Historic Park and Garden to Turvey House


Heritage Category:
Park and Garden
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
New Park, Turvey House, Turvey, Bedfordshire, MK43 8EL


Ordnance survey map of Historic Park and Garden to Turvey House
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Statutory Address:
New Park, Turvey House, Turvey, Bedfordshire, MK43 8EL

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

Bedford (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Designed ornamental park at Turvey House, originally created for John Higgins, dates from the late C18 to early C19 with later C19 expansion and alterations.

Reasons for Designation

The gardens and parkland to Turvey House are registered at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Design: as a well-designed and accomplished landscape dating from the late C18 or early C19, which uses the natural topography sympathetically and to great effect;

* Historic interest: it is of undoubted historic interest for its strong association with the Higgins family who bought the estate in the late C18. The village of Turvey went on to benefit substantially from the Higgins’ philanthropic character;

* Level of survival: as a surviving example of a late-C18/early-C19 designed landscape which influenced the evolving parkland of the later C19;

* Group value: it has strong group value with the Grade I listed Turvey House and Church of All Saints, the Higgins Family Mausoleum, Bottom Lodge and Top Lodge, all listed at Grade II, and Turvey Bridge which is scheduled;

* Documentation: as a well-documented and readable designed landscape, the understanding of which benefits from maps, sketches and land transfer records dating from the late C18.


Charles Higgins purchased the Turvey estate at the end of the C18 from Charles Henry Mordaunt, 5th Earl of Peterborough. Turvey Abbey, at the eastern end of the village, was Charles Higgins’s main residence and the family were instrumental in the development of the village at this time. Charles’s son Charles Longuet Higgins was responsible for enlarging the parish church, rebuilding the estate cottages, erecting new schools and providing a reading room for the village.

Charles Higgins sold part of the estate to his cousin John Higgins, who built Turvey House in 1796 on former agricultural land as a home for himself and his wife, Martha (née Farrer). He also bought other land in Turvey, including the former inn, the Tinker of Turvey (now the village store), and the Mordaunt's family mansion, Turvey Old Hall in the late 1780's from his father in-law, Mr W Farrer of Brayfield House. As well as building the house, the stables were almost certainly constructed in some form along with a walled garden, although the current garden carries a date stone of 1821.

John Higgins died on 5th July 1813, his eldest son Thomas Charles was 16 at the time of his father’s death and did not take full control of the estate until his 21st Birthday in 1818. Thomas Charles Higgins (1797-1865) was responsible for some significant changes to the estate. He was High Sheriff of Bedfordshire in 1823 and went on to marry Charlotte Price, daughter of Sir Rose Price of Trengwainton, in 1838. In the same year a detailed survey of Turvey was carried out, and this provides the first cartographic evidence of the estate. At this time the house was set in a small park with extensive pleasure grounds to the N of the house and NW of the church. The ornamental landscape was well designed but small. When compared to an earlier map of 1783 the estate map shows the establishment of woodland outside of the park, just south of what is now Copymoor Farm, and the creation of a track along the northern edge of the park from Carlton Road to the river. The village was screened from the house by shelter-belts and plantations that wrapped around the southern and eastern sides of the park. The main approach ran from the eastern side of the church, running through open parkland to the SW of the house. A secondary approach came through a lodged entrance on the Carlton Road to the stables. The park was bounded on the western side by a hedge set below the bank of the river terrace with water meadows retained on the banks of the Ouse, giving the effect of the park extending to the river. At the southern end of this boundary were two fishponds which would have provided views to and from the house. To the NW of the house was an interconnected series of walks through a shrubbery within which was a circular garden or maze. Beyond the pleasure gardens was a canal like feature known as ‘The Cut’ which is still (2015) evident as an earthwork. The walled garden was to the E of the pleasure grounds and divided in quadrants by paths with a glasshouse along the northern, south-facing wall and what appears to be attached buildings to the rear. Beyond this to the E was an orchard set on the northern boundary of the park. Adjacent to the NE side of the house was a courtyard with an oval lawn, enclosed by the service ranges including, at the far end of the north range, an ice house.

