Sunday, 31 December 2017

2018

As we approach the New Year, I hope it is happy and prosperous for everyone. If that is not possible, then I wish for peace.


2017 has been a difficult year for me, but I am hopeful for the year ahead. I plan to tackle all of the places I have been over the past seven decades, or are of interest to me, starting with England and proceeding county by county. We finished 2017 with Bedfordshire and so January will start on Berkshire. Places to be included will be:

Ashdown House
Basildon Park
Bracknell Forest
Cliveden
Donnington Castle
Dorney Court
Douia Abbey
Duchess of Kent Mausoleum
Englefield House |gardens
Eton College
Frogmore House
Highclere
Maisenhead & Cookham Commons
Mapledurham House
Queen Mary's Doll House
Sandham Memorial Chapel
Shaw House
St George's Chapel
Stanlake Park
Stonor Park
Taplow Court
Welford Park
Wellington Country Park
West Woodhay House
Wickham House
Windsor Castle
Windsor St George's Chapel


 If anyone has a specific interest, or would like to know more about any certain place, please let me know at john@johnmay.org.uk.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Wrest Park - Bedfordshire

The Wrest estate has a history going back more than 600 years. The extensive park and gardens that we see today, and which house Wrest Park were established during the 17th century. The current house itself was created during the period from 1834 to 1839, incorporating both English and French architecture.

It was the Duke of Kent that first created the gardens but it was his granddaughter who brought Capability Brown into the picture. Brown was sensitive to the work done by his predecessors and kept the changes to ones of subtlety.

The last 100 years saw many changes. not all of them pleasant or planned. First the house served as a home for the American Ambassador, then it became a military hospital during WWI. In 1916 a large fire destroyed much of the house. It was rebuilt to a degree and became the home for the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering. English Heritage took over in 2006 and an extensive rebuilding and development programme was begun. This has wrought many changes, but the full project is not expected to be completed until around 2026.

Wrest Park


MK45 4HR
 

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Woodbury Hall - Bedfordshire

The estate that houses Woodbury Hall has been occupied for centuries. It passed into the ownership of the Earl of Macclesfield in 1746. Capability Brown was employed to landscape the parkland. This was carried out between 1769 and 1767. The building known as Woodbury Hall was built in 1804. It is available for all manner of functions, operates as an hotel, but can be visited through membership of the Historical Houses Association (HHA).


SG19 2HR

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Woburn Abbey & Gardens - Bedfordshire

A Cistercian Abbey was founded in 1145, just to the East of the village of Woburn. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries the abbey was gifted to the 1st Earl of Bedford in 1547. Nothing changed all that much for a couple of hundred years, but then the abbey was rebuilt in 1744.


Woburn was used by the Government during WW2, mainly by the Political Warfare Executive. Following the war it was discovered that much of the abbey was affected by dry rot. The 12th Duke died in 1953. The estate was subject to punitive Death Duties. Half the abbey was demolished and the rest was left to decay. However, the 13th Duke bucked the trend of handing everything over to the National Trust. In 1955 he opened the estate to the public for the first time.


Eventually the Safari Park was opened, and amusement areas were constructed, and Woburn became a very popular venue. The Safari Park was opened in 1970. The house itself can be visited, but visiting times are restricted, mostly occurring between November and March.


The house holds a 250 piece art collection, plus a wide range of furniture styles, plus silverware and porcelain.


Woburn Abbey

MK17 9WA

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Willington Dovecote & Stables - Bedfordshire

The Willington Dovecote is run and protected by the National Trust. A mansion stood on the site for some considerable time, but by the early 16th century it had fallen to ruins. In 1541 the remains of the mansion, plus stones from ruined priories following the Dissolution of the Monasteries,  were utilised to build the dovecote, which contains nesting boxes for 1500 pigeons.


In the stables there is a fireplace with the name John Bunyan etched into the stone, but the NT says that authenticity has never been proven.


Willington Dovecote

MK44 3PX

Monday, 18 December 2017

Wardown House - Bedfordshire

Wardown House is a museum in Luton that is also known as Wardown Park Museum.


