Ampthill Great Park & Cooper's Hill (The Firs)


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 Ampthill Environment


Please be aware that Ampthill Park attracts a variety of wildlife which may be breeding (including MUNTJAC DEER etc.) and therefore you are strongly advised to ensure that your children and dogs are under your close control at all times for their own safety

Ampthill Great Park

Ampthill Great Park 

Managed by Ampthill Town Council in association with The Greensand Trust

Visit: The Greensand Trust

Download: Ampthill Great Park Visitor Leaflet

Download: Ampthill Great Park: Woolnaugh Trail Leaflet

Ampthill Park is much more than a pleasant place to visit. This is a nationally important historic site: Henry VIII hunted here 400 years ago and the landscape we enjoy today was partly created by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown in the 18th Century. Ampthill Park also provides a window into Bedfordshire's geology and is also home to some interesting wildlife. 

The Greensand Trust has recently assisted in the management of the Park and with their help funding has been secured from a number of sources (including Shanks First), to return Ampthill Park to it's former glory. You can read more about the Greensand Trusts management plans for Ampthill  Park by visiting www.greensand-trust.org.uk/ampthillpk.html

Geology: Ampthill Park owes its existence to a shallow sea that flooded Bedfordshire in the Cretaceous period, about 15 million years ago. Over time the sandy seafloor became sandstone that resisted erosion to stand high above the clays that lie to either side of the Greensand Ridge. By the Middle Ages it was clear that the well-drained, infertile sandy soil of this part of the Ridge was poor farmland. Instead it became a deer park, a landscape of trees and grasslands managed for the pleasure of the hunt.

Wildlife: In the centuries since Henry VIII hunted here the woodland and grassland have become increasingly important to wildlife, especially insects. The 'wet flushes' where water seeps out from the base of the Greensand Ridge (marked by lush reeds and rushes in the grassland near the reservoir) are particularly significant.

Management: The landscape of Ampthill Park was created over many centuries by people and their animals. Livestock grazing prevents trees growing in grassland; since grazing ceased here, the scrub and trees have invaded the grassland. To maintain the balance between trees and grasses grazing is been reinstated, plus scrub will be cleared from areas where grassland would be more valuable to wildlife. Management carried out by the Greensand Trust on behalf of Ampthill Town Council has resulted in the return of unusual plants such as ivy-leaved crowfoot to the wetland areas.

Recreation: Ampthill Park comprises approximately 160 acres of parkland & woodland, including a Children's Play Area, Toilets, Tennis Courts*, Ampthill Town Cricket Club, Ampthill Town Football Club and Ampthill Angling Club. 

Charges are made in respect of camping by Cadet Organisations/Youth Clubs/School Parties, Orienteering, Cross Country Events, Caravan Parking by registered organisations, the release of pigeons & use by Circuses.  Please contact the Council with your enquiries. Free parking available for users visiting the Park.  

* The Tennis Courts are open to all and are free of charge to use but please confine your play to 30mins duration if there are other people who are waiting to play.

Brief History: Ampthill Park can be traced back to 1086, when it was part of the manor of Ampthill held by the Albini family.

Since the 15th century Ampthill Park has been the site of a royal residence and hunting ground, and a landscaped garden for generations of aristocratic residents of the Park House (also known as Great Park House).

Ampthill evolved as a market town in early medieval times.  Its central location, on two main routes and strategic location at the foot of the Lower Greensand Ridge made it a focal point for the local agricultural community.  In the 15th century Ampthill Castle, a fortified house was built by Sir John Cornwall, an ally of Henry V who had married Princess Elizabeth in 1400.  After the death of Cornwall, the castle and estates were bought by Lord Edmund Grey of Wrest. 

In the early 16th century both the castle, Ampthill Park and nearby Houghton Park became royal property.  While Henry VII showed little interest in Ampthill, Henry VIII used the castle and grounds for hunting.  His first wife, Katherine or Aragon was imprisoned there during and after divorce proceedings.  Towards the end of the century the castle was neglected and ruinous by 1600.

In 1606 James I preferred to enlarge the Steward's house called the Great Lodge, rather than re-build the derelict castle. In 1661 Charles II gave the Park to John Ashburnham.  Ampthill Park House was re-built between 1687-1689 under contract from the lease-holding Ossory family, by John Grumbold, the Cambridge mason and architect.  It was altered between 1704-1707 under the direction of  John Lumley and again by Robert Chambers between 1786-1772. 

