A Tour Around the Streets of Ampthill

 

Why not take a walk through the History of Ampthill? Discover the Town's Rich History, as you wander around the town. Indeed, the descriptive text below is accompanied by videos to illustrate what you are missing by not visiting Ampthill!


 A Tour Around the Streets of Ampthill - Contents

Introduction to the Tour | Market Square | Kings Arms Yard & PathChurch StreetSt. Andrew's Church & Church SquareBedford StreetHoughton HouseDunstable StreetStation RoadWoburn StreetThe AlamedaAmpthill Park | Cooper's Hill (The Firs) | A Tour Around the Streets of Ampthill from 1983


 
County Fire Office Sign 

Introduction to the Tour

Growing up around a major crossroad, Ampthill is situated on the southern slope of the Greensand Ridge, a characteristic feature of the landscape that runs east-west across Bedfordshire. It evolved as a market town being granted a Charter in 1219 by Henry III. The name Ampthill is Saxon in origin and means 'ant-infested hill'. Its architecture is predominantly Georgian although many buildings are much older, over 200 of which are listed. It is undergoing measured growth and has a current population of around 7000.

Over the centuries there have been a number of major influences on the town. Sir John Cornwall, a hero of Agincourt, formed the Great Park and built a castle there in the 15th Century. At around 125m above sea level, the park offers commanding views across the Marston Vale to the north. The castle came into royal ownership to Henry VII in 1508 as a settlement of a gambling debt for the grandson of Lord Edmund Grey. Henry VIII used Ampthill as a favourite retreat from the plague and sickness in London for hunting and archery, staying in the castle.

Occupants of Park House also played an important role; Lord Ossory was responsible for re-organising the layout of the Market Square in the 1780's, building the Ossory Cottages and erecting the Katherine Cross, whilst his nephew Lord Holland endowed the avenue of limes known as the Alameda.

The Town also has an association, albeit tenuous, with John Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress', with the steep hill north of the town associated with 'Hill Difficulty' and Houghton House reputed to be 'House Beautiful'.

More recently, architectural influences have come from Professor Sir Albert Richardson, a strong-minded and eminent architect at both local and national level, who favoured the Georgian era. His local designs include the old District Council offices and the Cenotaph.

Ampthill is rightly famed for its Georgian character, but the true source of its charm lies deeper than this, for a Georgian front often conceals an earlier interior, and even the Victorians have made their contribution. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the Town Clock­ 20th Century electric in a late 18th century concept surmounted by an early 18th century cupola on a 19th century building. So start your tour in the centre of the town:

Market Square

 

THE MARKET was for centuries crucial to the life of the town, bringing trade from the surrounding villages and generally supporting the local economy. Ampthill market has been held on a Thursday since 1219 and was confirmed by royal charter when the first of a number of annual fairs was authorised. The markets and fairs were for cattle as well as goods, and spilled along the main roads, particularly Dunstable Street, which was known as Cowfair End for a time.

In the mid-1780s, Lord Upper Ossory of Ampthill Park led a campaign to Improve the town centre (and increase income from the market) by creating a Market Square in front of a new Market House (now Richardson's), and tidying up the butchers' shambles, which ran from the Market House and into the Oxlet. (The butchers had been particularly unpopular in the 15th century when they were always throwing rotting offal into the town pond, the Oxflood).

A new well was sunk on the Market Square and a pump installed encased in a stone obelisk (the gift of lord Ossory) and surmounted by an oil lamp. The town clock, formerly on the old market house, was set in a new turret surmounted by a cupola, and placed on the 15th century Moot Halll where the manor court met. The Moot Hall (similar to that at Elstow) was pulled down in 1852, and the town clock moved to present Clock House, which replaced it. 

From the Market Square two of the town's former coaching inns can be seen, the White Hart, a front of about 1730 on a very much older building once known as the Red Hart, remains in business. The White Hart is Ampthill's principal coaching inn. A façade from around 1730 fronts a much older interior. In 1975 a wall painting was discovered under the plaster in the front room depicting the Prince of Wales' feathers, dated 1646. The hotel was badly damaged by fire in 2001. The King's Arms, formerly the Crown, now 9 Church Street, has an 18th century front, but is similarly much older; it closed in the 1950s when the ground floor was converted into shops.