It began as a farmhouse and country residence in the mid 1800s. It changed hands in 1870 and in 1879 it was rebuilt. The house stood in considerable parkland, but maintenance wasn't brilliant and the house and lands began to suffer. It was put on sale in 1903, but a buyer could not be found.


Then along came a small group of local councillors who paid close to the asking price. They decided the house and grounds should be donated to the use of the local population. The grounds were landscaped, trees were planted and a bowling green was established for the general public to enjoy. However, the house again began to fall into decline, but during World War I it was used as a hospital. The house was big enough to cater for 65 patients and even had an operating theatre.


In 1930 the house opened as a museum, on a small scale initially, with just two rooms used for displays, but over the years the collections grew and now the museum is popular and all of the rooms are utilised.


 Wardown House

LU2 7HA

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Turvey House - Bedfordshire

This grand house is available for wedding and other events, and is open to the public from May to August.


The Higgins family had been instrumental in developing the village of Turvey. When the estate became available, they bought it and in 1796 the first Turvey House was built. Some 20 odd years later another of the Higgins family rebuilt the house in the neo-classical style, and also added the gardens that are still enjoyed today. Stables were added, and the walled garden bears the date 1821.


Once the house was finished, the family set to and redesigned the park and pleasure areas. They improved the view down to the River Great Ouse. They changed the approach to the house and developed the estate with both the local church and the village in mind.


Turvey House

MK43 8EL

Friday, 15 December 2017

RSPB The Lodge - Bedfordshire

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has had its headquarters at Sandy since 1961. It created a nature reserve, maintained woodland, heathland and grassland and encouraged all manner of birds and wildlife to thrive in the grounds.


There have been people on the site of The Lodge for around 1400 years. There is evidence of two Iron Age Forts. In 1851 the Swiss Cottage was built. This is now the Visitor Centre. The impressive house known as The Lodge was built around thirty years later.


The formal gardens, which are also available for exploration by visitors, were established in 1934. There was talk of The Lodge being bought by Princess |Margaret, but the existence of a public bridle path through the grounds was deemed to be a security risk gave the RSPB the opportunity to step in.


The birdlife population changes throughout the year, with many seasonal visitors, but most kinds of woodpecker, hobby, all manner of tits and Hawfinches can regularly be seen.


RSPB The Lodge

SG19 2DL

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Ridgmont Station - Bedfordshire

It seems that anything connected with steam trains is enigmatic, and the Ridgmont Station is a prime example. Built in 1846 and located on the Bletchley - Bedford Marston Vale Line, the station was built in what is described as Cottage Orné style.


The old station building remained in good form for quite a long while and in 2014 it was decided to renovate it and turn it into a tea room and gift shop. With Bletchley not that far away, it is worth a visit, especially as those who watch a lot of films will find this station house quite familiar.


Ridgmont Station

MK43 0XP

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Priory Church of St Peter - Dunstable - Bedfordshire

The Priory Church of St Peters is described as being one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in England. The Augustinian Priory was founded in 1132. It took nearly 80 years to build the church - in the shape of a cross. Only ten years after completion a violent storm destroyed the frontage. The subsequent rebuild was done in a different style.


The church was altered in parts over the centuries, thus reflecting different styles of architecture. The original priory no longer exists, but the church remains magnificent.


St Peters Church

LU5 4RS

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Moggerhanger Park - Bedfordshire

The first house built at Moggerhanger was Georgian. During the years 1790 to 1793 the architect John Soane was commissioned to design and upgrade the mansion. Soane was again commissioned to make further alterations, and these were completed in 1812.

The landscape gardener Humphry Lepton was commissioned to design and create the gardens and grounds, and these can still be enjoyed today.

The house was used as a hospital for most of the 20th century. In 1919 it was opened as TB isolation hospital, and then became an orthopedic hospital in the late 1950s. In 1960 it was renamed Park Hospital, but closed in 1987. The house then went into disrepair, until recued by the current owners.

entry to the house and guided tours are available, both through the Historic Houses Association and the management of Moggerhanger Park.

Moggerhanger Park

MK44 3RW
 

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Liscombe House - Bedfordshire

We do not know much about the history of Liscombe House except to say there has been a residence there for at least 900 years. The chapel in the grounds dates from the 13th century. The current house is a beautiful Elizabethan manor and can be toured in conjunction with the Historic Houses Association, or by direct contact with Liscombe House.

