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King Edward VII at Wrest Park

The south front in 1917 [AD3237]
The South Front in 1917 [AD3237]

King Edward VII (1901-1910) visited Wrest Park in 1909 as the guest of its tenant, US Ambassador Whitelaw Reid. The Bedfordshire Times of 30th July 1909 reported it thus.

The long-looked for visit of His Majesty King Edward VII to the county of Bedford has been at last fulfilled, and our popular monarch must have been highly gratified with the hearty reception he met with from his loyal subjects. This is the first occasion of a sovereign’s visit to Wrest Park. In the days of the only Duke of Kent who owned the estate, Queen Anne hoped to favour her Minister of State, but Silsonians were disappointed. In the middle of the last century Queen Victoria and Prince Consort were expected, and great preparations were made, but to no purpose. The present occupiers of Wrest, the American Ambassador and Mrs. Whitelaw Reid have been constantly in touch with the King, Queen and other members of the Royal Family, and it was no surprise when a month ago it was announced that His Majesty had arranged to spend a week-end at Wrest Park. The rooms allotted to His Majesty for his private use were those over the library, facing south, so that the King had a fine view of the well-kept pleasure grounds with a glimpse of the Barton hills in the distance. The suite of three bedrooms was entirely re-decorated. The paper was white, the upholstery of a pale blue colour, and the carpet grey and woven throughout. A flag-staff was erected on the roof of the house so that the Royal Standard could be hoisted immediately His Majesty arrived.

Whitelaw Reid
Whitelaw Reid

Lord Lucas inherited Wrest Park on the death of his maternal uncle, Earl Cowper, K. G., in 1905. The first Lord Lucas was Baron Shenfield of Colchester, who was in personal attendance upon Charles I. Anthony, 10th Earl of Kent, son of Henry – a Parliamentarian opposed to the execution of the King – and the “Good” Countess who enriched Wrest during her widowhood, married the only child of Lord Lucas, and as he had no son, Charles II, in 1663, created the daughter Baroness Lucas of Crudwell in Wilts. The De Greys of Wrest are an ancient family that came to England at the Conquest. The last Earl of Kent lived at Wrest, and was created Duke – the only Duke of Kent connected with the family – by Queen Anne. Much at Wrest reminds one of that monarch, but it is doubtful if she ever visited the Park. The present mansion was built by Earl de Grey in 1839. He was his own architect and most of the work was done by estate employees. The grand staircase, the beautifully painted ceilings and the exquisite furniture show that not only money but time and taste had been expended to make Wrest one of the most beautiful homes in England. In the library are the portraits of the owners of Wrest, the intrinsic value of the collection depending upon the unbroken succession as a whole. The view from the terrace on the south front is a very fine one. It is Versailles in miniature. There is a good deal of statuary about the picturesque grounds, the avenue was planted to commemorate the landing of William of Orange, and some of the trees in the Wilderness are the finest in the country. A carefully clipped yew hedge, partially enclosing the Roman Bath grounds, has existed at least 300 years. The north front of the house has been greatly improved by the present tenant, the American Ambassador.

