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Oakley House

Oakley House about 1900 [Z50/85/4]
Oakley House about 1900 [Z50/85/4]

Oakley House was listed by the former Department of Environment in May 1952 as Grade II*, of particular interest. It is described as a hunting box and was remodelled between 1787 and 1792. It is built of coursed limestone rubble partly which has been partly colour-washed and has slate roofs. The main block is five window bays long by two deep and comprises two storeys and attics. There is a verandah to ground floor on the west, south and east sides. The north entrance front has two projecting wings of two storeys which form a courtyard. In front of this is a two storey block with a gabled slate roof. The two projecting wings are colour-washed with slate roofs. The interior has doorways in the hall imported from Fineshade Abbey in Northamptonshire.

Oakley House was built for the Duke of Bedford soon after he purchased the Manor of Oakley Reynes and, with it, a sizable amount of the village. Later acquisitions meant that by the time the Duke sold the Oakley House Estate in 1918 he owned most of the village. Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has, as one might expect, a considerable number of records regarding the house in the archive of the Dukes of Bedford [R]. Anyone wishing to investigate the history of the building in detail can consult the following records:

  • RBoxes 762-764: plans and estimates for building material, furnishing etc. for the original house: 1747-1750;
  • RBox356: vouchers regarding the early work at the house: 1753-1768;
  • R5/71: rental and cash account for the house and gardens: 1771-1772;
  • RBox393-394: vouchers regarding Henry Holland’s work on the house: 1787-1794;
  • R5/1386-1387: accounts for Henry Holland’s remodelling: 1789-1793;
  • R3/3767 and 3784: letters regarding a new approach to the house through the park: 1833;
  • R5/1131-1195: cash books including expenditure on the house: 1840-1941;
  • R5/2340 passim: ledgers for Oakley House: 1852-1871;
  • RDBP1/384: plans for a scullery: 1919;
  • RDBP1/418: plans for additions: 1919.

In Bedfordshire Historical Record Society volume 74 of 1995 – Inventories of Bedfordshire Country Houses 1714-1830 James Collett-White wrote: The Manor of Oakley Reynes was purchased by the Duke of Bedford from William Levinz junior in 1737 [RBox 188]. Included in the sale was the Mansion House later called the Burystead. This house was situated to the south-east of the present house and is marked on a map of 1737 [R1/57]. The present house was added to the map at a later date in a different ink. It was in a field called Odells Upper Hullands”.

“The present house was therefore built entirely after 1737 and is not a late seventeenth-century house. It was probable that the Duke always intended to build himself a hunting lodge there”.

“The admittedly incomplete vouchers of the Russell estate suggest that the house was built between 1748 and 1750. At exactly the same time Woburn Abbey was being transformed by Henry Flitcroft. In the steward’s correspondence there are a number of mentions of Flitcroft’s involvement with Woburn, never any with Oakley. A voucher presented by Thomas Moore shows that he drew up unspecified plans for Oakley on 6th December 1747 [RBox 762]. He was the equivalent of clerk of works at both houses and it seems as if Oakley was considered to be of less importance than Woburn and could be left to Moore to both design and oversee”.

“In a building lease of 1751, granted by the Duke of Bedford to allow him to build a house in King Street on the Russells’ Bloomsbury estate, Moore is described as a bricklayer of Ilford, Essex. By 1763 his widow had taken on the lease [NC1341]”.

“Through the vouchers it is possible to find out who the individual craftsmen were who worked on the house. Jones and Matthews provided much of the metalwork from a large, neat brass knocker on the front door for 10/6 to a large “Kitchen Range and cheeks” for £6/3/11 [RBox 762]. The same firm fitted most of the hearth equipment”.

“Their bill lists most of the rooms of the house: the library, china room behind it, dressing room, “Lady Duchess’s Bedroom”, its dressing room, dining parlour, room behind it, steward’s parlour, butler’s pantry, servants’ hall and kitchen. There is no mention of a great parlour or withdrawing room”.