Although Turvey House underwent considerable changes c1830 it is not clear exactly when these took place. The Tithe map of 1843 shows much of the work completed; the house had been enlarged and an upper storey added. Etchings from the 1870s indicate that Thomas Charles was responsible for the wholesale reworking of the house to produce the elevations seen today. The range to the N of the courtyard was removed and alterations made to the buildings north of the stables. To the S of the courtyard a new arrangement of the buildings can be seen and new boundary walls were created forming three yards. Changes to the buildings were mirrored in changes to the landscape. While the overall basic layout of the park remained unaltered a farmstead (now Copymoor Farm) was added on the northern edge of the park and both entrance drives were realigned. The main drive from the S was diverted to run into the courtyard on the eastern side of the house, suggesting that the orientation of the house had been altered so the main entrance was now on the E side with a garden front to the W. Additional tree and shelterbelt planting was established to line the northern end of the drive and frame the approach to the house while at the same time screening the service ranges. Similarly the drive from the Carlton Road was diverted from the S of the stables to run immediately S of the ice house.

By the mid 1840s the alterations to the house were largely completed and attention was turned to improving the landscape of the park. Between 1847 and 1856 a series of land exchanges with the Higgins family of Turvey Abbey took place, allowing expansion of the park at Turvey House and allowing the landowners to embark on a major reworking and remodelling of the village. The former C18 workhouse and a number of cottages and their gardens were removed as a result of the park and the ponds shown on the 1838 Tithe map were infilled. These features remain evident in the park as slight earthworks suggesting the survival of buried archaeological remains. In 1854 the main approach was again altered and a new lodge, Front Lodge (now known as Bottom Lodge, NHLE 1373892), was built. The new drive was laid out to the S and W of the church while the former entrance and drive was divided for gardens and building. The creation of the new drive was not without problems as parish records document that its creation ‘inclosed a considerable space of ground belonging to the parish.’ It was resolved several months later when Charles Higgins of Turvey Abbey provided new gates for the churchyard.

Following the death of Thomas Charles Higgins in 1865 there was a period of approximately 10 years when Turvey House was leased and little change is recorded during this time. It was occupied as the main family seat again in 1876.

The development of Turvey House and Park in the late C19 is recorded in detail on the Ordnance Survey (OS) 25” map of 1884 which shows dramatic changes from the mid-C19, the most significant being the creation of New Park to the N of the walled garden which extended as far as Copymoor Farm. The park was formed by the removal of field boundaries and the incorporation of the flood plain meadows into the designed landscape. The park was planted with a fairly dense scatter of trees within which were six large roundels, the whole enclosed to the north and east by a shelter belt, lined on the park side by a double avenue of trees. To the W a boat house was erected on the banks of the River Ouse. It appears there was a deliberate view from the house to the boathouse which was balanced by further views to the SW over the park to Turvey Bridge (which is scheduled NHLE 1004506) and the wider countryside. The main approach drive has retained its 1854 alignment but is shown at this time lined with an avenue of conifers. The secondary drive from Carlton Road was realigned to the S of the house yet again and the Top Lodge cottage (NHLE 1277607) appears to have been either rebuilt or significantly extended.

Further changes occurred in the pleasure grounds and gardens. The informal shrubberies to the NW of the house were swept away and the pleasure grounds much reduced in size. The circular garden feature and the woodland walks had been removed. Whilst the walled garden was retained a new enclosed area with a glasshouse is shown to the north. Beyond this a horseshoe shaped shelter belt is depicted, enclosing a garden area with a summerhouse acting as an eye catcher.

The fully developed gardens of the late C19 were recorded in 1895 by the Gardeners Chronicle which provides some detail of the gardens and its planting.

Alterations to the house and ancillary buildings are also clear on the 1884 OS map. The house has lost its central projecting bay on the SW facade and a balustraded terrace encloses the garden front. The NE corner of the house has been reduced in size and further alterations have been made to the southern service ranges, including the addition of a bay on the south-western side. To the N of the stables the service ranges have been altered and the icehouse shown on the Tithe map has disappeared along with another building to the E. To the E of the stables a new range, including loose boxes, occupies the southern side of the yard, while three new buildings are set to the south. The entrance arch over the main drive was also erected in this period as it bears William Francis Higgins’s monograph.