Kings Arms Yard & Path

In the Kings Arms Yard are ancient buildings used in the 17th century to house needy people at the expense of the parish. It is thought that the roundel of pargetting with crown, fleur-de-lis, the dated 1677 and initials W.H commemorates this use ­the initials standing for Work House.

The path leads on to me newer parts of the town passing 'The Hop Ground', formerly belonging to the White Hart, but now after a century and more of neglect a remarkable garden, 'The Kings Arms Path Garden', created from 1967 by William Nourish, and since his death maintained for the Town Council by a group of volunteers. The garden Is open to the public from time to time.

Church Street

Church Street 

CHURCH STREET, leading off from the Market Square in the direction of Maulden contains many interesting buildings most notably Avenue House (number 20) formerly the home of Professor Sir Albert Richardson, KCVO, one-time President of the Royal Academy, whose love for the Georgian period is legendary and was reflected in his work as an architect. 'The Professor' died in 1964, and plaque on the wall of his former home carried a tribute from his old friend John Betjeman, 'He strove to preserve the best in English landscape and buildings……' The house was built for John Morris, a brewer, to the design, it is thought, of John Wing the Bedford architect, in 1790, the easternmost section having been added in 1819. The house takes its name from a lime walk in the garden.

On the opposite side of the road is the Ampthill Masonic Centre built in the early 1860s as a Court House, the architect being Sir John Taylor, KCB. In 1961 James Hanratty was brought before the magistrates here accused of the murder of Michael Gregson in a lay-by off the A6 at Clophill, a crime for which he was ultimately hanged in the last judicial hanging in this country. The courts moved to new premises In Woburn Street in 1963.

Next door, now divided into four, as a fine Jacobean House once the home of Edmund Wingate (1596­ - 1656) mathematician and legal writer and reputedly the inventor of the slide rule. For a time he had lived in Paris where he taught Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, to speak the English language; but his later sympathies were very much with the parliamentary cause. A later owner and resident was George Wateson, bom in Ampthill and for a time Rector of Millbrook. But he was deprived of the Living for refusing to take the oath of allegiance to William and Mary on the grounds that to do this would break the oath he had already taken to James II. (There were over 400 good and saintly clergy who were similarly deprived for conscience's sake at that time: they are known as Nonjurors).

On the opposite side of the road is Gates House (number 28) built in about 1807 and distinguished by a fine wrought iron screen and entrance gates thought to have been those made for Park House by the local blacksmith Jasper Grimes and designed by John Lumley, in the early 1700's.

At the brow of the hill is The Wingfield Club, opened as a United Services Club by the Princess Beatrice in 1921. The house, built in 1742 by Catherine Coppin, was for a time the home of the Revd Charles Cavendish Bentinck, one-time Rector of Ridgmont, and his wife Sinetta. For some years they had rented the house now 41 Church Street, but moved here in 1848. Two years later Mrs Bentinck died, and shortly her husband married again, the eldest daughter of that marriage eventually becoming Countess of Strathmore, mother of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

Modern housing developments to the east and south of Church Street occupy what was formerly the estate of Sir Anthony Wingfield (1857-1952). Ampthill House, which stood where the eastern section of Brinsmade Road is now, had been built in 1829, but was considerably enlarged by Mr Wingfield (as he was then) to provide accommodation for the large number of visitors he entertained. His private zoo was a great attraction, stately Edwardian ladies and distinguished gentlemen (including minor and foreign royalty, were pleased to be photographed on the most unlikely mounts, while camels, bison, pigs, ostriches and llamas roamed the estate freely, and were made to work where possible. Many of the animals were transferred to Whipsnade when that zoo opened, and all had long gone when following Sir Anthony's death, the house was pulled down and its parkland built upon.

