Stockwood Park & Discovery Centre

Last summer we decided to go to Stockwood Park, we went many years ago, so long ago that it had changed quite a bit with a new building for the Mossman Collection of carriages and a cafe.  Last summer there had been several dry weeks, so the gardens were maybe not looking their best at the end of August.

The park was originally the estate and grounds to Stockwood House, which was built in 1740 by John Crawley, one of Bedfordshire's leading landowners.  The enclosed walled gardens provided shelter for growing fruit and vegetables for the house. One of the walled gardens now displays a series of gardens illustrating the changing styles of gardening through the ages. During World War II the house was converted into a children's hospital. The House was eventually demolished in 1964.

Something for everyone
If you are a garden enthusiast there are a number of different gardens to wander around, including formal Period Gardens (Medieval, Elizabethan, Dutch and Italian) and a wartime garden. Once part of the original Stockwood House walled areas, the Period Gardens reflect the changing styles of gardening in this country. The 'Improvement Garden' is a classical garden in which the sculptures (by acclaimed artist Ian Hamilton Finlay) are an integral part of the landscape and can be seen on permanent display.  Newer areas include a contemplative Sensory Garden, a colourful World Garden, and a Medicinal Garden highlighting the usefulness of plants - designed with environmentally green and sustainable principles in mind.  This is not a complete list of the gardens that can be visited and there are also greenhouses to explore.

If you are keen on history, then the old stable block has a number of galleries depicting the development of the local area from pre-historic times through to the last hundred years. Located in the original stables of Stockwood House, these galleries explore the history of the region from prehistoric times to the evolution of Stockwood House and the Farley estate. The first gallery introduces Stockwood looking at its history for the last 200 years. The Landscape and People Gallery explores the changes to the local environment. The  Discover Archaeology Gallery introduces early inhabitants of the area and shows how the past is uncovered. There is a separate Roman and Anglo Saxon Gallery where you can see the legacy that these people left us. Well worth a visit is the Medieval Gallery where you can walk the streets of Luton in the 1400's. The final gallery – the Rural Trades Gallery – shows some of the craft and trade objects collected from Bedfordshire villages in the 1930's-1950's. There is a forge located next to this gallery and a collection of vintage stationary engines are also located at this end of the site.

This is a great attraction provided by Luton Council that amazingly has free entry. Away from the formal displays there are plenty of open spaces to sit and relax.  There is a children's play area, a cafe and a gift small shop. A great place to spend a few hours browsing and to return to for future visits at different times of the year to fully appreciate the variety of gardens.  There are also regular events and special exhibitions at different times during the year and the annual Country Fair on the Easter weekend.

Discovery Hall:
The Discovery Hall has transport exhibits associated with Luton and houses The Mossman Collection.   The Mossman Carriage Collection is a collection of horse-drawn vehicles and is the largest collection of such vehicles in the United Kingdom, and includes original vehicles dating from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.  The collection was donated to the Luton Museum Service in 1991 and has examples of horse-drawn road vehicles and carriages used in Britain dating from Roman timess up until the 1930s.  The collection includes vehicles used by tradesmen and ordinary people as well as luxury vehicles and state coaches used by the British nobility and on the large British estates. Many of the exhibits have also been used in television productions and films including Ben Hur and Carry on Dick.  I will post some of the carriages on another post.

They have a 'long term' project to restore the last surviving Luton tram.....

How to get there:
Leave Ampthill heading south along Dunstable Street, carry on through Flitwick and Westoning and join the southbound M1 at junction 12. Keep on M1 until junction 10 and exit towards A1081/Luton Airport. Stay on A1081 and at the big roundabout take the second exit onto London Road. In less than half a mile turn left  onto Cutenhoe Road, keep left and you will shortly see the signs for the Discovery Centre and car parks. The satnav postcode is LU1 4LX – jouney time is about 30 mins (17 miles) depending on traffic.

On arrival
There is plenty of parking only a short walk from the entrance. There are also large grassed areas next to the car park where you could have a picnic or the kids could run around and play ball (ball games not allowed in the Centre), there is seating around the park and plenty of space to eat a picnic or use the cafe.