It was royal weather and a great day at Silsoe on Saturday, the day of the King’s arrival to spend Sunday with the American Ambassador and Mrs. Whitelaw Reid at Wrest Park. From almost every window fluttered flags, from the church tower, to the lamp-posts in the street everything that could carry a Union Jack sported one, and even the trees and the gardens blossomed afresh with the national colours. In the brilliant sun and the stirring breeze it was an exhilarating scene. In the broad dustless road and the avenue of approach to the village entrance of Wrest Park there was plenty of room for everybody, and thanks to an excellent organization, in which Mr. C. G. Argles was the moving spirit, there was an absence of confusion and affair opportunity for all to see the arrival of His Majesty. There was a large confluence of the populace from all the country-side, a constant running to and fro of motor-cars and every kind of vehicle. Hundreds of bicycles were propped against the garden walls and a brick business was done in storing machines and catering in teas at the cottages. Farm-carts packed with excited children wearing sashes or rosettes and streamers of red, white and blue, and many of them wearing little Union Jacks, came rumbling into the village, and one party arrived in a motor wagon of the Army Service Corps. The iron gates at the Park entrance were gaily decorated. To the right and left lines of flags hung between Venetian masts bearing banners, and as a central trophy appeared a crown and shield between draped flags, and other shields showing the harp of Ireland, the cross of St. George, and various national emblems. On the two gates hung large wreaths and the iron rails were covered with foliage and gorgeous flowers. Wells and Company of Bedford carried out the scheme of decoration. At the village end of the approach avenue a barrier formed of leafage was erected, with lines of pennants stretched between some half dozen poles. The word “Welcome” in large coloured letters was conspicuous over the entrance, and the banners bearing royal emblems were freely displayed. The general public had all Silsoe to move about in, and were free to look at the King at any point of his journey between Buckingham Palace and Wrest Park gates. Into the Park the public were not admitted, and the approach avenue was reserved for the tenantry, villagers and school children of Silsoe, Clophill, Flitton, Greenfield, Pulloxhill and Gravenhurst, the parishes on the Wrest Estate. Each village had its own space allocated to it, and plainly labelled with its name. Families were admitted by ticket, and the size of some of the families was wonderful to behold. It does not follow that there is any overcrowding in dwellings on the Wrest Estate, and the supposition is that a family in this locality includes all the sisters and the cousins and the aunts and the stranger entertained within the gates. However that may be, there was plenty of room, and Mr. Argles insisted that the children should be placed well to the front of the two lines of spectators. Opposite his house a large stand was built and decorated for the accommodation of the aged and infirm from the several villages, and it was fully occupied. Another stand, draped in tri-colour festoons, and freely decked with banners was put up in Mr. Argles’ grounds for his guests, who were being entertained, we understood, at a birthday celebration. The policing arrangements were under the direction of Colonel Josselyn, Chief Constable, who, wearing a handsome uniform, moved from point to point in a motor-car. Superintendent Nicholson was also present, and assistance in regulating the admissions was courteously rendered by Mr. J. C. Denley. There was a numerous body of the King’s Police in the neighbourhood. The oldest tenant, Mr. Edward Crouch, of Cainhoe, was present and, we should hope, presented. From Silsoe there were some 150 schoolchildren, from Clophill 20, Gravenhurst 60, Greenfield 80 and Pulloxhill 90. Some of the people would have had it that these children expected to see the King in his crown and wielding a sceptre, but their preceptors strenuously denied that they had led them to believe anything of the sort. His Majesty certainly brought the crown of his royal head, and there was a crown to the hat which he lifted so graciously in response to the greetings of his subjects – but we are anticipating. It had previously been thought that the King would arrive about four o’clock, but, as the event turned out, his journey began at that hour and his arrival was expected at half-past five. There was consequently a long period of waiting during which the young people amused themselves by shouting “Here he is” and cheering the driver of every van and cart that passed. After one or two false alarms a distant murmur, quickly growing into a loud volume of cheering as it rolled along the street heralded in unmistakable fashion the arrival of His Majesty, and soon the royal car was slowly moving along the avenue. We had been told that the car could be readily identified because it bore no number, but as there was no other car in sight, it could not very well be mistaken. The hood was up, and as attention was naturally first drawn to the two chauffeurs, it needed some alertness to catch a glimpse of the King, who sat in the shade at the back, but it could be seen by those quick of eyesight that His Majesty was raising his hat, bowing right and left, and smiling kindly upon the cheering multitude, the men waving their hats and the ladies their handkerchiefs. The King was wearing a grey lounge suit. The car passed through the gates into the Park, and soon afterwards the Royal Standard floating from the mast on the mansion announced that His Majesty was under the roof.