Liscombe House

LU7 0JN
 

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Jordans Mill - Bedfordshire

There has been a mill on the River Ivel since before the Norman Conquest. Not much is known about the earlier versions, except that they were there. In 1893 the Jordan family bought what was then known as Holmes Mill. Bedfordshire was a major source of flour at that time and the Jordans intended being at the sharp end of the industry. They set to with a will, but after just one year in operation there was a major fire and the mill was all but destroyed.


The family could have walked away, but instead they rebuilt everything. The mill was altered and shaped so that it could meet the growing need. New production methods were installed and by 1895 the mill was one of the most advanced in operation. Jordans became a byword in flour production, an accolade that still stands today.


There is a large visitor centre, beautiful grounds and gardens on the banks of the river, and guided tours of the mill.


Jordans Mill

SG18 9JY

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

John Bunyan Meeting House - Bedfordshire

John Bunyan was born in 1628 in Elstow, near Bedford. It is said that, one Sunday he was playing a game in the village when he heard an inner voice, which said “Wilt though leave thy sins, and go to heaven? Or have thy sins, and go to hell?”


Henceforth, Bunyan dedicated himself to following conscience and religious beliefs. These brought him into conflict with religious authorities and he was twice imprisoned - once for 12 years, and for a few months in 1672. On his release from prison the local supporters bought a barn. Bunyan became the minister and the bard was the forerunner of the church that eventually became known as the Meeting House.


The present building was erected in 1849. Inside are scenes from The Pilgrim's Progress, and the church is renowned for its stained glass windows.


John Bunyan Meeting House


MK40 3EU



Monday, 4 December 2017

Hoo Hill Maze - Bedfordshire

Not everyone has a garden big enough to contain a challenging maze. The Hoo Hill Maze, set in a garden with an orchard, measures 30 metres square, and 2 metres high, with a 6 metre square centre. It was designed and planted in the summer of 1983 by the owner, John Brindle, using 1000 Golden Leylandii saplings.


The website explains that there is an extension to one side planted in 1993, slightly less labyrinthine, but continuing the theme. The pathways are gravelled making them readily accessible even in wet weather, with the intention of creating a challenging and enjoyable time for all the family.


The maze is an attraction in its own right, but ongoing work sees extra features most years that are intended to make a visit to the garden more than just a daze in the maze.


Hoo Hill Maze

SG17 5JD

Monday, 27 November 2017

Harold O'Dell Country Park - Bedfordshire


The Harrold Odell Country Park is protected by the Woodland Trust and is managed by the Bedford Borough Council. It covers 144 acres and is an area of tranquility and natural beauty. There are two lakes, woods to explore, river meadows, a nature reserve and a range of managed habitats. It is very popular with walkers, nature lovers, and fishermen.
Harold O'Dell Country Park



MK43 7DS

Friday, 24 November 2017

Harlington Manor - Bedfordshire


Harlington Manor is supported by the Historic Houses Association, but this is more an hotel than a stately home, though visitors are welcome, at a entry fee. The HHA website describes the manor thus:

 

“The house is famous as the venue for the interrogation of John Bunyan, by the then owner, Sir Francis Wingate, in 1660, prior to Bunyan being sent to Bedford gaol. Charles II is reputed to have stayed in the King's Room. The house is a medium sized manor house, standing in the middle of Harlington. The house has origins as a medieval great hall (and probably stands on the site of earlier manor houses, perhaps Saxon) but was significantly extended in Tudor times. Fine oak panelling was added to the Great and Little Parlours in the early 17th century and a new staircase in the late 17th/early 18th century. A service wing was built in the early 19th century and, finally, in 1937, the eminent architect, Sir Albert Richardson PRA, designed an extension and made various internal alterations.”

Harlington Manor

LU5 6PB

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

The Emplins - Bedfordshire


The Emplins at Gamlingay is an old tythe barn, the last relic of a medieval settlement.

