Ampthill Great Park

Ampthill Park, Ampthill, Bedfordshire
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Overview

Between 1770 and 1775, Lancelot 'Capability' Brown landscaped the park at Ampthill for the 2nd Earl of Upper Ossory.

Ampthill Great Park, near Bedford, Bedfordshire, covers around 140 hectares (245 acres), with the Ampthill Ridge (part of the Greensand Ridge) running from west to east across the southern part of the site. Capability Brown’s scheme resulted from at least two commissions, for which he was paid £2,396 (£3.8 million in 2015), and included building a serpentine carriage drive to the south of the house and a reservoir. He is also credited for the clumps of trees typical of Brown's style, and perimeter planting in the south of the park.

Carriage drive and views

Ampthill Great Park was originally a deer park, surrounding the early 15th-century Ampthill Castle. In 1769 the earl began remodelling Park House (now listed Grade II*, Historic England), using architect Sir William Chambers (1723-96, Wikipedia), before turning his attention to the park. The formal gardens were swept away, but Brown kept the best of the existing landscaping, such as the oak copses and the lime tree drive, south-east of the house, designed by Chambers.

Brown’s carriage drive enters the estate 900 metres south of the mansion and curves northwards to the top of the ridge. It was designed to give dramatic views from the top of the Greensand Ridge across the reservoir and house and towards the Bedford Plain. The drive follows a steep descent around the edge of the bowl-shaped feature that surrounds the reservoir. There are also views across to the plateau where Ampthill Castle once stood and where the earl put up a stone monument, Katherine's Cross (listed Grade II, Historic England), commemorating 'the mournful refuge of an injured queen'. The estate had once been a royal property that was used by King Henry VIII from the mid-1520s. Katherine of Aragon was exiled there during the annulment of her marriage to the king.

Ampthill park and Park House © Thomas Grabow/The Saturday Walkers Club

Brown’s drive is one of three at Ampthill. The main approach to the property is via the east drive, which enters the park to the north-east of the house and curves south west. An earlier main drive – shown on a map of 1736 – took a largely straight route through the pleasure grounds to the south-east front of the house.

Restoring Ampthill 

The house was sold after the Second World War and became one of the first Cheshire Homes, caring for the disabled. In the late 1970s it was divided into four separate residences. 

The park is now owned and managed by Ampthill Town Council, with free access for the public. As part of a major project the Council plans to restore much of Brown’s vision for the site. In some areas this will involve re-introducing the grazing of livestock, to help keep grassland areas clear and maintain Brown's vistas.   
 
Sources  
Dorothy Stroud, ‘Capability Brown’, 1975 edition, Faber & Faber, page 215 
Information courtesy of Bedfordshire Gardens Trust: bedsgardenstrust.org.uk
Historic England: historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000378 
Country Life: www.countrylife.co.uk/property/country-houses-for-sale-and-property-news/two-parts-of-a-magnificent-bedfordshire-country-house-for-sale-24076

Photo of Ampthill park and Park House © Thomas Grabow/The Saturday Walkers Club

Further information: Guidebook of Ampthill Great Park to Celebrate the Tercentenary of Capability BrownAmpthill Town Council, ​2016