Wrest Park House and service block comprising pavilions, clock tower and the dairy


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Central Bedfordshire (Unitary Authority)
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Country house in a French Louis XV style, built 1834-39 to the design of its owner, Thomas Philip, 2nd Earl de Grey, with James Clephan as the clerk of works.

Reasons for Designation

Wrest House, built by Thomas Phillip, Earl de Grey 1834-39, is designated at Grade I for the following principal reasons: * Architectural Interest: as a country house built and decorated in the French style of Louis XV in the 1830s it was unique in England at the time and has no parallel; * Intactness: the house was built in a single phase and the state rooms have undergone only minor alterations, providing a complete picture of the plan form and decoration of a country house of the 1830s; * Plan: for the dramatic quality of the plan which is centred on a cross axis of enfilades running east-west and north-south, meeting in the ante-library. The north-south alignment of the principal entrance with the Long Water and Archer Pavilion (Grade I) creates an inter-relationship between house and garden of outstanding importance; * Artistic Interest: for the high quality of the Rococo-style state room interiors and the rare Chinese and French wallpaper in three of the principal bedrooms; and the statues in the staircase hall and along the north and south fronts, all of which were brought to Wrest House when it was first built; * Historical Interest: for its association with Thomas Philip, 2nd Earl de Grey, the amateur architect and first President of the (Royal) Institute of British Architects (1835-59), who designed all aspects of the house and its interiors; * Group Value: the house is the focus of the Grade I Registered Park and Garden which contains many other listed buildings, and as such it contributes to the structural and aesthetic composition of the estate as a whole.


Wrest Park belonged to the Grey family from the Middle Ages until the early C20. In the late C16 the original manor house was described as a rambling building which had evolved piecemeal from the medieval period. A classical north front was added in 1671 to disguise its irregularities, and in the 1830s it was completely rebuilt by Thomas Philip, 2nd Earl de Grey. The park also evolved in distinct phases of development, each of which respected the work carried out by former members of the Grey family. In the 1670s the long canal became the main feature of the garden, and parterres in the Great Garden to the south of the house were complemented by symmetrical wildernesses at the southern end. In 1706 Henry, Duke of Kent began to create the formal woodland garden, continuing to enlarge it and adding numerous garden buildings until his death in 1740. His granddaughter Jemima, Marchioness Grey employed Lancelot 'Capability' Brown in 1758 to make the formal boundary canals curve more naturalistically and to soften the edges of the woodland garden. The upper gardens were laid out in the 1830s when the new house was built. During the First World War, Wrest Park was used as a military hospital before being sold in 1917. After the Second World War it was purchased by the Government which used the House as offices and constructed a considerable number of buildings on the east side of the House. Wrest Park was acquired by English Heritage in 2006.

The present house is the creation of Thomas, 2nd Earl de Grey who inherited the estate in 1833. He had spent much time at Wrest as a young man, demonstrating his early abilities as an amateur architect in the design of the two lodges at Silsoe in 1826 (both listed at Grade II in 1985). During his travels in France he had made a close study of French buildings and architectural treatises; and he based the entrance front of the new house on Jean Courtonne's Hotel de Matignon in Paris illustrated in Blondel's Architecture Française (1752), and the garden front on a design in Blondel's Maisons de Plaisance (1737). The Earl employed James Clephan as his executant architect but in a manuscript account of the house he states that 'I was strictly and in every sense of the word my own architect [...] I had my French books always under my hand [and] referred to them for authority whenever I could find anything to suit me' (unpublished memoir, quote in 'Wrest Park Conservation Management Plan', 2009, p.28). He positioned the new Louis XV style Wrest House approximately 200m north of the old house in order to carefully maintain the earlier alignment between the old house and the Archer Pavilion (Grade I). The stables (Grade II) were positioned to the east of the attached service wing and dairy, and the walled gardens (Grade II) were created to the west. The area over the site of the former house was redesigned to include the present parterres and lawns. Colvin describes Wrest House as a 'tour de force of French eighteenth-century architectural design on English soil, carried out with consistent skill both inside and out.' Wrest Park was the Earl's major achievement as an amateur designer but it was not his only foray into architecture. He built a small seaside house at Cowes, Isle of Wight in 1812; he rebuilt the church in Silsoe in 1830-1 in an authentic Perpendicular Gothic style; and he was responsible for carrying out the internal alterations to his family house at 4 St James's Square, London, in 1833. The Earl was a key member of various building committees in which he was instrumental in commissioning the United Service Club in London, the enlargement of Buckingham Palace, and the rebuilding of the new Houses of Parliament. As a gifted amateur architect of social and political standing, he was a natural candidate for the position of first President of the (Royal) Institute of British Architects which he held from 1835 until his death in 1859.

