"THIS IS ASHRIDGE"

by

CAPTAIN HENRY GORDON

Foreword (by Lieut. Col. Alfred Burne); This is Ashridge - Introduction; The Monastery; The Royal Residence; The Manor House and The Mansion; The College; The Hospital; The College after the War

THE COLLEGE

 

 

The Ashridge property was managed by Trustees of the late Earl until it was acquired by speculators who bought the entire estate with a view to developing it. This placed the future of the historic property in jeopardy, and the extinction of the great house seemed certain, but events frequently follow unpredictable courses. The National Trust, backed by strong public opinion and many friends, came forward and acquired a large proportion of the estate, with its incomparable woodlands, heath and downland. In this way 3489 acres, including Ivinghoe Beacon (700 feet) and Clipper Down (811 feet) only thirty miles from London, are available to the public to enjoy their leisure. Here they can roam at will amid the enchanting and varied scenerey of hill and common, woodland and park, the only restrictions being those necessary to preserve the beauty of the estate and to prevent damage from fire, or the unsightliness of litter.

Meanwhile other plans were afoot. In 1928 the late Mr Urban Broughton purchased the house, the gardens and a protective fringe of park around them. He was already known as one who had for years quietly given his counsel and support to many schemes for the preservation of the beautiful and the historic. He established the Bonar Law Memorial Trust and handed the property over to it for administration, laying down the following three simple objects in the Trust Deed:

(a) To honour the memory of a great Statesman (Andrew Bonar Law).

(b) To preserve a great and beautiful historical building from destruction.

(c) To cause the Mansion House and Gardens and Park to be used for the purposes of an Educational Centre or College for educating persons in Economics, in Political and Social Science, in Political History, with special reference to the development of the British Constitutuion and the growth and expansion of the British Empire, and in such other subjects as the Governing Body may from time to time deem desirable.

Andrew Bonar Law was his friend for whom he had an intense admiration.

This immense gift included the modernisation, equipping and furnishing of the whole building which, when purchased, was lighted by oil lamps, was without central heating, and with one bathroom each end.

While the work was in progress Mr Broughton died, and his ashes were laid in a most fitting resting place beneath the altar in the College Chapel. Ten years later he was joined by his wife. Her memorial tablet under the West window in the Ante-Chapel reads:

In honour of Christ crucified and in dear memory of

CARA LELAND Baroness Fairhaven

widow of URBAN HANLON BROUGHTON

whose ashes lie beneath the altar

so dust to dust

but in the hope of a joyful resurrection

Husband and wife sleep the great sleep together

To the most devoted Mother

from her unforgetting Sons

December 1939

Lady Fairhaven was also a great benefactress to the College.

At a great gathering on the lawns in the summer of 1929 Lord Fairhaven, the son of the Founder, handed the deeds to Lord Baldwin, who accepted them on behalf of the Bonar Law Memorial Trust. The College opened in August, 1929, with a series of weekend, weekly and fortnightly Courses for adults on a wide variety of topics, and these continued with short breaks until August, 1939, when 26,374 students had passed through.

The first Principal was Major-General Sir Reginald Hoskins, a man of great understanding and charm, who applied a precise mind coupled with a sense of humour to the many problems which beset the College in its early days. General Hoskins retired owing to ill-health at the end of 1937, and died in 1940. He was buried at Little Gaddesden where lie the Bridgewaters of former days, but his simple grave is in the Churchyard beside that of William Newman, the foreman gardener. These two men each made their contribution in their own way, and bestowed their gift to the future of Ashridge. A portrait of Hoskins by Oswald Birley hangs in the Green Lounge. This was the result of subscriptions from hundreds of students. Oliver Cromwell might well have devised his epitaph when he wrote "Truly he was exceedingly beloved by all who knew him."

He was succeeded by Mr Eric Patterson, who remained until the outbreak of war, when he threw himself into the struggle, the possibility of which he had so often lectured on at Ashridge. Mr Patterson knew Europe intimately, and rendered invaluable service to the College during this anxious period when the emphasis was on international affairs.

