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The Objectives of the Houghton Regis Heritage SocietyTo advance the education of the public in the history and heritage of the town of Houghton Regis, in particular but not exclusively through the collection, preservation and making available to the public of material and artefacts of historic significance by the establishment and maintenance of an archive and collection for the preservation of such material and artefacts and by the production of literature, films and recordings.
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The History Of Houghton Regis
The Red House
Extract from The History of Bedfordshire (early 1900)
The Parish of Houghton Regis, to the north of Dunstable, contains about 4,390 acres, of which some 3,162 are arable land and 843 permanent grass. The soil is loam and chalk, and the subsoil chalk with cllay in parts. The principle crops are wheat, barley, beans and peas.
Houghton, owing to the fact of it being Crown Property, early became known as ‘saelig Houghton or ‘fortunate Houghton,’ and later as Houghton Regis or Kings Houghton, to distinguish it from the parish of Houghton Conquest in Redbornstoke Hundred. At the time of the Domesday Survey a great part of what is now Dunstable was included in Houghton parish. At the present day the northern part of Dunstable extends into Houghton parish and is known as Upper Houghton Regis, and includes the two railway stations, as well as a Wesleyan chapel off the Watling Street and a mission church in Union Street served from Dunstable parish Church.
The village of Houghton Regis is in the main uninteresting, though a few old timbered cottages and barns are still standing among the modern red brick houses. At the east end there is a large village green, on the southside of which is Houghton Hall, the seat of the Brandreth family since the 17th century. it is a low red brick building and a fine example of late 17th century architecture, standing in extensive and beautiful ground. The staircase hall is a good specimen of the type of work prevalent at that period. The principle rooms are are wainscoted. Some tapestry panels are still in situ. The joinery throughout is in excellent preservation. The exterior has been robbed of its original appearance by alterations made about 50yr’s ago. On the north side of the green is the site of the old manor-house, where there is a stone dovecote in a ruinous condition, about 26ft by 17ft outside measurement, standing about 15ft high.
The church, with vicarage, lies away from the green on the outskirts of the village, at the junction of the roads from Dunstable and Streatley. In the village are also Baptist, wesleyan and Primitive Methodist Chapel. At the west end of the straight village street a path leads across a field to the rising ground on which a mill, still in use, is placed. The path continues to the hamlet of Pudele or Podele. It is known as Chalk Hill. Here is a small Wesleyan chapel. From here the road leads south-west to Sewell, another hamlet, which is the subject of a seperate entry in the Domesday Book. It now consists of five or six farms near the Dunstable branch of the London and North-Western railway, and is very picturesque.
The little hamlet of Thorn (la Thorne, Thornbury) lies a half a mile north of Puddlehill.
Bidwell is a picturesque hamlet lying to the north-west of Houghton village and separated from it by a hill. It is said to take its name from a holy well dedicated to St Bridget that formerly existed there, though local tradition does not corroborate this.
Calcutt Farm, about half a mile north of Bidwell, is surrounded by a moat. The house itself appears to be mainly of late 17th or early 18th-century date. There is a good semicircular-headed doorway of gauged brickwork.
When Henry 1st founded Dunstable Priory in 1131 he gave in compensation to the men of Houghton a wood called Buckwood.
Houghton Hall and Houghton Hall Park
The History of Houghton Hall and Our Park
During the 17th century, much of Houghton was gradually brought together under the ownership of the Brandreth family who remained a major influence in the village until the 1900s. Henry Brandreth, a London merchant, made his fortune about the time of the civil war and decided to become a country gentleman. From 1612, he began to invest in property in Houghton and bought the manor houses of Houghton and Sewell. His family consisted of two sons and a daughter. The original Manor House was to the North of the Green near where the Memorial Hall now stands and was pulled down.
In March 1673, Henry Brandeth died. His daughter Alice, had by this time married and built a handsome new home south of the green, the present Houghton Hall. Here she died in 1729, in her eightieth year, and her executors erected a number of memorials to the family in All Saints Church.
The Brandreths followed national changes in landscape fashion. 17th century gardens were enclosed around the house and largely formal. In the 18th Century, there was an ever increasing trend towards agricultural improvement and the enjoyment of nature. The genius of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716-1783) was to combine these two influences into a unified approach to design that was both an economically productive unit, and aesthetically pleasing landscape. This became known as English Landscape Park.
Although in miniature, the Brandreth’s park contained most of the essential features characteristics of a parkland, the exception was a waterbody (accumulation of water), which the landform (flat) did not favour.
The two central clumps may have framed Blows Downs in the Chilterns (still visible) and feature from the Hall. When South Wood was planted later (by 1900-04) it probably obscured these views. However, its central avenue was aligned on the Hall.
By the early 19th Century the parkland had been modified, with Humphrey Repton (1752-1818) now it’s main proponent, with a terrace next to the house rather than parkland. Repton also moved kitchen gardens closer to the main house than Brown had done, for convenience. Houghton Hall demonstrates these developments.
The parkland was created from the late 18th Century to 1848, and there is a rectangle terrace between the hall and the ha-ha (a recessed landscape design element). The kitchen garden is only on the other side of the stables.
The park has none of the gardenesque additions associated with the Victorian period, such as exotic plant species, and features such as rockeries; these would have been in the now private areas around the Hall not the parkland. The parkland has a relatively simple collection reflecting the planting of the 18th and early 19th Century and their limited palette. It comprises mainly native forest species, with the exception or pre-Vicotrian introductions, the Lebanese Cedar (1645) – now a feature above the entrance gate to the Park, Corsican Pine (1759), and Irish Yew (1780). (Watkins and Wright).
The gardens were further modified in the early 20th Century with the extention to the terrace and cedar lawn, the Formal gardens, it seems likely that this was carried out by Colonel Part and his family. In their turn, they reflected the fashions of the Edwardian period, with hedged enclosures or garden rooms; a robust structure design, filled with generous herbaceous and shrub borders now typified by Dissinghurst and Hidcote. In summary, although relatively small, the landscape of Houghton Hall reflects the changing fashions of garden design from the 17th to the early 20th Centuries, particularly the English parkland style, and the success of its gentry owners in keeping up with the latest styles.
Extract from the Houghton Hall Park Website:
“Located in the heart of Houghton Regis in Bedfordshire, Houghton Hall Park is a hidden gem – unlocking 42 acres of parkland, woodland and so much more to visitors and the local community while retaining its valuable history.
The park is now jointly managed by Central Bedfordshire Council and Houghton Regis Town Council. Central Bedfordshire Council was awarded a grant of £2.2 million to transform the park as part of the ‘Renaissance and Renewal Project’ from Heritage and Big Lottery Funds ‘Parks for People’ grant scheme. The completion of this transformation was in October 2017 when the new visitor centre was open to the public. This project has provided an opportunity for the park and its heritage to be protected while delivering multiple community benefits, making Houghton Regis a better place to live, work and visit.”
Ref/ Houghton Regis Heritage Society / A1 / 2014 (c)
Charitable Incorporated Organisation Registered in England Number 1174720
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Charity Financial Report
Our Financial Statements
To view a Financial Statement please click on a link below.
TRANSCRIPTS OF SOME OF THESE RECORDINGS CAN BE FOUND ON THE HOUGHTON HALL PARK WEBSITE UNDER SECTION “MORE”.
MEMORIES OF HOUGHTON REGIS
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Chair David Hill
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Houghton Regis Heritage Society
C/O Houghton Regis Town Council Offices
Bedfordshire LU5 5EY