Although the Wrest Park estate has been in institutional use since the early C20, the main house itself has suffered little alteration since it was first built, and its lavishly decorated, Rococo-style state rooms survive virtually intact. The two main changes took place in the mid-C19: in 1846 the room to the immediate right of the staircase hall was enlarged to include the corridor as part of its conversion from a dressing room into a billiard room; and five years later in 1851 a staircase was removed from its position south of the dining room to the courtyard of the former servants' hall in order to make more space in the dining room for a stage for theatrical performances. The service wing has been subject to greater change. The original double height kitchen was lost before 1940 and is now an open courtyard; and the former double height servants' hall to its immediate left has been subdivided by a mezzanine floor and partitioned at lower ground level. In 1982 an extension on the south side of the service wing incorporated the dairy by knocking through its north wall, and its interior fittings were removed.


MATERIALS: Bath stone ashlar and grey slates, rear elevation of service range in yellow brick.

PLAN: a double-pile building with a rectangular plan and attached, asymmetrical service range.

EXTERIOR: the house is of two storeys with a basement and attic. It has thirteen bays, those at either end projecting slightly, flanked by single-storey pavilions, one blind, which are surmounted by leaded cupolae. The centre of the mansard roof rises into a pavilion form roof. The regular fenestration consists of segment-headed casement and sash windows, their once gilt glazing bars now white, set in simple moulded surrounds with carved keystones, those on the projecting bays more ornate. The projecting central three bays, the outer sides of which are curved, contain a round-headed doorway and first-floor wrought-iron balcony supported by consoles, surmounted by a balustraded parapet with a pediment incorporating the Grey family coronet and coat of arms. The coronet and the family device of the staff also appear in the elaborate, carved keystone and in other prominent places throughout the House. The corners of the projecting bays have rusticated quoins. The pavilions and east elevation are surmounted by single carved urns of unusual form, probably made of Portland stone in England in the first half of the C19. The doorway, which is reached via a short flight of balustraded stone steps embellished with carved acanthus leaves, is flanked by a pair of life-size statues of Carrara marble on Portland stone pedestals. The statues are based on antique originals depicting Diane de Gabies and an Amazon, and were probably made in an Italian sculptural studio in the 1830s or 1840s. In front of the house is a group of four, cast-iron lamp posts made by Barwell in c.1840, on Portland stone pedestals, two of which are incorporated into the design of the steps. The garden (south) elevation is similar but with fifteen bays and a flat central projection with a pediment in the form of a coat of arms from which tumble ornately carved putti and festoons sculpted by J. E. Carew; the same design adorns the attic windows in the end bays. There are wrought-iron and gilt balconies to the central and end bays and balconettes to the first-floor windows on the link blocks. The ground-floor windows reach to ground level, those to the central bay being French; and all windows on the ground and first floor retain their blind boxes. The single-storey end pavilions, which house the conservatory and dining room, are defined by three tall windows. Attached to the south front is an ashlar terrace with a geometric pattern in dark stone, a central flight of steps down to the garden, and wrought-iron and gilt balustrading, probably by Barwell, between stone piers. The piers flanking the steps support a pair of Portland stone Molossian dogs, the western one a copy of the antique Roman statue Alcibiades' Dog, and the other a reversed copy, possibly made in the late C18 by an unknown, probably English sculptor. The piers located opposite the end bays are surmounted by four Italian carved Carrara marble urns, made around 1835, which the Earl had carved with the family coat of arms. The piers on the eastern and western edge of the terrace support four Italian Carrara marble finials made around the mid-1830s in an unknown Italian workshop. The statues of children that used to stand on the pedestals flanking the exit onto the terrace are missing. The attached service range, also designed by the Earl, has a two-storey, eleven bay, ashlared south front, terminating with a projecting, three bay pavilion. From here extends at right angles a