Ampthill Park

To view the Ampthill Park Tree Trail leaflet click here 

Parks for People / HLF - Project News

AmpthillGreatPark - Heritage Lottery Fund Project

Landscaping Works Update

The successful landscaping contractors have now been selected. There will be two main areas of work beginning in September. The clearance of scrub & regenerative trees from selected areas within the park, predominantly from off the ridge slope and the renovation of both car parks together with the installation of the easy access path running between the Central and West car parks. As the project works progress regular updates will be provided on the Town Council website as well as at both main entrances to the park. As both contracts will be running concurrently there will be some disruption to the park. The work to the Central Car Park will take place first at the beginning of September and this will require the car park to be closed for a number of weeks. The work to the West Car Park will follow again requiring the car park to be closed for a period of time. The clearance of scrub and regenerative trees will also start at the beginning of September and will affect access to different sections of the park as the work progresses. Key areas of activity will be at the top of the ridge and to the immediate West of the West Car Park. The reason for clearing the scrub and regenerative trees is to expose hidden views and vistas that are part of the parks original ‘Capability’ Brown design. The car parks will be upgraded by this work and the new path will improve general access.

For any queries regarding the forthcoming works or the Heritage Lottery Project in general please contact Ampthill Town Council.

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Telephone: 01525 404355

Trails & View Lines  (Click title to view map)

Heritage Trail

Connecting features of historic interest & key viewpoints

Easy access trail (short walk)

A route with less steep gradients incorporating the new surfaced path

Outer circular walk (long walk)

A longer walk around the park perimeter incorporating the new surfaced path, Maggs Field, Laurel Wood & Russets plantation.

Visual Information, Signage & Activities  (Click title to view map)

(PA) - Play Area

Story Tellers Chair (wood carving)

Woodland Arch (wood carving)

Family nature trail

Family fun week activities during the summer school holidays

(CCP) – Central Car Park Entrance

Welcome Board & information point

Illustrated map, Big book information panels, general park information, info point digital information point accessible by mobile phones, tablets etc

(WCP) – West Car Park Entrance

Welcome Board & information point

Illustrated map, Big book information panels, general park information, info point digital information point accessible by mobile phones, tablets etc

(HUB) – The Hub Café Interpretation Point

Additional content added to existing touch screen

Info-point unit installed in Hub

(VP) – View point panel & Seat

Seating with ‘Panorama’ panel identifying features visible from the ridge top

(RP) – Reservoir Information Panel

Information about the reservoir, its use & management

(WM) – Way Markers

Illustrated carved way marker posts installed at pedestrian entrances

(CAE) – Community Archaeological Excavation (2017)

In 2017 local people & groups will be invited to participate in archaeological investigations of 2 sites. Possible Saxon settlement East of the castle (not within the SAM site) & early iron age site within Laurel Wood.

(CBC) – Capability Brown Tercentenary Celebrations – 2016 (whole site)

In 2016 the Friends of Ampthill Park will host a celebration of the parks ‘Capability’ Brown landscape. This will be modelled on the pilot project previously undertaken.

Landscaping, Car Parks & Path Works  (Click title to view map)

(A) - Lime Avenue

Removal of lower branches of Lime Trees to expose views of the ‘Capability’ Brown landscape facing East

Planting of 20 new Lime trees to replace gaps due to lost trees

Removal of 1 diseased tree

(B) – Central Car Park

Relaying of the car park surface

Creation & re-profiling of new soil banks

New trees planted

Replacement wooden bollards

Overlaying of driveway surface

(C) – West Car Park

Relaying of car park surface

Re-profiling of soil banks

(D) – Southern Shelterbelt path

Surfaced path running between the West & Central car parks

(E) – Additional Grazing area

New grazing area connecting the existing Maggs Field & Lower park grazing areas

(F) – Original Path

Resurfacing of the original path running between the West car park & football pitch

The section from the football pitch to the Central car park will be closed off connecting to the new surfaced path

(G) – ForestSchool

A fenced off area within the tea cosy clump where schools & youth groups can undertake outdoor learning sessions

(H) – Greensand Ridge Footpath

Reinstatement of the eroded part of the footpath to re-establish back to grass, this will be protected to allow the grass to establish.