The Cloisters is a more recent development on the Ampthill House estate and marks the site of a modest 17th century mansion reputedly built for Ampthill's most famous son, Richard Nicolls. Nicolls was born in 1625 at Great Lodge in Ampthill Park where his father was a keeper, and early in life entered the royal service. He followed the royal family into exile on the continent after the execution of Charles I and became a friend of his son, James Duke of York (afterwards James II). After the restoration Richard Nicolls was sent as senior of three commissioners with a small supporting force, to recover the North American territories from the Dutch. In 1664 he received the surrender of Nieuw Amsterdam which he renamed New York, after the Duke of York, and here he remained for a while as Governor. Having retired to Ampthill, he was called to attend James, then Lord High Admiral, at the battle of Sole Bay (Southwold) in 1672. Mortally wounded by a Dutch cannon ball, his body was brought back to Ampthill for burial, the fatal cannon ball being incorporated into his memorial in the parish church.

St. Andrew's Church & Church Square

St. Andrew's Church 

THE PARISH CHURCH, dedicated in honour of Saint Andrew, in its present form dates from 14th and 15th centuries with 19th and 20th century additions; but there was a church on the same site in Norman times, and perhaps earlier. A comprehensive guide book is available at the church.

CHURCH SQUARE has on its east side Brandreth House, now two, built for Thomas Gibbs in about 1810. He was a noted seedsman to the Board of Agriculture for whom we did much experimental work on grasses, and married Sarah Brandreth of Houghton Regis, hence the house's name. Adjoining are the Feoffee Almshouses, maintained still by feoffees (trustees) using the income from charitable endowments made by townsfolk in earlier centuries. The almshouses were established before 1485, and those on the left of the gateway may be of even earlier date; but the houses which border the churchyard and the one to the right of the gateway were built in the 19th century.

On the west side of Church Square the imposing three-storey Dynevor House has the initials S.V and the date 1725 on the rainwater heads. S.V. was Sir Simon Urlin, Recorder of the City of London from 1742 to 1746, who had the house refronted and remodelled at that time.

RECTORY LANE leads from west of the church tower by footpath to either Houghton Conquest (following the churchyard boundary) or Bedford Road, which is reached by the Holly Walk, a path made in the early 1820s as a short cut from the church to Park House.

A short way along the Maulden Road, on the north side, is Gas House Lane, a reminder that the town's gas works was built here in 1849. This was formerly South Gate Walk, the principal approach to Houghton House, home of the Bruce family whose head was the Earl of Ailesbury. Their 17th century walled garden and orchard can be seen ahead. 

The large new housing estate leading off from the roundabout in the Maulden Road is reached by Allesbury Road. The roads of this development bear the names of many worthy families from Ampthill's history.

Bedford Street

Bedford Street 

BEDFORD STREET is the most changed of all the town's four main roads, having been considerably restricted on its eastern side until the late 1930's by the buildings of Ampthill Brewery which had been established by John Morris in the 1770's, flourished a century under family management, and retained the Morris name until its closure in 1926, when the business was taken over by J.W. Green of Luton. Ampthill Brewery was among the largest in the county and its loss was a significant one for the town. Nothing remains of the buildings, except a vaulted store - now a restaurant - and a few walls around the car park. The market was moved here from Market Square in 1987.

The first building to be put up on the brewery site was a cinema, The Zonita, which opened in 1937 and closed in 1960 - a brief but colourful existence. Converted into office buildings, the Zonita became a snooker hall in 1982, and later its ground floor was made into small shops named Rosewalk. This was demolished in 2005 and the resulting Waitrose Supermarket opened its doors in October 2006. 

The town's original fire station was built in 1902 by Edwin Tutt. It continued in this role until 1954. Extended in 1996, it housed the local Citizens Advice Bureau and then the charity Mind.

The Duke of Bedford Cottages are a small terrace of brick-built cottages characteristic of many Mid-Bedfordshire villages built by the Duke of Bedford in the mid 19th century for his estate workers and are distinctive by their steep gables and lattice windows.

Further up Bedford Street and now used as a garage, is the former National School, one of the town's two main schools. Supported by the parish church, this school opened in 1845 and closed 1954 when the local authority took responsibility for education in the town.