“As no views predate Holland’s alterations it is difficult to say what the exterior looked like. It possibly looked much as today but without the verandah and Holland’s drawing room. It had at least thirty one sash windows and a circular one for the staircase. William Burge supplied them in August 1748 to Bedford House in Bloomsbury, from where they came to Oakley by cart [RBox 762]”.

“It must have been at the end of 1749 or the beginning of 1750 that the Duke was able to enjoy his new hunting lodge”. In 1772, the year after the Duke’s death and the inheritance of the title by his six year old grandson, the house was leased to Robert Hampden, Lord Trevor for fourteen years at an annual rent of £59/17/- [LL1/231].

“For the years of the 5th Duke’s minority (1771-1786) the furniture and fittings at Oakley would have remained unchanged. In 1787 the Duke started on the radical alteration of Woburn Abbey and Oakley House. His fondness of hunting (he was a founder of the Oakley Hunt) and his need for a bolt-hole from the endless building work at Woburn Abbey meant that Oakley was completed first in 1792. Henry Holland, architect of both projects, transformed the rooms into a dignified Louis XVI French style rather than the more exotic rococo of his patron’s grandfather. Photographs of the 1920s show the Holland furniture in the drawing room in situ”.

Oakley House about 1930 [Z1130/85]
Oakley House about 1930 [Z1130/85]

The Oakley Estate was sold at auction on 31st October 1918. The sale catalogue [AD1147/18] lists Oakley House and its ancillary buildings as Lot1. However, the lot was withdrawn from sale when the Duke decided to sell Oakley House privately to his cousin the 2nd Baron Ampthill.

The Attractive Residential Estate
surrounded by finely timbered Parklands, intersected by the Great River Ouse, and extending to about
258 acres 3 roods 20 poles
(258.877 Acres)

Oakley House is delightfully situated in the centre of the estate, within three miles of Bedford, and three-quarters of a mile from Oakley Station, on the main line of the Midland Railway. It is approached from the Village by a long winding drive, planted on both sides by avenues of beautiful timber and guarded by Entrance Lodges. The architecture is of the Early Georgian style, and the house is built of stone and brick, with slated and leaded mansard roof to the main building and surrounded on three sides by a Verandah and Terrace. It is entered on the east side through a VESTIBULE into a SPACIOUS HALL, with Principal Staircase, and provides the following accommodation:

DRAWING ROOM, 30 feet by 22 feet
DINING ROOM, 24 feet by 21 feet
LIBRARY 18 feet by 16 feet
communicates with Dining Room and opens on to the Terrace.

THE PRINCIPAL BEDROOMS on the First Floor are well lighted and comprise: -

THE GREEN ROOM, 18 feet by 16 feet
BEDROOM, 30 feet by 22 feet, with DRESSING ROOM adjoining
BEDROOM, 24 feet by 21 feet, with DRESSING ROOM.
WELL-FITTED BATH ROOM, with porcelain Bath and hot water Radiator and W. C.
ANOTHER BATH ROOM, with Dressing Room
In the upstair wing are Five GOOD BEDROOMS.

THE DOMESTIC OFFICES include: Housekeeper's Room, Servants' hall, Butler's Pantry, spacious Kitchen, Scullery, Larder, Game Larder, Dairy, Butler's Room, with Two Bedrooms, Man's Bedroom, Laundry, Cycle House, Boot Room, Coal Stores and outside W.C's. Near the House is a range of Fuel Storing Sheds.

The Beautiful Old World Grounds

are tastefully laid out in simple design, studded with magnificent Cedars, Oaks, Chestnuts, Copper Beeches and ornamental Timber. There are Tennis and Croquet Lawns, NewGarden, Formal and WildGarden, Rose Garden, and a JAPANESE DESIGN in the Orchard.


