Southill Park, Bedfordshire

I visited Southill Park under the HHA’s ‘Invitation to View’ scheme.
Southill Park House was built in brick c. 1720-1729, and then remodelled c.1796 for the second Samuel Whitbread by architect Henry Holland, who clad it in ashlar stone and moved the formal entrance from the south to the north side. Holland also constructed colonnaded loggias to the south and built the eastern “service wing”, and the stables. A late 19th century brick-built orangery, with stone pilasters and a hipped glass roof is attached.
The Whibread family, who made their money from the eponymous brewery, acquired the estate in 1795. The site of an earlier house, Ghastlings, on the estate is marked by a mound 400m to the north-east. It was demoiished 1720-29.
The principal floor contains a number of fine rooms whose decor dates from various periods, some retainimg more of the original Holland features than others. The discovery of dry rot in 1989 prompted a three-year programme of repair and refurbishment in which various rooms were redecorated and the placement of furniture and pictures rethought. Many items have remained in the house for hundreds of years.
The gardens and grounds (not all seen on my visit) are impressive, with flower borders, lawns, wooded reas and statues bordering some avenues.

Finding Southill village is straightforward, but finding the house defeated me as well as about ten other visitors who asked the same locals for directions. Unless you have a passenger who can help you follow the directions to the letter, your best bet might be to use ‘What 3 Words’ or find the White Horse pub and look around for the entrance gates. They are set back from the road and have no signage other than ‘No Entry, Private’. Unhelpfully, the ‘Southill Park’ pin on Google Maps is nowhere near the house or the entrance.

South side
Small pond
Kitchen Garden
North Parkland

Toddington Park, Beds

Not to be confused with the nearby Toddington Manor.
The house had changed hands about two years before the date of my visit. I visited via the HHA’s ‘Invitation to View’ scheme.
The house is early 19th Century with late 19th century additions. The family who built it also owned Toddington Manor at the time. The extensive grounds are attractive. Mostly laid to lawn, they include a pond, a lake and a large number of trees, some of which are rare species. The period features of the house interior were mostly removed by a previous owner in the 1970s, consequently there is very little to see inside other than some attractive cornices. The house tour included only two of the principal rooms, one of which was used to host the afternoon tea. We did have the opportunity to look in the cellars, which contain an impressive array of central heating equipment and pipework. The grounds include an original Victorian dairy.
Our host gave an informative tour of the gardens and a description of the house and its history.

Front entrance
Side view

Stanstead Bury, Herts

House frontage Private.
I visited Stanstead Bury under the Historic Houses Association’s “Invitation to View” scheme.
The house is of Tudor origin with additions made at various periods They have all left their mark and the house is now an unusual mix of architectural styles. The earliest visible part is a half-timbered newel staircase and the most recent addition was built in 1963. It has a fine William and Mary front. It is very definitely a family house – the inside is filled with Trower possessions accumulated over the last 150 years.
The tour includes the ground floor, first floor including bedrooms, 17th century walls surrounding the vegetable garden, and the gardens (to view the exterior of the house). The St James church nearby is also opened for visitors.
I enjoyed my visit – our guide was enthusiastic and the house has some attractively furnished and decorated principal rooms and upstairs has a warren of floors and differing levels. The newel staircase is an unusual feature. There is also a large walled garden.
The house is quite difficult to find, so should you visit, be sure to check out its exact location on a large scale or online map. My Satnav + the postcode sent me up a left fork ending in totally the wrong place on the wrong side of the A414 expressway.

Side & old entrance
Newel staircase exterior
St James interior
St James
St James

Castle Ashby Gardens

The House

Privately owned. Not to be confused with the National Trust’s Canons Ashby.

I remember cycling to Castle Ashby some years ago, when I was younger and fitter, and entering the central courtyard. The house is no longer open to the public, but the gardens and church are regularly open.

The gardens are impressive, and include an area of formal gardens with an Orangery and other structures, an arboretum (woodland), and a walk past stretches of water. Adjacent to the gardens is the walled garden, laid to grass. It can be looked into but not entered, and the house’s terraced garden likewise can be looked into but not entered.  There is a menagerie housing meerkats, monkeys, exotic birds, pigs, a giant tortoise and a miniature horse.

The church is normally open but I did not find the interior of especial interest.

The gardens are well worth a visit. Allow 2 to 3 hours.

Entry to the gardens is much cheaper in the winter months but some auxiliary facilities may be closed.  Admission was by online booking only. If you need the loo on arrival, it is in the left hand end of the row of reception buildings (not well marked).