Houghton House

Houghton House 

The Bedford Road continues to the top of the hill where it becomes Hazelwood Lane. Here, a sign points the way to Houghton House, a magnificently sited Jacobean mansion built by Mary, Countess of Pembroke, in about 1615. Dismantled in 1794, the house has been a ruin for many years, but from what remains and from old records and pictures it can be seen that this was a building of considerable distinction with impressive porticos at the north and west fronts and comer towers surmounted by concave pinacles with gilded finials. From 1620 until 1738 it was the home of the Bruces, Earls of Ailesbury, prominent in local life and at court where they held high office. The last Lord Ailesbury to live here was Thomas, a supporter and friend of James II and consequently under constant suspicion following that monarch's departure in 1688. Eventually the situation became intolerable, and he was forced to retire to the continent where he lived at Brussels until his death at the age of 85 in 1741. 

Francis, Marquess of Tavistock, came to live here shortly before his marriage to Lady Elizabeth Keppel, but in 1767 he was killed in a riding accident in Houghton Park, and within a year his widow had died too, 'of a broken heart'. The Duke of Bedford who had bought the estate in 1738, wished to farm the land but had difficulty in finding tenants for the house, and so after a while it was dismantled in 1794 and the staircase can now be seen in the Swan Hotel in Bedford.

Dunstable Street

Dunstable Street 

DUNSTABLE STREET, though victim of too much traffic, has some historic and distinctive features. Number 105 was in the late 18th and early 19th centuries the home of the Royal School of Embroidering Females who, under the patronage of Queen Charlotte, made many of the complex and lavish hangings used in the refurbishing of Windsor Castle in hand at that time. On the opposite side of the road The Gazebo is all that remains of an extensive mid-18th century estate which stretched from the road the site of the Alameda where there was an artificial 'Canal' to give focal point to the garden. The house, which belonged to this estate, stood at the edge of the footpath where numbers 84 and 86 now stand. In 1882 the canal estate was developed, the house pulled down and replaced by two villas built adjoining their new chapel by the Methodist trustees.

'The imposing Methodist Church was designed by Charles Bell of London and 'opened on 13th August 1884 (replacing an earlier building in Wobum Street) known by the locals as the 'Wesleyan Cathedral'.

The Old Sun Public House was built in 1766 and was originally two cottages. It became a pub in 1798 and was sold to Morris's, the local Ampthill brewery.

The Baptist Church further along the road, was built on a site acquired in 1822 and stood back from the pavement. Extensions in 1870 brought the buildings forward by creating a vestibule, and in 1893 accommodation was doubled by the erection of an adjoining Sunday School room and vestry.

The Primitive Methodists opened a chapel in Saunder's Piece in 1871; after a spell as 'The Kinema', it was from 1949 to 1994 a branch of the County Library. Empty for a couple of years it is now a private residence.

The Strict Baptists built a new chapel in Oliver Street in 1904; it was designed by the Ampthill architect Alfred Wildman, and opened on 11th October that year.

AMPTHILL HALL began existence as a bam belonging to Christopher Bennell where the Quakers started holding meetings in 1726. Rebuilt from the old materials on the same site in 1753, it was extended to its present size in 1768, and continued in use as a meeting house until the early 1900s. For many years it served as Saint Andrew's Church hall, but was purchased by the Council in the 1970s for conversion to public use. The front section of the hall is a 19th century addition. Quaker meetings were resumed here in 1990. The buiding is now owned by the Cottage Bakery, after been sold by the Town Council in 2008.

A sign on the dentist's wall at the top of Oliver Street points 'To the Foundry'. This was the Sand Road Iron Works (Oliver Street then being called Sand Road) built in the early 1870s by William Whitehouse on the corner of this road with Neotsbury Road (formerly Foundry Lane). The foundry made chiefly agricultural equipment and domestic ironwork, notably railings. Alfred Hetley, Mr Whitehouse's successor, continued the business until the early 1920s. After military use in the war the buildings were occupied by Jewsons, but demolished in the 1970s when the present houses were built.

The Old Mid Bedfordshire District Council's Offices ('The Limes') in Dunstable Street were built for the Ampthill Rural District Council from designs from Ampthill Resident Professor Richardson and overtime have been considerably modified and extended. The District Council moved out of Ampthill in 2006 to their new base at Chicksands. 