Gamlingay existed well before the Norman Conquest. It is listed in the Domesday Book, but its history goes back at least to the Bronze Age, so, something like 2000 years. Some local historians suggest that it is older even than that, dating back to the late Stone Age.

 

None of that is obvious today.

 

Although some of the medieval buildings lasted until the recent past, most of the village was lost in a great fire of 21st April 1600. Some 76 houses and barns were said to have been destroyed, along with haystacks

 

Though primarily a farming village, there was a period when it became an important staging post on the coach route from London to the North. At one time there seems to have been as many as 54 pubs in the village, offering shelter to the traveller and stabling for the horses.

The Emplins

SG19 3ER

Monday, 20 November 2017

De Gray Mausoleum - Bedfordshire


The De Grey Mausoleum is attached to the mid-15th-century parish church of St John at Flitton, Bedfordshire. It was first built in 1605, before being expanded in 1704.The mausoleum is described as being one of the largest sepulchral chapels in the country and contains seventeen monuments and a number of panels dedicated to the de Grey family who lived in nearby Wrest Park.

De Grey Mausoleum



MK45 5EJ


Sunday, 19 November 2017

Chilterns Gateway Centre - Bedfordshire


This is the place for a good walk. The first introduction to the Chilterns to the Northerner is the gap that cuts through the southern end of the Chilterns to facilitate the M40 Motorway. It is immediately impressive, always sports a number of keen amblers, and constantly boasts Red Kites drifting gracefully in search of prey.

 

Much of the Chilterns and Dunstable Downs is administered by the National Trust and the Chiltern Society, and for those who choose to spread along the length of the Chilterns rather than just cut straight through, there are 134 miles of tracks through a beautiful area of outstanding natural beauty.

 

It is claimed that if you want to walk the entire circuit of tracks and take the time to truly enjoy the sights and imbibe the aura, it would take twelve full days.

 

The Chilterns Gateway Centre is at the northern end, but is a good starting place. Here you can get guidance, plus you can have a kite of your own, for the Chilterns is a popular place to fly the kind of kite that doesn’t have wings.

Chilterns Gateway Centre

LU6 2GY

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Chicksands Priory - Bedfordshire


Chicksands was established as a Gilbertine priory in 1152. Along with the priory came parkland and jurisdiction over the local church. It was relatively unusual in that both nuns and canons were residents. One famous short-term inhabitant was Thomas Becket, who was trying desperately to escape the attention of King Henry II.
 
With the dissolution of the monasteries the priory passed first to the Snowe family, but in 1576 it became the possession of the Osbourne family, and they kept it going for the best part of 400 years, during which time the building changed shape and size, maintaining part of the original building, but adding different styles.
In 1936 the estate was bought by the Crown Commissioners. During the Second World War it was used first by the Royal Navy and then the RAF. In 1950 it became a listening post for the US Armed Forces stationed in Britain. During that period the building was stripped of many of its features and the more modest treasures.

Chicksands Priory

SG17 5XF

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Bushmead Priory - Bedfordshire


It is thought that the priory was founded in 1195. The 28 acres of land was gifted by

Hugh de Beauchamp of Eaton Socon. A further concession was granted by King John in 1206, whereby the monks were permitted to include and partially clear the nearby Perry Woods.

 

The priory was not a grand affair in so far as it housed quite a small number of monks. In 1215, leadership passed to a new Chaplain, Joseph, and he was instrumental in converting it into an Augustinian Priory

 

Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, ownership became hotly disputed, but eventually, in 1537, it was passed to Sir William Gascoigne of Cardington. He controlled the area for 15 years, but then the Priory was bought William Gery. Some 100 years later a descendant built a mansion on the site, but this was short lived.

 

Most of the buildings connected to the priory have been razed, but what remains is worth a detour to see.

Bushmead Priory

MK44 2LD

Monday, 13 November 2017

Bromham Hall - Bedfordshire


The origins of Bromham Hall are unclear, probably in the 14th or 15th centuries. It is known that the house was altered and enlarged in the early 16000s, and then further altered around a hundred years later.

