English Heritage Properties in Bedfordshire
Wrest Park is near the village of Silsoe, about half way between Bedford and Luton. It was the estate of the Robinson family who were also Barons Grantham. Wrest House was completed in 1839 to designs by Thomas de Grey, 3rd Baron Grantham.
The house resembles a French chateau-style mansion, although visitors are restricted to seeing only a few of the ground floor state rooms.
The main interest at Wrest Park is the expanse of gardens, designed by Capability Brown and covering some 90 acres, that surround the house. These are what most visitors come to see.
English Heritage is overseeing a 20-year restoration project at Wrest Park, so return visitors will be rewarded by seeing more features of the 18th century gardens (which pre-date the current house) that have been brought back to life.
The park is notable for the many “follies”, statues and other constructions that adorn it, such as the Archer Pavilion – designed in the early 18th century by Thomas Archer. This domed building stands at one end of the Long Water, in which it is reflected on fine days.
The Bath House, dating from 1770, was designed as a “classical ruin” with a thatched roof. The area around this has recently been restored.
There is a Chinese bridge and temple with a copper roof.
There are many individual garden areas including a rose garden, an Italian garden and a French parterre.
Many woodland and waterside walks can be taken. These lead to features that include an orangery, built in the 1830s, a dogs’ cemetery and a sculpture gallery in the former dairy.
Also of interest at Wrest Park is the Archaeological Store that houses more than 150,000 items that have been gathered from English Heritage sites around the country. These range in date from prehistoric times to the Victorian era. Some 6,000 items have come from historic houses in London and include around 1,000 wallpaper samples.
De Grey Mausoleum, Flitton
The village of Flitton is between Silsoe and the small town of Flitwick. The Mausoleum is attached to the parish church and can only be accessed via the church.
This is a large sepulchral chapel that contains 17 monuments to members of the de Grey family of Wrest Park, these dating from between 1614 and 1859.
This is the unroofed shell of a country mansion built in the early 17th century for Mary Sidney Herbert, Dowager Countess of Pembroke. It is near the small town of Ampthill, a few miles south of Bedford.
Houghton House may well have been the inspiration for John Bunyan’s “Palace Beautiful” in “The Pilgrim’s Progress” – Bunyan was a native of Bedford.
Houghton House is of interest for its architectural style, combining as it does features of the Jacobean and Classical styles, given that the Classical Revival was in its early stages at the time of its construction.
There are two Italian-style loggias (covered walkways) that could have been designed by Inigo Jones.
Bushmead Priory is in the far north of the county, close to the border with Cambridgeshire.
This was a small priory, founded in 1195 as a community of Augustinian “black canons”. It was never home to more than four canons plus the prior.
All that can be seen here today is the Refectory – the only building still standing - but this has been well preserved. It is notable for its original timber roof and 14th century wall paintings, one of which shows the Creation of Eve.