Welcome To The Houghton Regis Heritage Society Website

About Our Society

The Houghton Regis Heritage Society was formed in 2012 by individuals who are passionate about the heritage of Houghton Regis
and want to preserve where possible and record it for the benefit of the local community and for future generations.
In 2017, the Society became a Charitable Incorporated Organisation, Registered in England (Charity No 1174720).

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The Objectives of the Houghton Regis Heritage Society

To 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.

Latest News

Read about our latest news

New Houghton Regis Community and Leisure Centre

New Houghton Regis Community and Leisure Centre

A new £25m Community and Leisure Centre is to be built on the Kingsland site near the new secondary school. The Centre will have a swimming pool, squash courts, fitness suite plus other community facilities. CBC is arranging some public consultation meetings: Thursday 27th January – webinar – 6.00 to 7.30pm Saturday 29th January Bedford ...
A Sense of Place by Keith Wallis Poems and Photographs about Houghton Regis

A Sense of Place by Keith Wallis Poems and Photographs about Houghton Regis

Keith Wallis has published his collection of poetry and photographs of Houghton Regis entitled A sense of place. A copy can be purchased for £4.50 plus £1.00 postage.  To order click below to send an email: keith_wallis@btopenworld.com ...
New Photographs added to the HRHS Archive

New Photographs added to the HRHS Archive

New photographs of Ted Warren and his family  have been added to the Heritage Society’s Archive. Ted owned a shop on Bedford Road, which is now a chip shop. Click  the Link below to view the images. Ted Warren ...
Heritage Open Day 11th September 2021

Heritage Open Day 11th September 2021

The Society will have a stand in All Saints Church showing pictures of old Houghton Regis from our Archive: Heritage Society Archive ...
Bedfordshire Archives Newsletter Spring 2021

Bedfordshire Archives Newsletter Spring 2021

The Spring 2021 Newsletter can be downloaded by clicking the link below: Bedfordshire Archives Newsletter Spring 2021 It contains articles on: Marrige Registers: a thing of the past? Conservation Corner Greensands Country Virtual Exhibition 1st May – 20th June   ...
Central Bedfordshire Ward Councillor Grant of £700 awarded to the Society

Central Bedfordshire Ward Councillor Grant of £700 awarded to the Society

The Society is pleased to announce that we have been  awarded a grant £700 from the Central Bedfordshire Ward Councillor Grant Scheme. We are grateful to Cllr Yvonne Farrell for supporting this bid. The grant will go towards to the costs of printing and erecting an information board in Houghton Hall Park. The board describes ...
Oak Tree Planted in Memory of Robert Brandreth-Gibbs

Oak Tree Planted in Memory of Robert Brandreth-Gibbs

    An Oak tree (Quercus robur) was planted in Houghton Hall Park, near the cedar tree, yesterday, 15th February. It was kindly donated by Chamberlain Holdings plc, current owners of Houghton Hall, and is in memory of Robert Brandreth-Gibbs who died last year. Robert lived in Vancouver, Canada, and is a direct descendant of ...
Bedfordshire Archives Newsletter Winter 2021

Bedfordshire Archives Newsletter Winter 2021

The latest Bedfordshire Archives Newsletter, Winter 2021 can by seen by clicking the link below Bedfordshire Archives Newsletter It contains articles on:Floods and Archives don’t MixNews Additions to the ArchivesBuilding in Bedford ...
Spooky Goings on in Houghton Hall Park?

Spooky Goings on in Houghton Hall Park?

Over the years here have been rumours of a ghost and other spooky things in Houghton Hall. The Heritage Society invited the Luton Paranormal Society (LPS) to investigate as it was interested to know if there was anything in the park itself, especially around the area of the ice house. The park has had a ...
The Red House Refurbishment

The Red House Refurbishment

April 2020. The scaffolding is being removed to reveal the refurbished exterior structure. Work has been suspended during the Covid 19 epidemic. ...
Manshead Archaeological Society

Manshead Archaeological Society

The Manshead Archaeological Society was formed in 1952 by Les Matthews and a group of fellow enthusiasts to rescue what they could from sites being destroyed by chalk quarrying and building, and still going strong today. The Society takes its name from the Anglo Saxon administrative district or “Hundred” of Bedfordshire in which Dunstable and ...

