On Sunday, Tim and I went off the beaten track and down the carriage drive to see Houghton House, near Ampthill. This is the house referred to as House Beautiful by John Bunyan, in his famous book ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’. Bunyan was from Bedford.
Stunning and commanding views across the Vale of Bedford, make this so wonderful to visit. To sit and just ‘be’ on the lawns is a magical experience.
English Heritage has the task of maintaining this beautiful place and it is well looked after. The signs around the house give you a great deal of information about the house and its occupants through the ages.
It was built around 1615 for Mary, Dowager Countess of Pembroke, in a mixture of Jacobean and Classical styles: the ground floors of two Italianate loggias survive, possibly the work of Inigo Jones.
In 1624 the house passed to the first Earl of Elgin upon the death of the Countess, and was passed down the generations. In 1738 the house was bought by the 4th Duke of Bedford, his main house being the beautiful Woburn Abbey just a few miles away. The Duke’s son, the Marquess of Tavistock, was killed in a horse riding accident and so the house passed to his grandson, Francis Russell, the 5th Duke of Bedford. Sadly, in 1794, Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford, stripped Houghton House of its furnishings and removed the roof. This may have been due, in part, to his father’s horse riding tragedy.
Conservation work was undertaken in 2006 to help maintain safety and improve the understanding of the site.
Well worth a visit.
The magnificent staircase from Houghton House can be seen in The Swan Hotel, Bedford. It gives you a taste of how opulent and grand the house must have been in its heyday.
Houghton House is in the bodacious shire of Bedford.