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Ampthill

Amphill, created the royal honour by Henry VIII in 1542 lies on the Greensand Ridge in fair countryside. It has a variety of beautiful old buildings, many of them 17-18th century and some Tudor. The White Hart, a former coaching inn, was built in the days of Queen Anne and incorporates a Tudor building. Opposite is a Georgian arcaded shop. 28 Church Street, a mid-Georgian house, has the wrought iron gateway and screen from Houghton House. Facing Church Close is Dyvenor House of 1725, Georgian Brandreth House and the little whitened Feoffe Almshouses.

The ironstone church, on the edge of open hill-country, has Decorated Gothic arcades and chancel arch; otherwise is Perpendicular Gothic with carved angels under the roof, but over-restored externally. Four brasses include one to William Hicchecok, a 'wolman' 1450 and to Sir Nicholas Harvey 1532 who attended Queen Katherine; also there is an impressive monument to Richard Nicolls, whose family lived at Ampthill Park in the 17 century. Nicolls took over New Amsterdam from the Dutch in 1664 and renamed it New York after his patron the Duke of York, but at the Battle of Solway Bay in 1672 a Dutch cannonball killed him. The ball is in his monument, 'instrumentum mortis et immortalitatis'.

Henry VIII was a frequent visitor to Ampthill Castle, and it was there that Katherine of Aragon lived from 1531 until divorced in 1533, when she was moved to Kimbolton. The site of the castle is in the park, marked by a cross erected by Lord Ossory in 1770, with an inscription by Horace Walpole on its base, commemorating 'the mornful refuge of an injured Queen'. The castle was built in the 15 century by Sir John Cornwall, later Lord Fanhope, from ransoms after the Battle of Agincourt.

The present house in the park was built 1686-88 for the Dowager Countess of Ailesbury and Elgin, by architect-mason Robert Grumbold of Cambridge. It was sold to the first Lord Ashburnham in 1690, altered by John Lumley 1705-7 when the north front was made; lastly side wings and redecoration, including elaborate ceilings, were added 1769-71 by Chambers. In 1818 it became the home of the famous Lady Holland (died 1845), whose gatherings at Holland House, Kensington, were the most brilliant of her day. The house is now a Cheshire Home, and the park is a public one with some grand trees including a few old oaks.

On the western edge of the town near Little Farm is the Oxford Hospital, an almshouse of 1607 in Wren style, of chequered brickwork with original windows, dormers and a single-handed clock on a central pediment below a cupola - a little gem, backed by Scots pines in a rural setting.


Details from the book A Topographical Dictionary of England Comprising the Several Counties, Cities, Boroughs, Corporate and Market Towns, Parishes and Townships and the Islands of Guernsey, Jersey and Man. With Historical and Statistical Descriptions. Fifth Edition, 1842. Samuel Lewis. Volume III of IV. Samuel Lewis, 87 Hatton Garden.

AMPTHILL (St. Andrew), a market town and parish and head of a Union, in the hundred of Redbornestoke, county of Bedford, seven miles S. by W. of Bedford, 45 miles NW. by N. from London 1882 acres and containing 2001 inhabitants. In the reign of Henry VI, Sir John Cornwall, created Lord Fanhope, built a castle on the manor of Ampthillwhich about the year 1530 came into possession of the crown and was made head of an honour by act of parliament. Catherine of Aragon, until the business of her divorce was pending, resided here, where she received the summons of the commissioners at Dunstable which she refused to obey. In memory of this the Earl of ossory in 1770 erected on the site of the castle a handsome column, with an appropriate description by Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford. The modern seat is chiefly remarkable for a number of very ancient oaks which ornament the park.

The town is pleasantly situated between two hills, is irregularly built, paved with pebbles, and amply supplied with water; it has been of late considerably improved by the removal of old buildings and the erection of a handsome market house. The market is on a Thursday; fairs are held on the 4th of May and 30th of November for cattle. The county magistrates hold petty sessions for the hundred at this town; and the court for the honour of Ampthill is held in the Moot House, an ancient building, under the Lord High Steward, at which constables and other officers are appointed. Ampthill has been a polling place in the election of Knights of the Shire.

The Living is a discharged rectory, valued in the King's books at 10.6.8. Present net income of 330; patron, the Crown. the tithes were commuted for land and corn rents under an inclosure act in 1806. The church is a handsome cruciform structure in the decorated and later styles of English architecture with a square embattled tower rising from the centre. There are places of worship for independents, the society of friends and Wesleyans. A charity School for 20 boys and 24 girls was endowed by Mrs. Sarah Emery in 1691 with lands producing 30 per annum, half of which was given to the parish of Meppershall; and a rent charge of 5, given by Mr. George Watson in 1740 is appropriated to the instruction of 16 poor children. There is a feoffee charity of about 100 per annum derived from the lands and houses for the benefit of the necessitous and industrious poor, and about a quarter of a mile from the town is a hospital founded by John Cross in 1690, called 'Dr. Cross' Hospital of the University of Oxford' which affords a comfortable assylum for 9 poor men and 4 poor women who each receive about 20 per year with bedding, coals & c. produced from the rent of a farm adjoing called Little Park Farm. The Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford and the Bishop of that diocese are visitors: there are 4 or 5 trustees, the Vice Chancellor being one, the others are heads of houses. The interest arising from a legacy of 700 left by Mr. Arthur Whichelner, in 1687, for the apprenticing poor children, is shared by this parish conjointly with the parishes of Maulden, Millbrook and Ridgemont. The poor law Union of Ampthill comprises 19 parishes or places and contains a population of 15,681 according to the census of 1841.


Ampthill and Catharine's Cross rose to notoriety in 1982 when the Park proved to be the solution to puzzle set in the book Masquerade by Kitt Williams & Bamber Gascoign. The puzzle concerned the location of the burial of a golden hare and was notoriously difficult to solve eventually being found by the Cross.


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Last Updated on: 15 March 2000

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