July 10 – A visit to Wrest Park

Some Church Micros

Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

A couple of days ago a visitor to the exhibition told us about an English Heritage site in Bedfordshire  – Wrest Park. It is above Luton in Silsoe, a 24 mile, 44-minute drive. We set off early and planned some church micros to pick up on the way.

The first was a Sundon where the church was closed but we collected the numbers required for the multi before we realised that it had been archived so we had to give up on that one. Next, we stopped at St Margaret’s church in Streatley. This church was also closed but we soon collected the numbers and found the cache. The cache was soggy wet and we were unable to sign the log book but we took a photograph to give evidence that we had found the cache and sent a “Needs Maintenance” message to the CO.

Finally, we arrived at Silsoe where we found our first and only church of the day that was open. It was St James the Great and it had three lovely stained glass windows all around the altar. They are all made by the same artist. There was also a lovely gilded wooden reredos and a coat of arms mounted on the musician’s gallery at the back of the church above the nave. The rectors in this church date back to Henry de Hattele from before 1261. We didn’t have any problems collecting the numbers and we soon found a well-camouflaged geocache not far from the gates of Wrest Park.

Wrest Park is a lovely 1830’s house set in a garden landscape originating in the 17th century. The Wrest estate was home to the De Grey’s who was one of the leading aristocratic families for over 600 years. The family reached prominence when Edward IV made Edmund Grey his Lord Treasurer in 1463 and then the Earl of Kent in 1463. Anthony, the 11th Earl and his mother Amabel Benn and wife Mary added the formal gardens and canal 200 years later. The Great Garden was laid out by Henry, Duke of Kent, between 1706 and 1720, a formal woodland garden in the French style.

In 1833 Thomas Robinson, 2nd Earl de Grey inherited the garden and the medieval house. He demolished the house and between 1834 and 1839 he built a new house 200 metres to the north. He used the 18th-century French style of architecture both inside and outside the house. He then laid out a new garden in the French style, between the new house and the rest of the garden which complimented the house and the gardens of his ancestors. This park of the garden was laid out in bedding plants and added the only colour to the gardens. He also built a vast walled garden.

Since 1900 the house has been rented to an American ambassador, was used as a convalescent home and later a military hospital during WW1. From 1948 it was home to the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering, later the Silsoe Research Institute. When the institute closed in 2006, English Heritage took over the house and began an ambitious 20-year project to restore the gardens to their pre-1917 state.

Only part of the house is open to the public and the rest of the house and buildings are used as offices and a storage facility for English heritage archives. On 19th July BBC One’s Antique Roadshow was due to be held at Wrest Park. Wrest Park is one of English Heritage top ten filming locations and has also been used for song videos too. It is also used for weddings and other events.

The house was mostly unfurnished but it did hold various displays. One display was about its time as a hospital in WW1. Also, the house has some amazing wallpaper and once a month on the first Sunday in the month is a guided tour to the wallpaper room where the English Heritage has an archive of old wallpapers in book form. In one outbuilding was a contemporary art exhibition by Sally Annett. Her works were inspired by the extensive wallpaper collection.

The ceilings had some amazing gilding and also pictures painted onto them. They supplied a mirror so that you were able to look at the ceilings at your leisure without having to bend your neck at awkward angles. You wanted to look at them for ages to take in all the beauty.

In the gardens is a large orangery where weddings and other events take place. Also, there are over 40 statues around the grounds as well as a Chinese Temple and bridge. The Long Water has walkways on each side leading to the spectacular Archer Pavilion. This pavilion was built by Thomas Archer between 1709-11 in the baroque style and gives a focal point of the gardens. The pavilion has four narrow winding stairways which go up to tiny bedrooms and down to the outside and other rooms. It is a strange building used for reading and entertainment. The entire garden is surrounded by a canal.

We had lunch at their cafe but wished we had not as the food took ages to come despite only being a sausage roll and chips. It was not because they had lots of people to serve as it was later than lunchtime.

After we left we travelled the short distance to Flitton church which advertised the De Grey Mausoleum. We were interested to see this as we had just been to the home of the De Greys. The church was closed but advertised the phone numbers to call to have the church opened. The keyholder said she was no longer the key holder and did not know who was, the churchwarden did not answer and the minister did not have the keys and said that the key holder for the mausoleum was back at Wrest Park. We were disappointed as we do not often ring for keys and expected that if they advertise the mausoleum on street signs then it should be open. The add insult to injury we could not find the geocache. LOL

Next, we went to Westoning Baptist which was a new church but it was a multi so we went searching for the Bible verse it mentioned. There were four posters with Bible verses but these would all be changed regularly and finally, we found what we were looking for and walked the short distance to the cache. A gentleman who was watering the plants invited us in to see the new church and we talked to him about geocaching which, of course, he had never heard of.

Next, we went to St Mary Magdalene’s church in Westoning where the church was closed and the hint was a complete mystery to us but we found the cache anyway. When we returned home and I was logging our finds on the internet, I read a previous log mentioning that they had googled the hint. So I did that too. It was “Look at the stars, Look how they shine for you, And everything you do” which turned out to be a Coldplay song called “Yellow”. A clever hint if you are a cold play fan!

Our last church micro of the day was at St Peter and St Pauls church at Flitwick. We managed to go all around the houses to find the church as from the top road it is completely impossible to get to. We drove all the way around and finally found it but alas it too was closed. We talked to a guy from Yorkshire who was staying at the Manor Hotel next door who had also come to have a look at the church. We found the cache easily and decided to call it a day.

We had a lovely day out visiting some lovely villages and having a long walk around Wrest Park.