William Francis Higgins died in 1899 and the estate passed to his son Gustavus Francis Higgins (1873-1912). Gustavus does not appear to have lived at Turvey House initially so any changes to the landscape and setting of the house recorded on the OS 25” 1901 map are understood to be the work of his father. The changes which did occur by 1901 were not as dramatic as those of the third quarter of the C19, but they did create features which survive today. The general arrangement of the park remained unaltered but the main drive takes a pronounced sweep around the churchyard, although the conifer avenue was retained as a vista linking the house and church. The fencing around the gardens had been extended. Off the main drive a track led to a dairy on the eastern boundary of the park, whilst the entrance from Back Lodge (now known as Top Lodge) no longer joined up with the main drive to the S of the house. The pleasure grounds to the N of the house were narrowed but extended to run along the western wall of the kitchen garden. A new path linked the NE corner of the house to the SW corner of the walled garden, whilst the quartered layout of the walled garden was replaced by an angled path. N of the walled garden a glasshouse had been added to the small walled enclosure, whilst additional planting and a new axial path formed the setting of the summerhouse.

The following decades saw little change to the layout of the estate. Turvey House remained let for most of the first quarter of the C20 but by the mid-1930s the family were back in residence. Air Commodore Higgins is recorded as living at Turvey in the 1930s and 40s; he died in 1953 and the estate passed to his daughter Prunella. Prunella had married Lieutenant Colonel Sir Hanmer Hanbury in 1939 and remained at Turvey until 2004.

The current owners have commissioned a Heritage Management Plan (HMP; 2008) and are working to ensure the future management of the house and parkland. Much of the historical detail used in this report has been taken from the very detailed HMP.


LOCATION, SETTING, LANDFORM, BOUNDARIES AND AREA Designed ornamental park at Turvey House, is situated in the NW corner of the village of Turvey, six miles west of Bedford. It is bounded to the W by the River Ouse, to the E by Carlton Road, and on the S by the village of Turvey.

Turvey House lies on a relatively flat terrace at the centre of its park, on a slight rise above the river and former water meadows to the west. This gives it a commanding view SW across the park, over the river and to the natural landscape beyond. A double avenue of lime trees runs parallel to the E and N boundaries. The park is currently (2015) used as pasture for cattle.

ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES The main entrance is at the S end of the park adjacent to the parish church. It is marked by a stone lodge in the Gothic style (listed Grade II, NHLE 1373892), together with gate piers supporting stone, ball finials. The start of the entrance drive is lined by informally clipped yews, a feature of other areas of the park as well as the churchyard.

A secondary entrance approaches from the E and is again marked by a stone lodge which was heightened using red brick in the later C19 (listed Grade II, NHLE 1277607). This approach leads directly into the service courtyard on the eastern side of the house and currently (2015) exists as a grassed track.

PRINCIPAL BUILDING Turvey House (Grade I listed, NHLE 1039600) is a small country house built in 1796 with extensive alterations in early-mid-C19. The garden front is of seven bays and three storeys with central and end bays carried forward and Corinthian columns, fluted pilasters, foliate friezes and scroll pediments all adding decorative detailing.

ORNAMENTAL GROUNDS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS With the exception of a small parterre to the W of the house, a terrace and a stone balustrade, the ornamental gardens and pleasure grounds are focused to the N and E of the house and walled kitchen garden. Gravel paths guide one around the exterior of the walled garden where simple tree and shrub planting emphasises the ‘evergreen’ nature of the garden. The combination of mature and younger planting implies the evolving landscape of the park. The area N of the kitchen garden is now known as the evergreen garden and provides a fitting setting for the late C19 summerhouse. The limestone rubble building, with dressed stone around the door and windows, itself has canted sides with gothic windows, a tiled floor and fireplace with evidence of rendering or limewash (the whole now ruinous). It has lost its thatched roof but retains its red brick chimney stack and fireplace on the N wall. Remnants of the original planting of holm oaks, box and yew are evident but additional conifers and evergreen shrubs have been added, providing an informal and less structured area than that suggested on the late C19 OS maps, although a circular iron pergola supporting climbing roses sits just N of the northern walled garden and is understood to be a remnant of the C19 garden. Although in need of some restoration it is an interesting structural, decorative element. To the east of the walled garden the late C18 gardener’s cottage, with mid C19 additions, forms the end view of the gardens if approaching from the S. The cottage is built of limestone rubble (with the exception of the W gable which is in brick), with a pitched pan-tile roof, and a canted bay window on the ground floor of the southern elevation. The entrance is on the northern elevation. A fireplace survives in the northern wall although the chimney is not evident from the exterior. It is understood the building was also used as an apple store and ventilation openings into a basement may have had something to do with this process.

