Wrest Park is located near Silsoe in the county of Bedfordshire and is one of Britain’s most beautiful houses and country estates and yet it also one of the least well known. It is made up of an extensive tract of parkland that surrounds Wrest Park Mansion and Gardens, both of which have a grade one heritage listing.
The current mansion was the creation of Thomas de Grey, 2nd Earl de Grey, who owned the land and was an amateur but highly skilled architect. He would later go on to become the first president of the Royal Institute of British Architects. It’s therefore ironic that he felt little for the then current trend towards Gothic design and instead favoured the French style made famous by people such as Jacques-François Blondel the author of ‘Architecture Française’. It is now accepted that the designs for Wrest Park House were almost entire the work of De Grey himself. The practical planning and supervision of construction were carried out by his trusted associated James Clephan (Clapham).
The finished building, erected using Bath stone and once thought to be overly ostentatious, has now aged to perfection and is world recognised as an exceptional example of the French Chateau style. It has often been described as a scaled down version of the Palace of Versailles. Overall the mansion too five years to build and was completed in 1839.Wrest Park House has some of the earliest Rococo Revival interiors in the United Kingdom.
If the house is magnificent then it is fair to say that the gardens are almost as spectacular and have many distinguished features and follies that were an essential part of an 19th century country estate. Laid out over 92 acres it was originally designed by George London and Henry Wise around 1685 and then modified and enhanced by the famous landscape designer Lancelot “Capability” Brown between 1758 and 1760.
Some of the garden features include a Baroque style pavilion designed by Thomas Archer, an orangery and decorative bath house as well as marble fountains and a monument dedicated to Lancelot Brown.
During World War I the house and estate were used as a hospital for soldiers who had just arrived back in England from the battlefields of Europe. Around 1,600 men were treated in the wards at Wrest Park but the hospital was forced to shut in September 1916 after the house was severely damaged by fire.
During World War II the estate was used as the headquarters of the sun insurance company and much of the surrounding estate was turned over to farming to support the war effort.
The property was acquired by English heritage in 2006 and in 2007 they announced that the Wolfson Foundation had made up to £400,000 available to assist with the restoration of features within the estate. This includes the entrance to the house, the canals gates and carriage drive. In 2008 they revealed far-reaching plans to restore Wrest Park house and gardens to their original grandeur. This project is now well under way and has produced exceptional results
The ghost of Lady Elizabeth Grey of Wrest Park is said to haunt The George pub in the nearby town of Sisloe. Why this should be no one knows. As a regular to The George once said: ‘If you have to haunt a place it might as well be somewhere you can get a decent drink’
Gullivers – Milton Keynes
Camping and Caravanning Club Site
Frobisher Gate (Rd), Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire, England, MK15 0DT
+44 (0)1908 679 343
- Address: Wrest Park, Park Avenue, Luton, Bedfordshire, United Kingdom, MK45 4HR
- GPS: 52.0080012,-0.4116983999999775
- Phone: 0044 (0)1525 860 000
- Part of UK: England
- Sat Nav Postcode: MK45 4HR
- Entrance Fees: Charges Apply
- Disabled Access: Excellent
- Visibility from Road: Good
- Image Credits: Dragos Iliescu