On a minor country lane north-west of Newark, you pass a splendid set of Victorian iron gates with urn-topped stone piers. Walk through this to enter a lost world of Georgian and Victorian grandeur. Along the drive, through a wildwood, lies the beautiful Georgian stone parish church of Holy Rood. Its car park occupies the site of the great stables of the lost country house, Ossington Hall, the ancestral home of the Denison family, which once occupied the scrubby area north of the church. The estate can be traced back to Saxon times, yet today all that remains are a few outbuildings and the private chapel, which now serves as the parish church.
Through the churchyard you can see the ha-ha, a type of trench for containing livestock that is designed to be almost invisible. Its crumbling wall fronted the terrace on which the mansion stood with views across a lake in the valley.
Follow a path that runs north into this valley and you’ll find cascades built below the lake dam. Downhill, another path crosses the southern end of the lake and gives views over the parkland.
The Grade I-listed church boasts a superb collection of artifacts, including a series of statuettes for former owner William Cartwright of his 12 children kneeling (1602) and, at the west end, two statues of nonchalant Georgian gentlemen – members of the Denison family who bought the estate from the Cartwrights in 1775.
The Denisons rebuilt the church from their trading fortune, a wealth boosted by their part in the first (and extremely lucrative) supply ship into Lisbon after its great earthquake of 1755 – a scene shown on the base of William Denison’s 1782 statue. They added wings to the hall, one with an octagonal dining room.
Ossington had its great heyday in Victorian times, with the climax during Evelyn Denison’s time. He rose to be Speaker of the House of Commons in 1857 and, on retiring in 1872, was titled Viscount Ossington. One of his brothers was a Bishop of Salisbury and another a Governor-General in Australia. The title, though, died with Evelyn and the family’s fortunes declined. It is said that gambling assisted this decay with, apparently, an entire farm being wagered on a £25,000 bet in Monte Carlo.
During the Second World War, the RAF were stationed here and remnants of the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes club, camp cinema and other buildings lurk in the overgrown woodland. The hall itself was used for accommodation. This as apparently resented, as there are stories of a ghostly servant haunting the sergeants who were billeted in the servants’ quarters.
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After the war, the house never recovered and it was pulled down in 1963 following a two-day sale of the contents. However, for visitors today, the romance of this wonderful lost world is palpable and by use of public footpaths you can
get a strong sense of its decayed grandeur.
Access the estate and church by turning north on to a lane east of Ossington village, off the Kneeshall to Carlton-on-Trent road.
Holy Rood Church
The key can be obtained from Mr Wilson at Home Farm, just north of the entrance gates. A barrier is closed at night behind the gate piers.
The Dovecote Inn
Cross Hll, Laxton NG22 0SX
01777 871 586
This traditional village inn specialises in good, home-cooked and seasonal food, including 28-day hung local beef and pheasants from the nearby Laxton Estate.
The village of Laxton, 3 miles
north-west, is Europe’s last remaining village still farming in the medieval open field system.