 1860 to make way for a large house in domestic Gothic style, with red brick and white stone facings. This Lodge was finished in 1863.
A disastrous fire occurred in 1893, it was discovered by George Fisher, the estate carpenter, who found the drawing room in flames. Before the fire brigade could arrive, men and horses had to be fetched from working in distant fields, the loyal tenants and workmen gathered quickly to form a human chain of water buckets and succeeded in controlling the flames. Unfortunately for the family, many treasures were destroyed along with 25 valuable paintings.
In the last century, Sir Frank Bowden, head of Raleigh bought Bestwood Lodge and when it ceased to be a private home it became the headquarters for the Army during World War II. It remained Ministry of Defence property until the mid 1970’s when it was converted into The Best Western Bestwood Lodge Hotel.