Ampthill is a Georgian Town with a rich history that includes the inprisonment of Katherine of Aragon and the fact that the town provided the birthplace to the man that named New York, Colonel Richard Nicholls.
There is little doubt that Ampthill has a more interesting and significant history than most towns of a much larger size. Its inhabitants are rightly proud of its past and are anxious to share their heritage with friends and visitors from further a field.
The name 'Ampthill' is of Anglo-Saxon origin. The first settlement was called 'Aemethyll', which literally means either 'ant-heap' or 'ant infested hill'. In the Domesday Book, Ampthill is referred to as 'Ammetelle', with the landholder in 1086 being Nigel de la Vast.In 1242, King Henry III confirmed the right to hold a market on Thursdays. These continue more than 750 years later.
Henry VIII was a frequent visitor to Ampthill Castle, and it was there that Katherine of Aragon lived from 1531 until divorced in 1533, when she was moved to Kimbolton. The castle was built in the 15C by Sir John Cornwall, later Lord Fanhope, from ransoms after the Battle of Agincourt. Although the Castle is now gone, some intriguing indications of castle life remain - such as the local ponds (Westminster pond being one) allegedly built to supply the castle with regular supplies of fish. Katherine's Cross in Ampthill Park was the burial place for the golden hare in the Kit Williams treasure hunt Masquerade.
St Andrew's Church of England
The church of St Andrew ranges in date from Early English to Perpendicular. It contains a monument to Richard Nicolls (1624-1672), an Ampthill native, who, under the patronage of the Duke of York, brother to Charles II, to whom the king had granted the Dutch North American colony of New Netherland, received the submission of its chief town, New Amsterdam, in 1664, and became its first English governor, the town taking the name of New York. Nicolls perished in the action between the English and Dutch fleets at Solebay, and the ball which killed him is preserved on his monument. The church also contains a ring of eight bells. There were six until 1981, when the two new bells were installed. Services Run weekly, with Sung Eucharist at 9.30am and Evensong at 6.30pm. The church has a regular 4 part choir, which has sung morning and evening services for over 100 years.
Houghton House was built in 1621 by Mary, Countess of Pembroke and sister of the poet Sir Philip Sidney. In 1675, the house provided the inspiration for 'House Beautiful' in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. Bunyan's work is loosely based on his own journey between Bedford and Luton, and the steep slope leading into Ampthill was the model for the 'Hill of Difficulty'. Houghton House passed to the Duke of Bedford in 1738 and became a ruin after the removal of the roof in 1794.
In the mid-1780s, John Fitzpatrick, the 2nd Earl of Upper Ossory, led a campaign to improve the town centre. He created the current market place, erected the water pump and built a new clock tower. Lord Upper Ossory was also responsible for a cross commemorating Katherine of Aragon, with an inscription by Horace Walpole, and a row of thatched cottages built between 1812 and 1816 to house his estate workers. On the death of Lord Upper Ossory in 1818,Ampthill Park became the seat of Lord Holland in whose time Holland House in Kensington,London, became famous as a gathering place for intellectuals. Notable 20th century architect Sir Albert Richardson lived in Ampthill from 1919 until his death in 1964 at Avenue House, 20 Church Street. Among his last projects was the building that housed Mid Bedfordshire District Council (formerly the Ampthill Rural District Council offices) until August 2006, at 12 Dunstable Street (1963-1965).