THE CEDARS was built as the Union Workhouse in 1836 (superseding the original 'House of Industry' in Park Hill), the architect being James Clephane, whose other work includes Wrest Park House. The workhouse was built to accommodate 469 inmates from Ampthill and the surrounding parishes, which formed the Union, and operated under a regime of the strictest discipline and segregation. Consequently there was a great dread of 'going to the Union' which was only slightly alleviated by new legislation of 1929 which made this the Public Assistance Institution. But all that became history when, in the late 1940s, the building re-named The Cedars began valuable community service as a Local Authority old people's home, closed in the early 1990s. The buidings were converted into luxury apartments in the late 90's.

The former Board Room, built for the Poor Law Guardians in 1902, is now the town's library. Particularly noteworthy is its modem weather vane commemorating the Gold Hare ('Masquerade' by Kit Williams) treasure hunt.

Station Road

STATION ROAD once to led to Ampthill Station, but the latter (opened in 1868) was closed in 1959 and its site, cut off from Station Road by the bypass is now a part of the industrial estate. It is interesting that the World Speed Record was held from 1897 to 1903 by a Midland Railway train sustaining a speed of 90 m.p.h over 2.36 miles of track here. Close by the station, once very isolated amongst the trees of Little Park, is the Ampthill Hopspital, as it was originally known.

These almshouses, built in 1701 under the directions of the will of John Cross of Oxford, were to accommodate old college servants. In more recent years a wider range of resident has been accommodated, and the flats are now administered by Church Army Housing.

There are two Schools in Station Road, The Firs, and Alameda, built in the early 1970s as a primary and middle school respectively. Redborne School, on the extreme boundary of the town at Running Waters, opened as the Ampthili/Flitwick Secondary Modern School in 1954. It takes its name from the ancient administrative area of the shire, which included both Ampthill and Flitwick, the Hundred of Redbomestoke.

Woburn Street

Woburn Street 

WOBURN STREET was once known as Mill Street, the local rope makers having a horse-powered mill here at one time. Beneath the great, empty wrought-iron sign bracket (numbers 1 &3), is another of the town's coaching inns, formerly the Kings Head, previously the Swan, refronted in about 1734 and since 1948 used as offices.

Behind number 6 was a workhouse, built in 1729 and in operation until 1795. John Wills, who was in charge in 1772, was allowed £230 a year out of the rates for bedding, clothing and food for the inmates­ quite a sum. A successor workhouse, the House of Industry, was built in 1811 on Park Hill (where the wooden houses stand and was the scene of serious rioting in May, 1835, when new poor law regulations were brought into force. The rioting, which had started in Lidlington and Millbrook when payments previously made were withheld, moved to the Market Square and continued until police were brought from London (no Bedfordshire force in those days) and the militia called out and held in readiness at Luton.

By the late 18th century the upper parts of Wobum Street were known as Slutts End. Even so, the Methodists were happy to build a chapel behind what is now number 29, in 1813. It was an imposing building with an interior compared by one who knew it to the hatchway of a ship. 470 worshippers could be accommodated in an incredibly restricted building.

Opposite the old chapel, which was pulled down soon after its congregation moved to their new building in Dunstable Street in 1884, is Claridge's Lane, formerly Rope Walk (doubtless where the horse mill was), and named after George Claridge, a grocer whose shop and house was on the comer of Dunstable Street and Wobum Street.

So on to the thatched Ossory Cottages, much admired and photographed, which were built for his estate workers by Lord Ossory in the early 19th century and bear his plaque and the date. The other cottages in this group are older, and all have been extensively restored and modemised. Across the road are The Sands, once an open space as its name suggest, and the playground of the school which was consequently unofficially known as the Sands School. Built as the British School and opened for children associated with the town's chapels in 1844, it became the Wesleyan School in the 1890's and after 1954, Ampthill county Primary (subsequently, in new premises, Russell SchooI). The building is now an indian restaurant.

The Alameda

Alameda 

THE ALAMEDA, planted for the benefit of the town by Lord and Lady Holland, was created between 1821 and 1827 in Imitation of the 'almeidas' the Hollands had admired in their travels to Spain and Portugal. Its splendid gates, set in a red brick curtain wall, were removed and the wall demolished, by the Duke of Bedford's workmen in 1882. (Later the gates were given by the Duke to Bedford School, where they form the St Peter's Green entrance). The present gateway was constructed to Professor Richardson's design, in 1921, when Princess Beatrice came to unveil the War Memorial which was built at the far end of the Alameda. This memorial, the Cenotaph, was planned in association with the United Service Men's Club in Church Street, and many thought this inappropriate. So a second memorial was arranged, and unveiled In the churchyard a week after the Cenotaph, by Lord Ampthill. Both memorials were designed by Professor Richardson.

