Ashridge House Chapel, Hertfordshire

Ashridge Priory once stood here in this isolated position on the edges of the Chilterns, founded by the Brothers of Penitence around 1283. The Priory was dissolved along with all the others by Henry VIII and then was used as a residence by Princess Elizabeth (later Elizabeth I) and she was arrested here in 1552 under suspicion of treason and taken to the Tower of London. As Queen she was responsible for demolishing the Priory Church and selling the rest of the buildings, so she obviously did not have very fond memories of her time here!

In 1604 the Priory was bought by Sir Thomas Egerton and his family continued to live here until the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater – the famed canal-builder – had the old buildings demolished with the view to building a grand new house. He died before anything could be completed and it was his son, the 7th Earl of Bridgewater, who commissioned James Wyatt to build the new house. This house was completed in 1813.

The crowning glory of Wyatt’s vision was the great Gothic Revival Chapel which sits at the heart of the House the work on which was completed by his son, Jeffry, in 1817. The spire which stands so proudly above the House is actually something of an illusion as the original was demolished by Lord Brownlow in 1922, what stands today is a fibreglass replica from 1969!

The boundary between Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire once ran through the dining room (designed incidentally by Clough William-Ellis, the architect of Portmeirion in Wales), but the boundary has since been moved to outside the Estate and it all now sits within Hertfordshire.

In 1921 the House was acquired by a trust established by Andrew Bonar Law, a former Prime Minister. In 1959 it became a management training college, and it continues in that role today with its own degree-awarding powers and an international reputation.

Close to the House stands a small timber and brick barn, known as the Monks’ Barn – it is the only surviving structure of the original Priory, although it was remodelled greatly by Jeffry Wyatt in 1816 and in 1884 another Wyatt, Mathew Digby, added Fern House.

The Bridgewater Monument which stands close by was added in 1832 in memory of the 3rd Duke to plans by Jeffry Wyattville – it is built away from the house because the Duke’s mother did not “want to see or be reminded of my infernal son”!

Today Ashridge House is a Management Training College and is not open to the public, although the Bridgewater Monument is and most of the surrounding land is National Trust property and publicly accessible.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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