(I) - Scrub/Trees to be removed – (Blue hatched areas)

Cutting & removal of scrub & trees, all will be chipped & removed from the park

Chipping/removal of tree stumps to below ground level

Specific trees marked on plan to be retained

(J) – Scrub/Trees to be thinned within a 5 year period – (Grey hatched areas)

Cutting & removal of scrub & trees, chipped & removed from the park

Chipping/removal of tree stumps to below ground level

Specific trees marked on plan to be retained

Work will be completed by volunteers

(H) – Hedge lowering

Lowering of the height of the hedge to allow views into Maggs Field

Helping to integrate Maggs Field with the main park

To hire Ampthill Park for an event please click here for the Hire Form and here for a list of Charges

AMPTHILL PARK (Registered Historic Park: Grade II) 

The area of Ampthill Park has probably been parkland since the 15th century when Ampthill Castle was built on the crest of the Greensand Ridge. In the 16th century it was part of a royal property which also included Houghton Park to the north east. In the 1660’s Lord Ashburnham acquired the land from the crown and built Park House at the northern foot of the ridge. There is some evidence for formal landscape associated with the house at this time. 

In the later 18th century Park House was enlarged and at the same time Capability brown was engaged to “improve” the grounds; he worked at Ampthill in 1771 and 1772. The present landscape of the Park and its main features are the result of Brown’s work.

The only major alterations have been the creation of public recreational facilities on the southern edge of the park in the 20th century. Katherine’s Cross (Listed Building: Grade II) was erected in 1773 as a garden feature in Brown’s new landscape. The idea for it came from Horace Walpole, a friend of the then owner the Earl of Upper Ossory.

Crosses are rare as garden features and the Katherine Cross is an early example of a Gothic Revival monument. Capability Brown is considered to be the most important figure in the 18th century English landscape movement. Although Ampthill Park is not one of his major commissions it is probably the best examples of his work in Bedfordshire. In spite of later insertions into the landscape Brown’s work is still relatively unaltered, particularly in the northern part of the Park. Overall Ampthill Park is of considerable significance both locally and at a national scale. 

Royal Residence and Aristocratic Use 

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 the anulment of her marriage. 

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 Two Listed Building. Park House and the grounds were sold to the Bedford family in 1864.  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.  

AMPTHILL CASTLE (Scheduled Ancient Monument) Ampthill Castle was built in the early 15th century by Lord Fanhope as a “residence meet for his royal spouse” Elizabeth, sister of Henry IV. It passed to the crown in 1524 and Katherine of Aragon lived at the Castle in1533 during her divorce from Henry VIII.

By the later part of the 16th century the buildings were already in a state of decay and had been completely demolished by 1649. In spite of its name Ampthill Castle was never a castle in a military sense although it may have had some of a castle’s external trappings. Its true character was that of a palace with the emphasis on the domestic and the activities of an aristocratic household with royal associations.

A plan of 1567, together with other descriptions, give a good idea of the layout of the house around a number of courts. Nothing of the buildings survives above ground, however, there are clear earthwork remains which closely match the 1567 plan. It is clear that well preserved archaeological deposits belonging to the house survive within the area of the SAM quite close to the modern ground surface. 

The Castle is of considerable importance both locally and nationally, especially for its associations with national events during the 16th century. Although no buildings survive above foundation level the buried remains are of great value. There is good contemporary documentation of the house which adds value to the remains.

That the Castle was built on a new site rather than representing a phase of development at a previously occupied one is also of interest. The fact that site was occupied for a relatively short time, less than 200m years, at a time of considerable change (from medieval to post-medieval periods) mean that the artefacts buried in the site are of considerable value in developing our understanding of this period of transition.