 

On their website, Bedfordshire County Council describes the hall as follows:

 

'Bromham Hall is the manor house of Bromham Manor and thus had the same ownership, at least from medieval times including the Dyve family (who enlarged it), the Trevors, Rices and Wingfields. The property was valued in 1927 under the 1925 Rating Valuation Act at which time it was owned and occupied by Richard Skinner who had recently bought it. The valuer found that the property was entered by a "Poor Pass[age]" Hall with a dining room facing east and measuring 23 by 27 feet. There was also a smoking room (13 feet by 21), a "flower room" and two drawing rooms measuring 16½ by 20 and 22½ by 19 feet respectively. Seven steps led up to the first floor and a bedroom measuring 13½ by 26 feet, a further three steps leading to another bedroom measuring 15 feet by 14 and a bath room. A further three steps led to a study measuring 23 feet by 11 with a bay of 13 by 3 feet. Again three steps led up to a "tiny place" measuring 7½ feet square. A dressing room measuring 12 feet by 20 lay at the top of the usual three steps and then five more steps led up to a "platform" measuring 12 feet by 8 feet.

Leading from the hall was a cellar and, again on the ground floor, a kitchen measuring 17 feet square, a scullery ("poor"), an old butler's pantry, boot room, wc and coal store, all "little used". The ground floor also contained a breakfast room measuring 18 feet by 17 with a stone floor, a "big store place", a servants' hall, scullery ("big"), larder ("big and cool") and another, smaller larder.

Another exit from the hall, up "v. small poor stairs" led to a landing with a wc and cupboard, a small study and a bedroom measuring 18 feet by 17 from which down two steps and along a "tiny pass[age]" lay a bedroom measuring 19 feet by 15. two steps then led down to a bedroom measuring 16 feet by 17 and a cupboard. A 12 by 17½ and a smaller bedroom also lay on this floor along with a bathroom ("fair"). An attic floor lay above with 7 attic bedrooms which had a "slope but not bad" and a set of back stairs downwards to a separate landing with two or three "derelict" rooms and a bathroom ("good") and two further bedrooms.

The grounds exceeded 14 acres and contained a loose box with two stalls, five further loose boxes, a harness room with four rooms over and two large coach houses. There was also a garage for 3 cars, a 2 stall stable and 2 hen houses. There was a walled-in kitchen garden with a potting shed and lean-to, a heated peach house measuring 46 feet by 12 and a vine and flower house 74 feet by 14½ .The grounds also contained a fruit or store room ("big with glass side"), another potting shed and heated glass house measuring 9 feet by 30, with an apple room, onion room and stoke hole, outside lay a vegetable garden. There were also large store rooms, a workshop, a 3 bay open wood shed, a mess room, an old dairy, a gas engine, dynamo and battery house, three little hovels and a "rough orchard".

Two cottages stood in the grounds, one a bungalow occupied by Thomas Stanford comprising three rooms and a scullery, the other a cottage occupied by Frederick Lord with a living room, kitchen and three bedrooms upstairs - all "quite good". These houses had shared use of a washhouse and laundry and water had to be fetched from a pump.

Overall the valuer noted: "V. nice picturesque old House. Repairs v. heavy. Damp in some rooms especially Din[ing] & Draw[ing] R[oo]ms. Approach being spoilt by Building in old Park now sold off".

The Hall was listed by the Department of Environment in 1952 at which time it was considered to have late medieval origins, enlarged in the 17th century, with new windows in the 18th and other additions later. The walls were of coursed limestone rubble and the roof of old clay tiles. The listing report noted, as can be seen from the 1927 valuation, that the plan was complex.'

Steve Humm has some further information:
'Evidence of occupation from the Roman period has been found in the area including pottery, bones and a stone figure that is preserved as part of Bromham Hall. Traces of circular huts mixed with Roman remains would suggest a Romano/British population was thriving in the area. Bromham is mentioned in the Domesday Book as Bruneham and later as Brimeham. The manor was then in the possession of Hugh De Beauchamp, a prominent local landowner, who held at least 44 lordships within Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Almost certainly these lands were given to De Beauchamp for services to William of Normandy during the conquest of 1066. The Manor consisted of 6 hides of land including a mill valued at 20 shillings.'

 

A house with trees in the background

Description generated with very high confidence
Bromham Hall

MK43 8HU