The gravel paths to the S are lined in most part by informally clipped yew. On the eastern side of the path particularly the yew hides the wider park landscape and allows the views to be appreciated only at specific vantage points where the hedging opens to reveal glimpses of the parkland.

PARK Beyond the ornamental and pleasure grounds the parkland is a typical example of an English landscape which began life in the late C18 but which developed considerably in the C19. The park is entered from the S via an ornamental gate hung on stone piers topped by ball finials. S of the church the drive is lined by informally clipped yew and box hedging whilst, from the church to the house, the drive is bounded by iron railings through which there are deliberate gates leading to different aspects of the house and views of the back lodge. To the E of the drive is dense tree planting, and shelter belts on the perimeter of the park screen the village, while a scatter of trees, mostly oak and beech, provide the characteristic parkland view. To the W of the main drive, along the southern edge of the park, further planting provides a shelterbelt to hide the village from view. The western area of the park is dominated by typical parkland planting of oak and beech but with more variety including ash, lime, maple and poplar. Views from the house are directed to Turvey Bridge, Cold Brayfield church tower and the boathouse, although some C20 planting has reduced the appreciation of the intention.

An important feature of the W park is the natural limestone terrace between the floodplain and the terrace on which stands Turvey House. On the floodplain there are a few scattered trees, mainly poplar, lime and oak, but it is generally open with extensive views N and S. Above the floodplain is the shelterbelt planting and roundels containing a higher proportion of conifers. On the E side of the park a dry stone wall runs along Carlton Road and the northern boundary of the park with an avenue of mature limes forming the shelterbelt along Carlton Road and encircling Copymoor Farm. There is also a swathe of veteran oaks and mature beech which run along the western edge of the terrace above the flood plain, this being the remnants of a band of woodland depicted on the 1843 Tithe map.

KITCHEN GARDEN An angled path leads from the NE corner of the house towards the walled garden where ornate iron gates lead into the enclosure. Former vegetable beds are defined by narrow lawns and are now (2015) planted with mixed herbaceous borders, including Michaelmas daisies, roses and lavender. The walled kitchen garden is understood to date from the late C18 but carries a date stone in the southern wall of 1821. The walls themselves are of brick laid in Flemish bond with stone, clay-tile, and brick coping with various phases of construction evident in the fabric. The walled garden is rectangular in plan with canted sides to the S and a brick plinth of a former glasshouse evident adjacent to the northern wall but this is now being used as a raised bed with a lavender garden to its centre. Brick arches in the northern wall lead to a linear space running E to W with a central path running its length. At the far eastern end is the gable end of the gardeners cottage and along the southern edge, attached to the walled garden, are two, single-storey gardeners bothies or hovels, one either side of a centrally positioned open fronted shed. Each hovel has a central plank door flanked by multi-paned casement windows and a tiled roof. The northern edge of the linear enclosure is defined by a stone wall with an arched entrance and a decorative iron gate leading into the smaller walled garden to the N. This area is evident on the tithe map of 1838 but is smaller in plan at that time. Here five vegetable beds and a sunken glasshouse (recently restored) are set within an otherwise lawned garden. The walls are a mixture of stone and brick with pitched, fish-scale tiled coping adding decorative detailing. In the SE corner a pair of full height timber gates, hung on coped gate piers, provide access into the garden for vehicles, whilst iron columns support a tiled roof to create an open fronted cart shed against the E wall.


Books and journals
'Turvey' in Gardeners Chronicle, , Vol. II, (1895), 515-516
Article about Turvey House, Bedfordshire, accessed 28th March 2016 from http://www.turveyhouse.co.uk/about-us/
Bedfordshire Historic Environment Records; 1145, 4398, 4399, 4833, 4839, 6983, 7100, 7101
Estate Map of 1838
Tithe Map 1843
Turvey House Heritage Management Plan


This garden or other land is registered under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 within the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by Historic England for its special historic interest.

End of official listing

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