The Picturesque Walled-in Kitchen Garden

well stocked, with wall and other Fruit Trees. The Buildings comprise; - Two twelve-light Pits, 11 Bay lean-to Greenhouse, Timber and Slated gardener's Office, Stoke Hole, Potting Shed, two-bay Drying Shed and Store Room, Stone and slated Fruit Room, Potato and Coke Stores.

The Spacious Stabling

comprises Stable with Three Stalls and Two Loose Boxes, Saddle Room and Coach House, two Stables with Three Stalls and Three Loose Boxes and Four Stalls and Loose Box, men's Rooms over, and detached Four Loose Boxes.

COACHMAN'S COTTAGE with Six Rooms. Range of open and enclosed Sheds in yard and Three Loose Boxes in another Yard.

The Well-Timbered and Undulating Park
is screened by belts of finely grown Timber and the

Great River Ouse
runs through the centre of the Park and supplies capital
Coarse Fishing and BoatingThe Parklands also provide excellent Grazing.

The Entrance Lodge

Brick built and tiled, containing Four Rooms, COTTAGE adjoining with Three Rooms. Outbuildings - Barns, two Earth Closets and Washhouse in common [now Maze Cottage].

A Stone and Tiled Cottage
near the latter, containing six Rooms [now Reynes Cottage].

The Gardener's Lodge

Stone built and tiled, containing eight Rooms. Outbuildings - washhouse, bakehouse, Barn and two Earth Closets [now The Little House].

A Stone-built and Tiled Cottage

containing Five Rooms. Outbuildings - Stable, Chaff-house, Hovel and Earth Closet. Situated near the South-west corner of the Park and fronting the Road to Stevington

There are also Two Cottages and Gardens in No. 146 [now Yew Tree House]

The Manor or Reputed Manor of Oakley Reynes, with such Rights, Rents, Royalties and Privileges as belong to the Vendor, are included in the sale of this Lot. 

The Rating Valuation Act 1925 specified that every piece of land and building in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. Oakley, like most of the rest of the county, was assessed in 1927. The valuer visiting Oakley House [DV1/C115/21] described it as comprising: a passage hall [“very bad”]; an inner hall [“poor”]; a music room facing east [“small”]; a dining room facing south and measuring 19 feet 6 inches square with a bay measuring 11 feet by 3 feet; a drawing room facing south measuring 19 feet 6 inches by 28 feet; a morning room facing west measuring 18 feet by 13 feet with a garden door to the verandah; back stairs; a kitchen [“light, good stone floor”], scullery and larder with a game larder outside and, up twenty five steps a W. C. and a bathroom with a bedroom for two maids above. Heated cellars ran beneath the house. A group of rooms [“say heated and lighted”] comprised a furnace and store room; a box room; a ping-pong room; a record room; a gun room and a library. “Lord Ampthill’s Room” faced north on the ground floor and measured 25 feet by 14 feet 6 inches; a servants’ hall and a pantry faced east.

Up the main stairs one reached a half landing and two bedrooms facing north, also a bathroom [“good, modern”] and, down a long passageway. Two single maids’ bedrooms and a bedroom for two maids [“poor”]. Then came a further maid’s bedroom, the housemaid’s closet and a bathroom and W. C. [“old”] together with a separate W. C. “Now up the main landing” were a dressing room facing east, a bedroom over the dining room measuring 19 feet 6 inches by 18 feet; a south facing dressing room; a bedroom over the drawing room measuring 20 feet by 19 feet 6 inches; and a bedroom over the morning room measuring 18 feet by 13 feet. The second floor comprised a bedroom [“poor” due to the sloping roof], a sitting room facing east and south; two south facing bedrooms; a west facing bedroom and a bathroom and W. C.