The Alameda leads to The Firs (sometimes known as Cooper's Hill). This was from the 1820's a pine plantation of great beauty and much frequented by local people. In 1917 the trees were cut down for use as props in the trenches in France. The Firs remained a scarred wasteland until the heather took over, a reversion to its former state when this areas was known as Ling (heather) Hills.

Wobum Street ends with Agate House, the Bedfordshire Cheshire Home built in the late 1970s. In this part of the town most of the sporting interests have their base - cricket, tennis, netball, football, angling and the children's recreation area in the park; rugby in Dillingham Park and more football in the adjoining Lawrence Park. All these, with the sports hall behind Parkside Hall and adjoining Nottingham Rooms, make this very much a social centre for the town, as most of these clubs and activities have provided themselves with up-to-date facilities and accommodation and are professionally served and organised by their management committees.

Ampthill Park

 

Ampthill Park
 

 

AMPTHILL PARK, more accurately Great Park, was formed when Sir John Comwall purchased the manor of Ampthill from the St Amand family early in the 15th century. Already famous for his skill in the tournaments, he achieved additional renown in the French wars, notably at Agincourt (1415) where he was a commander in the English army. His wife was Henry IV's sister, the Princess Elizabeth of Lancaster, and thus he became uncle to Henry V.

Here at Ampthill. the park enclosed. He began building a house appropriate to his status. (Perhaps he planted some of the oaks, many of which survived almost into our time, although too old for ship building in the 17th century). Ampthill Castle, 'stately on a hill with four or five fair towers of stone' occupied a considerable site between the Wobum Road and the top of the hill where Lord Ossory was to put the Katherine Cross centuries later. No contemporary picture of it has yet been found, and some sketchy plans are hard to interpret. But the descriptions of those who saw it tell of an inner and outer court with high walls punctuated by 'fair towers' or turrets. There was no keep, but accommodation was built against the walls, the principal buildings such as the great drawing room and the chapel, being on the hill. (Westminster Pond was doubtless a part of the castle complex, a valuable source for the supply of fresh fish).

Cornwall died in 1443 and was buried at Blackfriars in London; his wife had died some years earlier. Their only son having been killed In the French wars, the estate passed - after protracted dispute with Cornwall's Illegitimate sons - to Lord Edmund Grey of Wrest, who paid 6,500 marks (£4,300) for it in 1454. Lord Edmund's grandson, a gambler and wastrel, forfeited the estate to Henry VII when unable to repay a debt, and Ampthill came into royal ownership. It was Henry VIII who, by making Ampthill a favourite base, brought prosperity and prominence to the town.

The court came down at least once a year, usually in autumn as part of a progress from Windsor to Grafton in Northamptonshire, and although affairs of state received their due attention, the king's chief pastime was hunting. Deer, bred in Little Park (hence its name) ensured his needs were well met, and additional hounds - the king's usually came with him - were held in readiness too. The ladies of the court and the less agile gentlemen watched the hunt from a construction known as 'The Stand' ready to take pot shots at the unfortunate deer who would be driven in their direction by the foot hunters and hounds.

 

Katherine's Cross
 

 

KATHERINE OF ARAGON, married to Henry for almost 20 years before he began to take steps to end their relationship, was particularly fond of Ampthill, although her confinement here while Cranmer's court at Dunstable Priory decided her fate could not have been a pleasant. The court announced the invalidity of the marriage on 23rd May 1533; she refused to meet the deputation sent to inform her until 3rd July, and then, surrounded by her household and friends, and with great dignity, made her defiant stand that she was the king's true wife.

After Henry's death the castle was neglected, his immediate successors no doubt having no liking for a place with such unhappy associations, and by Queen Elizabeth's time it was becoming ruinous and quite uninhabitable. An archaeological dig was carried out during July 2009 to find out what remained of the castle.

