For over 600 years, Wrest Park was the aristocratic seat of the de Grey family. The estate is home to the stately mansion house and the elegant landscaped gardens, both of which are Grade I listed. The family was brought to prominence when Edward IV made Edmund Grey his Lord Treasurer in 1463, but they continued to be influential for centuries to come.
Three houses have existed on this site, which has been owned by the de Greys from as early as 1280. The second of these, a Jacobean mansion house of medieval origin, was the seat of the family for many centuries, enhanced over the years by the development of fashionable gardens. In 1833, Thomas Robinson, 2nd Earl de Grey, inherited these outstanding gardens but was unimpressed by what had become a large, crumbling house. Earl de Grey was an accomplished amateur architect and, rather than spend money updating the Jacobean mansion, he demolished it and built a new house. He chose an eighteenth-century French style of architecture both inside and outside the house, leaving behind the stylish chateau mansion that survives to this day.
The interiors are intricately carved and gilded, the rooms lined with distinguished floor-to-ceiling windows, and the walls adorned with brightly-coloured and richly-patterned wallpapers. The blue drawing room hosts a painted ceiling that is simply stunning and many other surviving features in the grand style of Louis XV.
In the early eighteenth-century, Nicholas Hawksmoor, Thomas Archer, Batty Langley, and William Kent were all employed to create a landscape of woodland avenues ornamented with statues. These formal gardens were bordered on three sides by man-made canals and Thomas Archer designed a focal pavilion to dominate the far end of the garden, baroque in style and decorated with paintings by Louis Hauduroy.
Marchioness Jemima Grey inherited the estate and showed keen interest in the gardens. In 1758 she brought in Capability Brown to remodel the park. Today, his work is commemorated by a column in the gardens, built for Jemima along with a Chinese temple and bridge, a Mithraic altar, and a bath house.
Once home to some of the largest orange trees in England, this grand pavilion, The Orangery, is now one of the few places where you can see features of the earlier, demolished house. A Jacobean fireplace, made with carved and inscribed stonework and featuring a coat of arms, is set into the wall of the pavilion.
With three centuries of history behind it, Wrest Park is a beautiful place to explore the evolution of the English garden. Colourful parterres, fragrant borders, woodland walks, and blossom trees in full bloom are just a few of the sights that make it worth a leisurely stroll. Couple the opulent mansion house and its sumptuous interiors with the intriguing history of the de Grey family and Wrest Park proves a real gem to visit.