garden wall and ornamental dairy, unfortunately much altered but still retaining a verandah, delicate stained glass windows, and cupola. Access to the service yard is provided on the north front of the house through a pair of two-storey, ashlared pavilions with hipped roofs and rusticated quoins. The clock tower, saved and moved from the original house, is on the west side of the yard adjoining the house. All the elevations facing into the yard are constructed of yellow brick in a free English classical style. INTERIOR: the plan of the main house is based on a cross axis of enfilades running north-south and east-west which meet in the ante-library. The former aligns the entrance hall, staircase hall and ante-library with the Long Water and Archer Pavilion (Grade I); whilst the latter forms the enfilade of principal state rooms on the south front. The Louis XV style interior has remained remarkably intact, and the state rooms, decorated with Rococo white and gilt plasterwork and marble fireplaces, are particularly ornate. The oval, panelled entrance hall leads to the grand, central staircase hall which rises through the full height of the building to a rectangular glass lantern and is lined by family and royal portraits. The double flight staircase, which has panelled soffits and elegant gilded ironwork balustrades, ascends to a screen of columns on the first floor which leads to the principal bedrooms. The south entrance of the hall is flanked by two life-size Carrara marble statues of a Nymph going to the bath and a Hebe, made by Richard James Wyatt in the 1830s; and it is surmounted by a cartouche in plaster depicting a palette and brushes, aT-square and divider, in honour of Art and Architecture, and two figures seated on volumes of Blondel, Mansart and Le Pautre. The ante-library connects the library with the drawing room, both rooms adorned with allegorical ceiling paintings by John Wood. The long library incorporates French panelling, including the openwork panels in the bookcases, and the four ceiling paintings represent Music, Poetry, Painting and Sculpture. The drawing room is adorned with expensive French wall hangings. The enfilade to the east terminates with the heavier, Louis XIV style dining room which contains elements from other houses that belonged to the Grey family, such as the chimneypiece taken from their London home. The pilasters included in the wall decoration were inspired by those in the dining room in the old house at Wrest, and the ceiling design is based on the library ceiling of the old house. The cornice is decorated with four shields representing suitable themes for a dining room: Fish, Flesh, Fruit and Fowl. The enfilade to the west terminates with the more feminine Countess's room, with its delicate plasterwork and putti suspended from the ceiling. This leads directly to the elegant conservatory which has a glazed roof supported by ornate cast-iron trusses. The rooms on the north front are much plainer, with the exception of the oak panelled room which is an extremely rare and early use of oak boiserie (carved panelling). The first floor bedrooms are also comparatively unadorned except for three rooms which retain their original wallpaper. Two rooms on the south front are decorated with rare Chinese wallpaper, and one in the north-western corner has an El Dorado pattern wallpaper produced by the French company of Zuber et Cie of Mulhouse, Alsace in 1849 which is of immense rarity in England. The second floor rooms are plain but have good quality joinery. The rooms in the service wing are similarly plain with some retaining fitted cupboards. Neither the original kitchen nor the internal fittings of the dairy have survived.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Colvin, H, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840, (1995)
Roscoe, I, Hardy, E, Sullivan, M G, A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain 1660-1851, ((2009))
Smith, N, Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, English Heritage Guidebook, (2008)
Houfe, S, 'Country Life' in Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, (July 2 1970)
Houfe, S, 'Country Life' in Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, (June 25th, 1970)
Cole, D, Beresford, C and Shackell, A, Historical Survey of Wrest Park, (2005),
Davies, J P S , Report on the Garden Ornaments at Wrest Park 1700-1917, (2007),
Donald Insall Associates, Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, Conservation Mangement Plan, 2009,


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 07 May 2003
Reference: IOE01/10180/31
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Derek E. Wharton. Source Historic England Archive
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