Houghton House is a ruined house located near Houghton Conquest in Bedfordshire, on the ridge just north of Ampthill, and about 8 miles south of Bedford. It is a Grade I listed building.
Being set above the surrounding countryside, it commands excellent views, and can be visited during daylight hours. It is an English Heritage property which is free to visit.
The house was built in approximately 1615 for the writer, translator, and literary patron Mary Sidney Herbert, Dowager Countess of Pembroke (born 27 October 1561) but she died of smallpox on 25 September 1621, not long after its completion. A Jacobean style frieze on the western side of the house incorporated devices from Mary's ancestral Sidney and Dudley families.
After the Countess' death, the house passed to Thomas Bruce, 1st Earl of Elgin in 1624. The Bruce family owned the house until the 2nd Earl of Ailesbury, a strong supporter of the Stuarts, retired to exile overseas in 1696 on account of his loyalty to King James II of England.
Thomas Bruce, 2nd Earl of Ailesbury never returned to Houghton and so sold the house to John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford in 1738, whose principal seat was Woburn Abbey, less than seven miles from Houghton. The 4th Duke was predeceased by his sons (the 4th Duke's son and heir, Francis Russell, Marquess of Tavistock died when he fell from a horse whilst hunting) and therefore the house and the dukedom passed to his grandson, Francis Russell.
In 1794, Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford stripped Houghton House of its furnishings and removed the roof. This may have been due, in part, to his father's horseriding tragedy. The Duke never married nor had he produced a legitimate heir. He died in 1802 by which time the house, now open to the elements, was already in decay.
Conservation work was undertaken in 2006 to help maintain safety and improve the understanding of the site. New visitor information boards were installed as a result. Sadly, in 2007, a number of these have been vandalised, leaving empty boards behind.
It is said that the house was the model for House Beautiful in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. Its staircase survives in The Swan Hotel in Bedford.
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