The policemen on duty at the visit of King Edward VII [Z50-142-335]
The policemen on duty at the visit of King Edward VII [Z50/142/335] - to see a larger version please click on the image: the names are as follows (left to right): back row: P. C. Crowsley; P. C. Racher; P. C. Newitt; P. C. Papworth; P. C. Baldwin; P. C. Pegg; second row: P. C. Golder; P. C. Lines; P. C. Bradshaw; P. C. Gibson; P. C. Goodwin; P. C. Steers; P. C. Hewitt; P. C. Curtis; P. C. Stock; P. C. Teale; P. C. Darts; second row: P. S. Dennis; Superintendent Nicholson; P. C. Arnold; front row: P. C. Sharp; P. C. Javens.

Among those invited to Wrest Park to meet the King were the Austrian Ambassador, the Spanish Ambassador, Madame Villa Urrutia, the Portuguese Minister, Georgiana, Countess of Dudley, the Earl and Countess of Gosford, Mr. John L. Cadwallader, of New York, Lord Saint John (Lord Lieutenant of the County), Lord and Lady Ampthill, Lord Midleton (Saint John Broderick) and Lady Midleton, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur James, the Honourable and Mrs. John Ward, Mr. D. O. Mills and Mr. J. Ridgely Carter and his daughter. The King was attended by Colonel Henry Streatfeild.

Among the local gentry in the enclosure on Saturday were the Misses Delmé-Radcliffe, the Rev. J. and Mrs. Pycock, Captain and Mrs. Saint Quintin, the Rev. G. and Miss Osborn, Captain Hunter, R. N., the Rev. T. F. F. and Mrs. Williams, Mrs. Argles and family, the Rev. A. E. Houfe, the Rev. T. Collison, the Rev. A. M. Dale and the Hon. Mrs. Dale, Dr. L. Garner and Mrs. Garner, Mr. and Miss B. Brown, the Misses Goodall, Mrs. Meyer, Mr. and Mrs. C. Beechener and family, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, Miss Titmus, Mr. F. T. Browning and Mrs. Browning, Mr. and the Misses Paterson, Mr. and Miss E. Bosworth, Mr. and Mrs. J. D. Browning and family and Miss Robinson.


There was an irrepressible punster who said the King came to Wrest but was not allowed to rest. Some of the members of the Bedford Corporation conceived the idea of presenting a loyal and dutiful address and a committee was appointed to take the matter in hand. The Chairman, Mr. T. Lee Roberts and the Town Clerk, interviewed Lord Knollys and the result was an intimation that His Majesty would be graciously pleased to receive a deputation and accept the address from the Mayor, Corporation and Burgesses of Bedford. At first a deputation of three was suggested, but ultimately it was increased to twelve, and at a meeting of the Town Council in committee on Wednesday the final arrangements were made. The Mayor was too unwell to make the journey, and the following twelve were selected, they being the Committee that had the matter in hand: The Deputy Mayor (Alderman S. L. Kilpin), Aldermen G. Haynes, H. Burridge, R. P. Jarvis, Councillors T. Lee Roberts, W. Newman, H. W. Longhurst, G. G. Potter, H. C. Dunham, F. Wood, J. W. Carter and S. Freshwater, with the Town Clerk, Mr. Hedley Baxter. The party journeyed to Silsoe in four motor-cars, and arrived about six o’clock. After robbing at the GeorgeHotel, the thirteen above-mentioned accompanied by the Mayor’s Sergeant (Mr. John Dixon) as mace bearer, proceeded to Wrest park House, arriving a few minutes after the King’s arrival. They were received in the hall by Colonel Streatfeild and after there had been a little conversation, His Majesty entered, and the deputation made a profound obeisance. The Deputy Mayor then presented the following address, which was engrossed and illuminated on a roll of vellum enclosed in a leather case.




May it please Your Majesty:

We, the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Borough of Bedford have the honour and privilege of presenting to your Majesty on this your visit to the neighbourhood of our ancient town our dutiful and loyal address.

