Located in the East of England, Bedfordshire is a stunning county with a rich history. One should definitely explore many of the grand estates that are dotted across the landscape. Shuttleworth House especially is unique for its collection of antique machinery and annual aviation shows, while Luton Hoo provides the highest class accommodation for paying guests.
Many of the sites on our list are perfect for a nature oriented day outside. Ascott House and Gardens provides cricket grounds, allowing one to feel like part of the landed gentry of the past. But Bedfordshire has also a more surprising role in the past. St Paul’s Church in Bedford played an important role during the Second World War.
Here’s our selection of 10 of the best historic sites to visit in Bedfordshire.
Wrest Park is a country estate including a listed country house and restored Wrest Park Gardens, located in Bedfordshire, England. A unique example of a 19th century English imitation of a 18th century French chateau, the house is framed by 3 glorious centuries of English garden design.
Explore the 90 acres of gardens that reflect styles from France, Italy and England, boasting lush greens, an ornate marble fountain, a Chinese Temple and Bridge, and statues. A highlight is undoubtedly the Archer Pavilion, built between 1709 and 1711, with its stunning Baroque interior. In the Dairy Sculpture Gallery, look out for the Portland Stone Neptune and bronze sundial made in 1682.
2. Ascott House and Gardens
Originally an early 17th century farm house known as ‘Ascott Hall’, the estate building was turned by the Rothschild family into a substantial yet informal country house in the mid 19th century. The building houses a large collection of impressive paintings and porcelain. Surrounding the mansion one can find magnificent gardens dotted with fountains, statues, carefully sculpted bushes and flowerbeds.
Ascott House and Gardens are open to visitors who wish to revel in its glamour and splendour. The tearoom provides tea and cake for people looking for a rest, while the cricket grounds allow one to feel like part of the old money circles.
3. Houghton House
The ruins of this 17th century mansion provide a stunning backdrop to visitors. The original building was created in 1615 by Mary, Dowager Countess of Pembroke. It combined elements of Jacobean and Classical styles. The building was dismantled in 1794, with some elements being transported to the Swan Inn in Bedford. These days the ruins are accessible to the public.
4. Willington Dovecote and Stables
Located close to Wellington Church, the 16th century stone-built dovecote and stable building is a loverly little site to explore. It is also a great spot for bird watching with barn owls and kestrels being frequent visitors.
The dovecote is open on afternoons during the last Sunday of each month. It is recommended to connect ones visit to the building with a quick exploration of St. Lawrence’s Church next door.
5. Woburn Abbey and Gardens
The massive estate located north of Luton originates from the 1620s. To this day it is occupied by the Dukes of Bedford. The beautiful mansion is surrounded by a 3,000 acre deer park, with 10 species of deer roaming free.
The main building is currently closed to the general public because of refurbishment projects. The house will be reopened in 2024. Visitors can still stroll through the estate gardens and visit the Woburn Safari Park.
6. Priory Church of St Peter
Founded in 1132 by King Henry I, the Priory Church of St Peter is located in the market town of Dunstable. The current structure is only the nave of what was originally a much larger Augustinian priory church. It is considered one of the best examples of Norman architecture in England. The entrance is richly decorated, impressing any visitor.
The site is still a practicing religious building open to visitors.
7. Stockwood Discovery Centre
The Stockwood Discovery Centre located in Luton was founded in 1986 and displays collections (many interactive) of local social history, archaeology, geology and rural crafts. It also houses the biggest collection of horse-drawn carriages in Europe. Their garden cafe provides Afternoon Tea to any hungry visitors.
8. St Paul's Church
The site has been the home of a Christian church since the 8th century, though the modern building was constructed in the 13th century with many alterations being added in the upcoming centuries. During the Second World War the BBC used the church as the studio for broadcasting the Daily Service and The Epilogue both nationally and throughout Europe.
9. Luton Hoo
One can find this English country home and estate near Luton in Bedfordshire. The current building was constructed in a neo-classical style in the mid 18th century by John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, then Prime Minister to George III. Capability Brown was hired to create the extensive gardens of Luton Hoo. During the Second World War the estate was used as a testing ground for British tanks.
Luton Hoo has become a luxury hotel, providing the highest degree of comfort to its visitors. The hotel provides extensive golfing grounds and a spa complex for guests to enjoy.
The glorious Victorian mansion was built in 1875 for Joseph Shuttleworth. The estate is noteworthy for being the home to vintage vehicles, motorcycles, and over 50 historic aircraft. Visitors can experience the yearly airshows that are organised on the grounds or take a stroll through the magnificent Swiss gardens.