Arrival: Once you have parked it is only a short walk to the entrance, which is in the shop. There is also a cafe, childrens' play area and toilets in this part of the grounds.
History: Wrest Park is a country estate in Silsoe, Bedfordshire. It comprises a Grade I listed country house, and Wrest Park Gardens surrounding the mansion. Although there was an earlier House on the site, it was demolished in the 1830's and the present house was built in 1834–39, to designs by its owner Thomas de Grey, 2nd Earl de Grey (1781–1859), an amateur architect and the first president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, who was much inspired by French architecture. Thomas was responsible not only for designing the new house at Wrest Park but also for carefully furnishing its interiors – again in a French theme. De Grey also developed the gardens created by his ancestors. The gardens and dairy contain a significant collection of 18th- and 19th-century statues.
Wrest Park was used as a hospital during the First World War until in September 1916 the mansion was badly damaged by fire.
In 2007 English Heritage obtained funding for the restoration of a number of the key features of the Wrest Park estate, including the mansion's formal entrance area, the garden statuary, railings and gates, and to alter the height of the carriage drive. There are plans for the lakes and canals to be restored. The long term objective is to restore Wrest Park House and gardens to their original splendour.
Inside the House
Unfortunately, although it is a spectacular house, there are only a few rooms open to the public, and even these may be limited if there is an “event” going on. The Conservatory is small but worth a visit, beyond that there is a small exhibition area with a few displays of historical information relating to the House. As yet we have not been without event, so not able to comment, so worth checking before you set out, and there is no reduced fee.
Most visitors to Wrest Park come to see the impressive gardens, which were partially created by Lancelot "Capability" Brown. He was involved with the family and gardens at Wrest Park for 20 years. At Wrest Park, Brown created a man-made series of lakes that look like one flowing river, removing avenues and planting tree clumps to make the surroundings appear more natural. There is a memorial column dedicated to Brown.
There are over 90 acres of gardens showcasing French, Dutch, Italian and English styles side by side. Wrest Park's also has sweeping landscapes and plenty of woodland walks. The appearance of the grounds does change depending with the seasons.
There are a number of hidden gems in the gardens. These include the Orangery (now restored to its former glory), an ornate marble fountain, the 18th century Bowling Green House, a Chinese Temple and Bridge, the Bath House and Cascade and over 40 statues dotted around the grounds. The Chinese Temple and Bridge originally formed part of a tableau imitating scenes found on Chinese willow pattern plates. The Bath House was built c 1770 when plunge pools were popular.
The Long Water is encased on either side by walkways leading to the spectacular Archer Pavilion. Built by Thomas Archer between 1709-11, this baroque pavilion, with its stunning interior, is the focal point of the gardens.
The Dairy Sculpture Gallery showcases some of the estate's most beautiful statues, now restored to their former glory. The dairy which used to supply butter and cream for the de Grey family, was converted into an intimate gallery, bringing together precious garden statues too fragile to remain outside.
The bath house is my favourite part of the garden, even though it is a ‘ruin’. Note that the Orangery is booked for events too.
|The Bath House|
How to get there: Leave Ampthill on A507 heading east. After a couple of miles take the turning to Silsoe on your right and follow this road until you reach a T junction in the centre of Silsoe. Turn right onto High Street and after a short distance turn left by the Church into Park Avenue. Carry on down the Avenue into the grounds of Wrest Park – you will see the visitors' car park signposted to the right. Pull into the car park where there are plenty of parking spaces. The Sat Nav postcode is MK45 4HR but there are brown signs if you don't have a sat nav. It takes about a quarter hour (4.5 miles) depending on traffic conditions.