We remember with pride and gratitude that nearly eight centuries ago municipal privilege were conferred upon our town by King Henry, the first of the line of great English sovereigns, and that by successive Charters extending from the reign of Henry  II to that of Charles II the liberties and privileges so granted have been extended and confirmed.

We venture respectfully to felicitate your Majesty upon the great and beneficent work in the cause of international peace which your Majesty has been able to accomplish not only during the years of your Majesty’s auspicious reign but also for many years previously when your illustrious and revered Mother was the Monarch of this Realm.

Representing as we do a centre of educational interest and progress (endowed by the munificence of Sir William Harpur) and spreading its influence throughout the length and breadth of your Majesty’s dominions we recall with respectful admiration the support and encouragement which your Majesty has always given to the cause of the Higher Education of the youth of this Country as well as to all other matters tending to the educational and social improvement of the conditions of life of the great body of your Majesty’s subjects.

We sincerely trust that your Majesty may be long spared to continue and develop the beneficial influences of your illustrious reign.

Given under the Corporate Seal of the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Borough of Bedford this 24th day of July, 1909.

Bedford Corporation visit to King Edward VII at Wrest [Z50-142-99]
Bedford Corporation visit to King Edward VII at Wrest [Z50/142/99] - to see a larger version please click on the image. Those shown are, left to right: beck row: S. Freshwater; F. Wood; J. W. Carter; J. Dixon; H. W. Longhurst; H. C. Dunham; W. Newman; front row: R. P. Jarvis; G. Haynes; T. Lee Roberts; S. L. Kilpin; Hedley Baxter; H. Burridge.

His Majesty, who was looking extremely well, spoke very affably to the visitors, remarking that he was very glad to see them, and it was very kind of them to come so far to see him. He thanked them for the address and added, “This is my reply, which I have brought with me” at the same time handing to the Deputy Mayor a roll of gilt-edged paper.

The American Ambassador presented the members of the deputation to the King, and five of them individually, viz. the Deputy Mayor (Alderman S. L. Kilpin), Alderman Haynes, Alderman Burridge, Mr. Councillor T. Lee Roberts and the Town Clerk, and His Majesty shook hands with each of them. The deputation bowed as the King withdrew, and were then shown into an apartment where they were handsomely entertained by the Right Honourable Whitelaw Reid, to tea and refreshments. After this the deputation motored back to the GeorgeHotel, and assembled in their robbing room, extremely gratified with their reception.

The Town Clerk then read the following reply of the King to the address: -

I thank you for your loyal and dutiful address. I am glad to have this opportunity of receiving you, the Mayor, Aldermen, and Burgesses of Bedford, and to assure you that I feel no less interest in your ancient borough than my predecessors from whom it has in earliest centuries received so many marks of royal favour. I congratulate you upon the signal instance of munificence to which you owe your famous Schools, and upon their present prosperity. I recognise how much those who have been trained in them have contributed both to the administration and defence of my Empire. I am glad that while your town retains its institutions and traditions it has inherited from the past, it has within recent years exhibited a rapidly increasing prosperity, and that advancing population contributes by its manufactures to the progress of agricultural industry and to the defence of our country.

I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may still rest upon you (loud applause).

Glasses were charged, and the Deputy Mayor, in asking all present to drink to the health of His Majesty, said they had had one of the brightest days in the history of the Bedford Corporation. He could only say that the pleasure which they had that day experienced would add increased zest to the toast of “The King” at their meetings. In future they would drink the King’s health most heartily. Long live the King!

The toast was received with much enthusiasm and the company sang a verse of the National Anthem, soon afterwards starting on their homeward journey, so that nobody was knighted or benighted.