Royal visitors of that period (and later, like James I who had plans to rebuild the castle) stayed at Great Lodge, the steward's house on the site of the present Park House. In the 1680's much building work was done at Great Lodge for Diana, Dowger Countess of Ailesbury, who had moved there from Houghton House. After her death John, Lord Ashbumham, whose father had received the park from Charles II in repayment of a loan, planned to extend the house and make it his principal home. For a time Nicholas Hawksmoor was his architect, but his plans were considered too drastic, and first John Lumley of Northampton and then William Winde, were brought in to meet the earl's exacting requirements. But he died before the work was finished and park and house passed eventually into the possession of John, 2nd Earl of Upper Ossory who in the 1770's began a complete reconstruction and enlargement of the house, for which he engaged the architect Sir William Chambers. At the same time he employed Lancelot 'Capability' Brown to landscape the park.

The principal front which for Great Lodge and Lord Ashbumham's house had been facing south, was made to face north, the remains of Great Lodge being on that side of the building were swept away, and an imposing main entrance with an impressive flight of steps up to the door at first floor level took its place. New wings were constructed, and the whole building lengthened.

In the park 'Capability' enhanced existing features by planting trees in isolated clumps and merged the park boundaries into the surrounding landscape with narrow plantations. A new drive was constructed to give a more interesting approach to the house. The old entrance had been at the lodge in Woburn Road (now called Hollyhock Cottage) through the park past Russett Lodge (given a classic temple appearance by Lord Ossory) and so through what is now the Darkenings to the sunken lime walk, the Green Walk planted way back in Lady Ailesbury's time and cut down in 1968.

The new approach began further along the Woburn Road (where the entrance to the car park is now) at a new lodge (demolished 1972) and passed the remaining fragments of the castle and the new Katherine Cross, set in a grove of Scotch pines, down the hill, with glimpses of water from 'Capability's' new lake (''The Rezzy") between the trees on the right, and so to Park House, beyond which the drive, with more glimpses of water from a lake on the north (drained 1850) joined the Bedford Road at the foot of Hazelwood Lane Hill.

When Lord Ossory died in 1818 the estate passed to his nephew, Lord Holland, whose widow sold it to the Duke of Bedford in 1841. Just over a century later the northern part of the park, including Park House, was sold to Bovril Ltd, whose factory had been. evacuated to Reddings Wood in the war, and in 1947 the remainder of the park was sold to Ampthill Urban District Council for little under £11,000.

The Katherine Cross was erected by Lord Ossory in 1773 in memory of Queen Katherine of Aragon and has undergone major refurbishment during 2008/9.

A companion to the Katherine Cross was erected by the Duke of Bedford to commemorate the training camp he built (and financed) on this site in World War I. The memorial records the remarkable fact that 10,604 men were brought here, of whom 707 were killed In action. Some of the bronze plates bearing the names of the latter were stolen in 1970.

Cooper's Hill or The Firs

Cooper's Hill 

COOPER'S HILL - known locally as The Firs - is one of the few remaining examples of the heaths, which one stretched across Bedfordshire along the Greensand Ridge. A lowland heath of National importance, it has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by English Nature and was declared a Local Nature Reserve in 1980 by Bedfordshire County Council. Owned by Ampthill Town Council, the heathland is managed by the Wildlife Trust.

A beautiful area highly coloured when the heather is in bloom, is heath is also very delicate and should be treated with great respect.

A Tour Around the Streets of Ampthill from 1983

A video that was shot during August 1983. This was shot as my late father, John Smith, drove me round the streets of Ampthill. In this footage we start from my home in Sidney Road and then travel up to the Town Centre via Flitwick Road and Dunstable Street, then up Bedford Street via Ampthill Hill to Hazelwood Lane. In the case of Bedford Street you will note Budgens Supermarket that has since been demolished to make way for the redevelopment of that part of town, to be replaced with the Waitrose Store.

This footage takes you from Woburn Street and the start of the then unopened Ampthill Bypass, via Chandos Road, Dunstable Street, Flitwick Road, the 101 Roundabout (again on the unopened Ampthill Bypass) and finally to the start of Froghall Lane.

Filmed by Mark Smith