Concurrent with Chamber's work, Capability Brown was employed to transform the formal gardens to an open landscape and was responsible for the wooded perimeters, strategically placed stands of chestnut and pine, the winding west drive and the "Rezzy".  The best of the former landscaping, such as the oak copses and lime tree drive designed by Chambers, were left by Brown.

In 1772-1773 Katherine's Cross was erected by the architect James Essex in the Gothic style. He was influenced by the poet and writer Hugh Walpole, whose verse can be seen on the cross today, commemorating the imprisonment of the Queen.  The cross is considered to be an important monument by virtue of its rarity and social history and is protected as a Grade II Listed Building. Park House and the grounds were sold to the Bedford family in 1864. Coincidentally, Katherine's Cross gained additional fame in the latter part of the 20th Century, as it was at the base of this monument that the 'Golden Hare' was buried, as detailed in Kit Williams book 'Masquerade'. To discover more information visit the 'Masquerade' Web Site.

During this period the public were permitted to roam freely through the Park and enjoy organised sport.  During the Great War 1914 - 1918 the Park was used as an army training camp.  Immediately after the Second World War the Park accommodated a Prisoner of war camp. In the 1940s the Bedford family sold Park House and adjacent land to Bovril Limited.  In 1947 the Park was sold to the predecessors of Ampthill Town Council for just under £11,000. 

Friends of Ampthill Great Park

If you have an interest in the park and would like to be more actively involved you can join the Friends of Ampthill Great Park. Friends can support the park in many ways including:

  • Carrying out voluntary work
  • Taking part in events
  • Raising the profile of the park
  • Leading walks and talks
  • Assisting with the production of leaflets and other educational material
  • Seeking external funding for park improvements
  • Providing specialist expertise for projects

For more information contact Ampthill Town Council on 01525 404355     

Useful LinksPark

Cooper's Hill (The Firs)

Cooper's Hill 

Managed by Ampthill Town Council in association with The Wildlife Trust Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Peterborough

Visit: The Wildlife Trust Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Peterborough Website

Visit Bedfordshire's largest remaining area of heathland in late summer to be stunned by the swathes of heather in full bloom.

This reserve is on the Greensand ridge, a geological feature which stretches across the county from Leighton Buzzard in the south-west, to Gamlingay in south Cambridgeshire. Historically the site would have been grazed by sheep or cattle and the heather would have been used by locals as fuel, bedding and for thatching roofs. The ashes from burnt bracken were also used as a source of lye for soap making.

Local records indicate that Cooper's Hill was once known as Ampthill Warren. The Normans are thought to have introduced rabbits to Britain in the 11th Century for their meat and fur. Warrens were set up on areas of light soil where landowners dug burrows to encourage the rabbits. Later, the seventh Duke of Bedford planted conifers on the heath, but these were felled in 1917 to help the war effort.

The reserve contains large areas of heather growing together with birch, oak, gorse and broom scrub. Invasive bracken threatens to kill the heather by shading it out. The north western corner of the reserve supports a small area of acidic mire and ponds, where the water table reaches the surface above the impermeable Ampthill clay. Marsh violet can be found here with willow carr gently shading the water.

The open heath provides a home to the common lizard and insects such as solitary bees and wasps. Woodland towards the north of the site grows over gently undulating ground with beech and lime in addition to the more usual birch and oak. The mocking call of the green woodpecker can often be heard, especially when disturbed from the ground where it gathers ants. Many nesting birds take advantage of the protection of the spiky gorse, which gives off its distinctive coconut smell in high summer.

What does the Ampthill Town plan say about Environmental Issues? 

Ampthill Park and Coopers Hill (the Firs) are already managed for the Town Council. The green corridor that links both areas should be subject to similar conservation schemes; as well as, remnants of fields and woodland along the by-pass between Woburn Street and Station Road.


  • A well maintain environment accessible to the public.
  • Enlarged and robust heathland at Coopers Hill.
  • An active P3 group of volunteers to maintain and improve public rights of way within the town.
  • A Flit Valley Country Park to the south of Ampthill.


  • To implement the list of actions arising from the Town Plan Environmental Group. See full list in the Action Plan.
  • Establish a Parish Path Partnership (P3 Scheme) across the town.
  • Establish a forum to study creation of a Flit Valley Country Park to the south of Ampthill.
  • Buffer or increase the size of Coopers Hill.
  • The full report contains a detailed action plan as well as more information and appendices covering the work of the various groups.
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