House terrace
Orangery interior
Formal Gardens

Hatchlands Park, Surrey


National Trust

The Hatchlands estate has passed through various hands. The present house is mostly as built in the 18th century for Admiral Boscawen and his wife. Boscawen died of a fever soon after his retirement, and his widow sold the house after a few years. The next owners, the Sumners, are responsible for the present parkland. The following owners, the Rendels, made some alterations and eventually presented the house to the National Trust in 1945. At this point the house was empty.  After various tenancies, the house was offered to artist and collector Alec Cobbe with the suggestion that he fill it with his family’s collection of musical instruments, furniture and pictures.

The interior has been redecorated and now contains a collection of grand pianos and harpsicords, and a large number of pictures, as well as some casts of classical sculptures.  All the instruments are kept in playable condition and there are occasional recitals. Guide leaflets for the pictures and instruments are available, and it would be worth taking round the (rather expensive) house guidebook rather than reading it afterwards.

In the grounds there are some walks and patches of woodland. There was no NT shop, seemingly a casualty of Covid19.

Turn End, Haddenham, Bucks

Courtyard Garden
Courtyard Garden
Architect Peter Aldington designed and built three houses, The Turn, Middle Turn and Turn End in the 1960s in the village of Haddenham. Then, as now, English villages suffered from insensitive development, but Adlington set out to create a modern development that was sensitive to the village site. The three houses all have gardens, Adlington’s house Turn End having the largest garden. A number of fine trees have been preserved on the site.
The houses are the antithesis of the estate developer’s ‘box’ in their design, materials and finish, and the large Turn End garden is now widely admired. The houses are small, low and open onto internal courtyards and their gardens. The ‘plant wall’ – a kind of top-lit covered apace – is a new take on houseplants. A section of ‘witchert’ wall (non load bearing) is preserved in the house.

The houses are built mostly of blockwork, whitewashed internally (in Turn End) and the roof beams are exposed. The Town End garden is laid out in a number of sections with a variety of exotic plants.

Turn End and its garden are occasionally opened to the public and well worth a visit. When I visited in August 2018, a queue had gathered by opening time.

Office Garden
Office Garden
Plant wall
Plant wall

Ashridge House

House from gardens Private (business college)
Ashridge House is a grand mansion in Hertfordshire, built in the 19th century. Adjoining the house is a large private set of formal gardens and tree planting.
Please be aware that unlike the adjoining Ashridge Estate, the house and gardens are NOT owned by the National Trust.
The house was built between 1808 and 1822 in a neo-Gothic style, including a crenellated central tower and a prominent chapel with tower and spire. Inside are a series of magnificent rooms. The Entrance hall has a hammerbeam roof. The Main Hall under the tower rises to 29m (70ft) and has impressive fan vaulting and a series of statues. The cantilevered staircase has a cast iron balustrade with brass handrail.
The Hoskins Room, with a blue and white theme, has fine plasterwork. The Ante Room has high ceilings and much woodwork including three pairs of English oak doors. The Lady Marion Alford Room has a fine ceiling with a painting depicting the goddess Aurora, and twin marble fireplaces based on those in the Doge’s Palace, Venice. The Wyatt Room has oak paneling and an ornate plaster ceiling. The (former) Library has ebony bookcases with brass inlays in a Boulle style.
The Chapel, designed by James Wyatt, is a fine example of his work. It contains stained glass windows which are replicas of the original 16th century Bavarian stained glass. The originals were sold in 1928 for £27,000.
Under the Chapel is the Well House, which pre-dates the main house and contains a deep well sunk by the monks in the 13th century.
At least one of the outbuildings pre-dates the house, but the ‘Old Stables’ were built in 1817.
The house was built for the Egerton family, replacing an earlier house built on a monastic site. The house once belonged to Henry VIII and then Princess Elisabeth. The Egertons owned the house until 1849. Later owners the Brownlows sold it off in 1921. In later years it was a hospital, a Conservative Party training centre, a finishing school, and finally a management college and business school.

The gardens cover 77 hectares (190 acres) and include a formal Italian garden, and various other gardens and features as well as avenues of trees and open grassland. They are well worth a visit.

Visiting: The gardens are open daily except when the house is booked for a wedding (which are usually at weekends). Tickets, currently £5, are available from the Bakehouse cafe.

On a few dates in July and August, guided tours of the house and gardens were available. This is the only way of seeing inside the house. It is best to book by phone so you can ask what counts as a concession and what times the tours start, and whether you can go around the gardens on your own instead of paying for the garden tour (apparently not). Most visitors, it seems, book for both the house tour and the gardens tour that follows after complimentary refreshments.