Outside were the following buildings:

  • Stone and slate:  boot store with a box room over; a coal shed and a laundry with an ironing room over;
  • Stone and slate: a six bay open hovel and a coal shed;
  • A squash court with wooden sides and a glass roof;
  •  Brick walled kitchen garden with a greenhouse measuring 36 feet by 12 feet [“heated, very poor”];
  • Stone and slate: a W. C.; two store places and a fruit room;
  • Wood and slate: two open hovels; two store rooms; a stoke hole;
  • A Japanese hut;
  • A timber store; a three bay open shed; a circular saw bench and a 20 horsepower oil engine;
  • Wood and slate: a four bay wood store; a mixing room; a electric light plant room driven off the 20 horsepower engine and a battery room;
  • Stone and tile: a bailiff’s house with living room, kitchen and scullery and two bedrooms above, lighted by electricity and with an outside W. C. and a barn;
  • Brick and tile: a harness room; a loose box; a four stall stable; three loose boxes; a two stall stable; a loose box; two loose boxes; a three stall stable; a harness room and a coach house now used as a garage “could take five cars”.

The valuer was unimpressed, commenting: “Poor House. View over river not bad for Bedfordshire but bare and uninteresting. Nice approach to house but very poor front Door. Electric Lighting. Central Heating. I think leave alone”. 

Directories for Bedfordshire, which were not published annually but every few years, give the names of the occupiers of Oakley House from 1864 until 1936 and the following names are taken from these directories. The dates are the dates the name first and last appears not the dates of residence:

  • Francis Charles Hastings Russell MP: 1864-1871;
  • The Marquess of Tavistock: 1877-1890;
  • The Duke of Bedford: 1894;
  • Rowland Edmund Prothero: 1906-1914;
  • 2nd Baron Ampthill: 1920-1931;
  • Charles M. Wells 1936.

Oakley House was sold in 1935 on the death of the 2nd Baron Ampthill. Bombs fell near the house on 14th June 1941 [WW2/AR/CO/4/1]. In 1956 many of the furnishings were sold by auction [Z1091/4/2/2].

The house has been sold a number of times since its sale by Lord Ampthill’s executors, most recently in 2008 when the particulars [Z449/2/41] listed: a cellar containing the swimming pool filtration and heat pump; a wine cellar measuring 17 feet 8 inches by 20 feet 4 inches; a cupboard; a boiler room and four store rooms below the house. The ground floor comprised: a dining room measuring 24 feet 3 inches by 19 feet 6 inches; a drawing room measuring 28 feet 3 inches by 19 feet 6 inches; a morning room measuring 17 feet 8 inches by 12 feet 4 inches; a library measuring 17 feet 11 inches by 13 feet 2 inches; a boot/utility room measuring 10 feet 5 inches by 15 feet 4 inches; a study/play room measuring 12 feet 7 inches by 14 feet 5 inches; a reception hall measuring 12 feet 1 inches by 38 feet 8 inches; an entertaining room measuring 38 feet by 16 feet 2 inches with a minstrel's gallery; a vestibule measuring 18 feet 8 inches by 11 feet 3 inches and a kitchen/breakfast room measuring 16 feet 3 inches by 21 feet 10 inches. The first floor contained five bedrooms (two of them en-suite), a bathroom, a dressing room and a landing cupboard. The second floor comprised  four bedrooms, a gallery/landing, two bathrooms, a cupboard, and a dark room measuring 12 feet 4 inches by 7 feet 5 inches.

The grounds extended to nearly fifteen acres and included river frontage and woodland. There was also am adjoining cottage with a ground floor containing a kitchen/breakfast room measuring 9 feet 10 inches by 16 feet 1 inches, a dining room measuring 8 feet 5 inches by 10 feet 4 inches, an entrance hall, a cloakroom, a utility room, a study area measuring 8 feet 6 inches by 5 feet, a sitting room measuring 14 feet 10 inches by 11 feet 11 inches and two bedrooms and a bathroom on the first floor.

Oakley House 1969 [Z50/85/1]
Oakley House 1969 [Z50/85/1]