Wrest House, from the south
Wrest Park is a country estate located near Silsoe, Bedfordshire, England. It comprises Wrest Park, a Grade I listed country house, and Wrest Park Gardens, also Grade I listed, formal gardens surrounding the mansion.
The present house was built in 1834–39, to designs by its owner Thomas de Grey, 2nd Earl de Grey, an amateur architect and the first president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, who was inspired by buildings he had seen on trips to Paris. He based his house on designs published in French architectural books such as Jacques-François Blondel's Architecture Française (1752). The works were superintended as clerk of works on site by James Clephan, who had been clerk of the works at the Liddell seat, Ravensworth Castle in County Durham, and had recently served as professional amanuensis and builder for Lord Barrington. Although Nikolaus Pevsner previously stated that Clephan was a French architect who designed the present house instead of De Grey the amateur architect, as Charles Read has shown in his biography of De Grey, Clephan (born Clapham) in fact only produced drawings of the service infrastructure, such as plumbing and drainage. The decorative layout and features of the house were produced by De Grey's own hand.
Wrest has some of the earliest Rococo Revival interiors in England. Reception rooms in the house are open to the public.
Wrest Park Gardens
Wrest Park has an early eighteenth-century garden, spread over 92 acres, which was probably originally laid out by George London and Henry Wise for Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Kent, then modified by Lancelot "Capability" Brown in a more informal landscape style.
The park is divided by a wide gravel central walk, continued as a long canal that leads to a Baroque style pavilion designed by Thomas Archer and completed in 1711. Boundary canals were altered to take the more natural shape by Capability Brown, who worked there between 1758 and 1760, and who also ringed the central formal area with a canal and woodland. The gardens and garden houses were mapped by John Rocque in 1735. During the later 18th and 19th centuries, the Bath House, an orangery and marble fountains were added.
In the autumn of 2007 English Heritage announced that the Wolfson Foundation had pledged up to £400,000 towards the restoration of a number of the key features of the Wrest Park estate, including the mansion's formal entrance area, the garden statuary, railings and gates, and to alter the height of the carriage drive. In the next phases the lakes and canals will be restored.
On 12 September 2008 English Heritage unveiled extensive plans to restore the Grade-I-isted Wrest Park house and gardens to their original splendour. In 2008 the music video for "The Fear" by Lily Allen featured interior as well as exterior scenes of Wrest Park.
In July 2010 English Heritage announced that it had secured over £1m from the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop a new visitors centre, car parking, exhibition space and accessible paths. Work was completed in summer 2011 and the park opened to the public on 4 August 2011.
Memorial column dedicated to Lancelot "Capability" Brown
The inscription on the column, originally placed near the Bowling Green House (remodelled by Batty Langley, 1735), and now located in the eastern part of the gardens:
"These gardens, originally laid out by Henry Duke of Kent, were altered by Philip Earl of Hardwicke and Jemima Marchioness Grey with the professional assistance of Lancelot Brown Esq. in the years 1758, 1759, 1760."
- Country Life, 25 June and 2 July 1970, noted in Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840 3rd ed. 1995: "James Clephan".
- Charles Read, "Earl de Grey" (2007) pp. 21-24
- "Wrest Park reopens after £1.14m restoration". BBC News. 2 August 2011.
- Rocque catalogue: 5
- 20-year plan to restore Wrest Park's gardens Bedford Today
- "Future of magnificent garden secured/". English Heritage. Retrieved 6 March 2011.
- 'Secret garden' Wrest Park reopens after restoration - The Guardian 2 August 2011, accessed 2 August 2011
- Nicola Smith, "Wrest Park" published by English Heritage, London 1995, ISBN 1-85074-481-5
- Linda Cabe Halpern, "Wrest Park 1686–1730s: exploring Dutch influences" in Garden History Journal vol 30.2 (2002)
- Jean O’Neill, "John Rocque as a guide to gardens" in Garden History Journal vol 16.1
- James Collett-White, "Inventories of Bedfordshire Country Houses 1714-1830" in Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, Volume 74, 1995
- Charles Read, "Earl de Grey", London: Willow Historical Monographs. 2007 ISBN 978-0-9555693-0-2
- A. F. Cirket (ed.), "The Earl de Grey's account of the building of Wrest House" in Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, Volume 59, 1980
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