Main Hall ceiling
Main Hall ceiling
Main Hall stairs
Main Hall stairs
Ent. hall roof
Ent. hall roof
Blue & white room
Hoskins Room
Old Library
Boulle detail, library
Boulle detail
Garden room vaulting
Garden room
Ceiling, Lady Marion Alford Room
Ceiling, Alford Room
Ornate Doorway, Alford Room
Doorway, Alford Room
Wyatt Room, ceiling
Wyatt Room
Chapel ceiling
Chapel ceiling
Chapel exterior
Border in gardens
Avenue in gardens
Flower close-up, gardens
Woods, Ashridge

Benington Lordship, Hertfordshire.

Garden with house and folly Private.
Benington Lordship has seven acres of gardens which are opened to the public. There are several sections of formal garden at different levels, plus a large pond, and expanses of lawn.
The substantial house – Queen Anne with early twentieth century extension – is not open to the public. It features a striking attached folly in the form of a ‘Norman’ gateway and arched window. In the garden are the tumbled remains of a castle which once stood on the site.
The gardens are worth a visit if you are in the area. When there, do not neglect to visit the centre of the village containing a number of old cottages, and the church.
Teas are usually available in the village hall nearby.

Folly Norman archway
House and garden
House and garden
Red Garden flower
Garden flower
Village houses
Village houses
Church interior

Panacea Museum, Bedford

Panacea Society grounds Society grounds (above)
The Panacea Society was founded in 1919 by Mabel Barltrop, the widow of an English clergyman. The Society believed that she was a modern prophet and that a millennial event bringing in a thousand years of peace and happiness would soon occur. The members were inspired by the writings of Joanna Southcott, a prophetess living about 100 years earlier who predicted a messiah would begin the millennium in England.
The Society was best known some decades ago for its national advertising campaigns to open ‘Joanna Southcott’s Box’. The property at Bedford included accommodation for 24 bishops at a high-profile opening ceremony. The Bishops of England declined repeated requests to attend a three-day ceremony of box opening.
Another activity of the Society was the distribution of materials for making holy water – an universal panacea.
In the inter-war period there was an active community of Society members at Bedford taking part in religious services, but nowadays the main activities of the Society seem to be maintaining the Museum and administering a substantial portfolio of property and assets bequeathed to the Society by deceased members.

The Museum site, discreetly located in Victorian villas at the centre of Bedford near the Castle site, contains the Founder’s house, the Bishops’ accommodation, the Chapel and gardens.

The Founder’s House has been arranged as it was in the 1930’s, with much of the original furniture. The contents reflect late-Victorian and Edwardian fashions.

The larger building, Castleside, was intended to be used for the box-opening. Most rooms are now used as exhibition spaces, but a few are fitted out to represent their original functions: a sitting room, a bedroom, a bathroom, and the box-opening hall.

Founder's house room
Founder’s house
Founder's house room
Founder’s house
Founder's house room
Founder’s house
Bishops' meeting room and 'box'
Bishops’ hall and ‘Box’
Castleside dining room
Castleside room

Chartwell, Kent

Chartwell entrance front National Trust
Chartwell was the country home of British prime minister and war leader Sir Winston Churchill.
The site of Chartwell was built on from the 16th century, but the present house originated in the Victorian period. It was a brick Victorian house of no architectural merit, but Churchill bought it for its position and the views. It was transformed and extended by the architect Philip Tilden in a vernacular style of the kind made popular by Lutyens. In 1938 it had 5 reception rooms, 19 bed and dressing rooms, 8 bathrooms, and was set in 80 acres of grounds.

A tour of the house takes well under an hour, and it has to be said that the main interest is the Churchill connection. Rooms are displayed as they were in Churchill’s time, or contain exhibitions. Various rooms contain some of Churchill’s books. He owned many thousands of books, and made a living as a writer and historian. His histories of Marlborough, and of the English Speaking Peoples, of the Second World War etc. are still worth reading today. Volumes of his work can be seen shelved around the house. Many of Churchill’s own paintings are also on display. His art may not be to all tastes, but he was regarded as a serious artist. Below the principal ground floor is a lower floor that looks out onto the lakes. The kitchen on this level is preserved as it was in the 1930’s.

Chartwell formal garden
Formal garden

The grounds are very extensive, and contain formal gardens, lakes, woods, a swimming pool, a walled garden with a wall part built by Churchill, and some cottages with Churchill’s art studio.

Access is along narrow roads. The car park is of only moderate size, and when I visited on a March afternoon, it was full.