The History Of Houghton Regis

The Red House

The Red House on the Green is an important building in the Heritage of the Town. THE WHITEHEAD FAMILY AND THE RED HOUSE The Whitehead family had a house on the green called “Strangers” known today as The Red House. Thomas Whitehead claims in his Will to have been born there, but no baptismal entry can be traced for him. He is probably the Thomas who studied for Matric at Magdelene College, 1635, and studied for his degree between 1638 and 1639.
A ‘relative’ (probably his father) had been headmaster at Repton School, Derbyshire, where Thomas became First Usher (senior master) from 1642 until he died in 1654. At the age of 43, Thomas became seriously ill. He returned to Houghton Regis, but by the time he made his Will, he was so weak he could only scratch his mark; however, he was perfectly clear in his mind as to what to do with the family property. ‘Strangers’, the house which Thomas Whitehead had inherited, faced the village Green; it had various outbuildings and ¼ acre of land. He instructed that either it should be converted into a school or be pulled down and the materials used to build a new specially designed school. The first two schoolmasters were local vicars who did not need a school house and it is likely that the first group of boys were taught in the church while a new building was being erected. Later documents describe a school house and classroom which suggests that the premises were purpose built. In addition to the house and garden, Thomas Whitehead left the large sum of £250, and when the expenses of setting up the school were complete, the remainder was invested in 15 acres in England’s Field (the ‘inlands’ behind Station Road) in Dunstable. In his Will Thomas Whitehead stipulated that the school would be made up of 15 boys from poor families in Houghton and five boys from poor families in the hamlets (probably Thorn, Calcott and Sewell). The Red House was not pulled down. In 1654, Thomas Whitehead, a native of Houghton Regis, founded one of the earliest schools in England – an elementary school to educate, free of charge, twenty poor boys of the village. It had to compete with the ‘plait schools’ where children from as young as 4 years of age, were paid for the plaiting of straw.
Renovation of the Red House

Scaffolding around the Red House 2019

The Heritage Society has been pressing Central Bedfordshire Council for some years to tell us what they were planning to do with the Red House when the last housing tenant vacated the building. In 2016 Central Bedfordshire Council was granted planning permission to build All Saints View, an independent living scheme for people aged 55 and over. It will include 168 one and two bedroom apartments for rent, shared ownership and outright purchase. The planning permission included listed building consent to renovate the Red House and this is nearing completion.

The importance of the Red House is illustrated in a report from Albion Archaeology, which is set out below.

Extract from LE18001: THE RED HOUSE, HOUGHTON REGIS, LU5 5DY – REFURBISHMENT WORKS FOR CENTRAL BEDFORDSHIRE COUNCIL   2018 Albion Archaeology ‘Historic Building Assessment Report (Reference: C02821-216-147 Version 1)’ identifies the ‘Heritage Values’ of the building as follows:

Evidential Value: The primary range of the building dates from the 17th century. Although subject to later alterations, the original plan from this period remains largely intact and readable. It also retains historic building fabric with elements of the timber frame in the walls and ceilings being visible inside the building. Changes made to the house during the 18th century are evident in the façade, which was replaced in brick with sash windows. It is quite likely that other alterations would have been made at this time but no evidence remains for this. The most significant 19th century feature of the building is the outbuilding that forms the present southern range. Apart from its plan form and much- altered openings, nothing remains to indicate its original internal layout and function. The flint and brick construction is typical of the late 19th century when its use was revived during the vernacular revival. A single storey outshot would have stood at the rear of the building and is indicated in the continuation of the brickwork in the north-west elevation. However, later alteration and extension has removed most of the historic fabric in this part of the building.

Historical Illustrative Value: The earliest surviving parts of the building are an example of a type of house that developed during this period. It has a central fireplace and similar-sized bays to either side, producing a near symmetrical plan. The clasped purlin roof over the primary range appears to form part of its 17th century construction and is an interesting example partly due to its unusually steep pitch. The re-fronting of the house in brick during the 18th century is an example of how buildings were updated in accordance with the aesthetic tastes of the period.

Historical Associative Value: It is clear from the design of the building with 2½ stories and its high roof line that it would have been a building of some standing when it was built.

Aesthetic Value: The Red House forms a very significant element in the character and aesthetic value of the historic village green. It is the only surviving historic building on this side of the Green. The front of the building survives largely intact with the mid-20th-century porch respecting the character of the building.

Extract from The History of Bedfordshire (early 1900)

Houstone, Houghton

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)​

Our Constitution

Charitable Incorporated Organisation Registered in England Number 1174720

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Contact Houghton Regis Heritage Society

Chair David Hill

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Houghton Regis Heritage Society

C/O Houghton Regis Town Council Offices
Peel Street
Houghton Regis
Bedfordshire  LU5 5EY