Plaque in the west tower of Silsoe church
Plaque in the west tower of Silsoe church


The King dined in the large salon and Cassano’s orchestra supplied the music on Saturday evening. On Sunday morning the village was astir betimes. The weather was favourable, and long before 10 o’clock numbers crowded round the barrier to wait for the King as he went to church. The seats in the interior had been reserved by the churchwardens (Messrs. C. G. Argles and J. Harris) for the usual congregation and parishioners, who were admitted by ticket at 10.20. Twenty minutes later very few seats were empty, and these were given to first comers. During the time of waiting Mr. C. G. Apthorpe played a number of voluntaries on the organ. At 11 o’clock cheering outside indicated that His Majesty had arrived. The congregation rose as he entered with the host and hostess, and went into the chancel. The service was choral, and the singing of the congregation was hearty. Mr. Argles, as usual, read the lessons. The Vicar (the Rev. T. F. F. Williams) took the first part of the service, the Rev. J. H. E. Bailey, locum tenens, reading the State prayers. The Vicar preached a brief sermon, and towards the close appealed for help towards a new Church clock. The offertory amounted to £14 9s. 3d. After the blessing the organist (Mr. William Treacher) played a chord and the first verse of the National Anthem was heartily sung by the congregation, those outside taking up the strain. Mr. T. Fraser, 85 and 87 Harpur Street, Bedford, had had the honour of tuning the organ in the church and the piano at the Park.

Silsoe Church - the chancel looking east March 2011
Silsoe Church - the chancel looking east March 2011

During the service the Boy Scouts of the Bedford, Luton and Harpenden Districts had been forming up in the enclosure, under Scoutmaster E. W. Ebbutt, of the 1st Beds Troop and the Secretary of the District, other officers being Scoutmasters L. H. Langdon, E. Saunders, of Sandy, W. H. Jackman, A. E. Ewington and S. E. Neal, of Luton and H. Holland, of Harpenden. Miss L. Apthorp, of Bedford, was in command of some girl scouts. There were about 270 scouts in all, including 40 cyclists, and they made a very pretty show when placed in double lines on the left of the road when the King came out to inspect them. He was evidently pleased with their soldierly bearing. They were afterwards entertained by the kindness of Lord Lucas. While awaiting His Majesty’s reappearance the crush at the barrier was very great, and it was feared that the crowd would “rush” the police in their anxiety to see all. Every wall and garden within sight was utilised. A smart shower soon after noon dispersed the sightseers. By three o’clock, however, the sun had again asserted itself, and a rumour gained currency that His Majesty would go for a motor ride. At 3.55 p.m. three cars swept into the village of Flitton, Captain Walsh and Mr. Ogden Read being in the first. The ancient mother church of Silsoe was inspected by the King, the Ambassador being the guide. The Vicar (the Rev. J. Draper) was away on holiday, and his deputy was conducting a service at the Ampthill Union house. The churchwardens (Messrs. A. Elmore and J. Chapman) were in attendance with the sexton and his wife. His Majesty was much interested in the fabric and closely scanned the perfect brasses to be found on the floor and walls. He noticed the organ erected in memory of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, and went into the fine mausoleum attached to the chancel, which contains so many handsome monuments and tablets to bygone worthies of the De Grey family. He saw the dilapidated state of the roof, for the repair of which the Vicar has been appealing for funds. Before leaving he signed the visitors’ roll in the vestry, and many in the future on the look-out for illustrious names will find “Edward R. and I.” among the signatures. About a hundred villagers and a few strangers were enabled to have an undisturbed look at their popular monarch, who was quite at ease among his faithful subjects. Returning to Wrest he met several of the local gentry at tea, and with all he shook hands and chatted freely. Part of the evening was spent in the pleasure grounds, and by his conversation His Majesty showed that he took an interest in the cultivation of trees. It was reported that His Majesty would leave Wrest at 10.30 on Monday for London and Goodwood, but later came word that a start would be made at 9 o’clock. At this hour the schoolchildren were in line and a few minutes after His Majesty’s car appeared, and all present were able to wish him God-speed. A favourite rough fox terrier was in the royal car. The other guests left during the morning, and later on Mr. and Mrs. Whitelaw Reid departed for Dorchester House.