A Picture Essay
Ashridge House from the Bridgewater Monument
Some of the beech trees are massive, having been pollarded in their youth. These "queens" sometimes loom at you out of thickets of younger trees, standing firm throughout the years.
The beech trees were valued for firewood, the land for 'pannage' (the practice of allowing pigs to forage for mast and acorns in the woods), and successive landowners snipped away at parts of it for their own purposes. Thomas Egerton, Queen Elizabeth's Lord Chancellor, bought the Estate in 1604 following the death of Queen Elizabeth. She had spent much of her childhood here, though she never returned once she became Queen. Thomas's son John then took the title 1st Earl of Bridgewater in 1617. The 4th Earl, Scroop, became the 1st Duke in the mid 18th century, and his youngest son, Francis, known as the Canal Duke, became rich as a result of his enterprise in developing commercial waterways.
The present House was constructed in neo-gothic style at the beginning of the 19th century, and very few traces of the medieval or Tudor buildings remain (thought there is a 70 metre deep well from the 13th century, a much reworked barn, and excavations have revealed the footings of the Church of St Mary).
Although the Estate once covered 14,000 acres, it now covers approximately 5,000 (2,000 hectares) much of which is mature woodland managed by the National Trust. Works carried out by Capability Brown in the 18th century and later by Sir Humphrey Repton developed the Golden Valley and the gardens of Ashridge House, but from Ivinghoe Beacon to the village of Potten End, and from Norcott Hall above the lock at Dudswell to Little Gaddesden, this is a varied and always attractive landscape, filled with bluebells in spring,
foxgloves and bracken in the summer,
spectacular colours in the Autumn,
and shivering quiet in the winter.
It is an enchanted landscape, the endge of the Chilterns being seen from Ivinghoe Beacon as a flow of hills slipping away to the south, grasses spotted with orchids,
the scarp crowned with beechwoods.
At its heart is the house, looking older and more beautiful than it should, perhaps, but gaining in elegance from its splendid setting, both as an estate within the gracious forests and as a harmonious set of buildings within well cared for and extensive gardens.
Wandering in the woods and fields around here has been one of my pastimes almost all my life, and it never fails to be enjoyable. The open spaces, paths
and dark, thick clumps of trees,
whether in autumn,
or in spring,
provide peace, and solace, and a source of education and entertainment, inspiration and comfort, whatever the weather.