Bucks Tree Club visit to Ashridge House and gardens
A glorious sunny June afternoon welcomed Bucks Tree Club members to Ashridge House, a mansion that dates back to 1808 when James Wyatt was commissioned to build a prestigious mansion for the 7th Earl of Bridgewater.
The estate was built on the old monastery founded by the nephew of Henry III, Edmund of Cornwall in 1283 whose father, Richard, was the only Englishman to be the head of Holy Roman Empire! This was further endowed in 1376 by the Black Prince whose spent much time at Berkhamsted Castle before he died there of a disease contracted in Spain. After the Reformation the monastery became the property of the Crown in 1539 and was given by Edward V1 to his half sister, Princess Elizabeth and it was from here in 1554 she was later arrested by her sister Mary and imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Elizabeth never returned to Ashridge and after she became Queen, she leased it to Richard Coombe in 1556 and two years after her death, it was sold. It was plundered by Cromwell’s troops in the Civil War and eventually became the property of the Dukes of Bridgewater who spent little time here.
Although Capability Brown did extensive landscape work between 1759 and 1768 in creating vistas like the Golden Valley. the building became dilapidated so the 7th Earl of Bridgewater ordered it to be knocked down for the architect, James Wyatt, to build a highly prestigious mansion in 1808. Humphry Repton was commissioned to design the gardens and in 1813 he presented one of his famous Red Book for Ashridge.
Later, as the Duke’s title died with him, the property passed to a relative and it was Lady Marian Alford, mother of the 2nd Earl Brownlow, who made what were to be the next developments in the garden, including the rhododendron walk, creating an arboretum and the Wellingtonia avenue. The house continued developing in its gothic style with a fibre glass spire being lifted into place by helicopter in 1969 above the ‘tudor’ (1817) chapel!
There was much to enjoy as we walked in the main entrance through a magnificent hall with its stunning stone staircases and into the garden with its broad sweep of lawn before us. We plunged into the Lady Alfords Arboretum finding many of the trees we thought were there like the Wellingtonias, a magnificent group of Abies procera, the Calocedrus decurrens circle, Pinus wallichiana, Ginkgo and Liquidambar styraciflua but also many more, like the Monkey Puzzles as well as two Nothofagus species, N. obliqua and our member, Michael what thought N. nervosa.
Some we missed and perhaps have been lost, like Abies pinsapo and Thuja standishii but as compensation we saw Quercus suber, a thriving Cercis silis, Metasequoia Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’ and Acers including A. griseum, a stunning A. platanoides ‘Drummondii’ and magnificent Cedars of Lebanon as well as those from the Atlas mountains.
We were lucky to meet the gardeners who were pleased that we were taking such an interest in the trees and we urged them to consider publishing a simple list of the trees and they kindly showed us a replica of Repton’s Red Book of Ashridge. There are plenty of trees to warrant a return visit to this venue in this historic place with legacies from Capability Brown and Humphry Repton.
Merelene Davis (Acting Secretary of Bucks Tree Club)
Hiya Bucks says: Whilst the address of Ashridge House is in Hertfordshire the gardens and grounds are mostly in Buckinghamshire.