Urban Broughton's vision launched the great experiment, but although he conceived this child of destiny it was Lord Davidson who was midwife at the birth and nurse in its early years; he tended the infant with care and skill, and it is largely due to his energy and foresight that the College occupies its position in the adult education world today. He succeeded to the Chairmanship of the Trust when Lord Baldwin retired in January, 1947.

The purpose of the College was defined in its early days as offering to adult British citizens of both sexes and all classes education in democratic citizenship on traditional and constitutional lines, having full regard to the changing conditions of the times. The fulfilment of this purpose was entrusted to Arthur Bryant who, in his capacity of Educational Adviser, carried the burden of the early years. Untiring and unruffled he pursued his task when lesser men would have tired. Recognition came when he was elected a member of the Governing Body in 1936, and Chairman of the Educational Council in 1946.

At this stage it might be of interest to examine some of the more important rooms and features of Ashridge:

MAIN HALL: This is under the Central Tower and is just short of 100 feet high. The manin form of decoration consists of statues executed by Westmacott in Malta Stone. The central figure is of Edward VI, and on the supporting corbel can be seen the initials of the Earl and Countess of Bridgewater, J.W.E. and C.C.A.E.; on the sides are the initials of the sculptor and architect with their professional symbols. In the roof is the wind vane which operates both inside and outside. Above the fireplace is Landseer's portrait of Queen Victoria riding a pony called Comus - a pleasing coincidence when one remembers that "Comus" was written by Milton for the Earl of Bridgewater in 1634. This picture, like the majority at Ashridge, has been lent by Lord Fairhaven, the son of the Founder, and Chairman of the House Committee.

The statues in the main hall are of: Richard, Earl of Cornwall, Father of the Founder; Edmund, Earl of Cornwall, Founder of the Monastery; Richard of Watford, First Rector; Thomas de Cantelupe, Bishop of Hereford; St Benedict, Tutelar Saint of the Monastery; An Ashridge Monk; The Black Prince; Senchia, Mother of the Founder; Edward VI.

THE LOWER OR ENTRANCE HALL: On the right when entering through the glass doors is a brass tablet which records that the foundation stone of the building was laid by the Countess of Bridgewater on October 25th, 1808. The Arms of Lord Ellesmere and his Bridgewater descendants can be seen on the roof corbels, and a line of armorial bearings is worked round three sides of the Hall - the centre is that of henry VII. On the chimney piece is a bust of Andrew Bonar Law by the late J.E. Hyett. The two large pictures of Orpheus charming the animals are by Melchior de Hondecoeter (1636-1695). They were originally one vast canvas which has been halved at some time in the past. A good view of the Minstrel's Gallery is obtained from the entrance door.

THE LECTURE ROOM: This was the Brownlow drawing room, and the centre ceiling picture, framed in gilt plaster is a copy og Guido Reni's famous "Aurora" in the Palazzo Rospigliosi, Rome. It depicts Aurora, the Goddess of Dawn, strewing flowers before the chariot of Apollo, the Sun God. The small lunettes at the ends of the picture represent the winds of day and night. All this is practically a copy of the ceiling in Rome. The border is based on a ceiling at Wilton House near Salisbury, and a copy of this was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1892. The various trophies round the border portray Art, Agriculture, Trade or Commerce, Hunting or the Chase, Science and War. The angle cartouches contain the monogram of Lord Brownlow. The paintings were made by Mr T. Strethill-Smith assisted by the late Mr George Clausen.

The walls were originally hung with green silk brocade. The design of the white marble chimney pieces was based on those by Scamozzi, 1580, in the Doge's Palace, Venice. They were modelled and carved by Mark Rogers, Junior, who employed some of the workmen as models.

During 1939 and early 1940 this room was used as a woman's ward in the emergency hospital.

THE GREEN LOUNGE: Formerly the billiard room, the Green Lounge leads from the Main Hall to the Principal's Wing. The most noteworthy feature of this room is the beautiful Italian fireplace. On the East wall is the painting of General Hoskins by Oswald Birley. An ornate gilt cassone with a curious mediaeval painting as front panel is on view. This cassone was presented by Lord Fairhaven to commemorate the re-opening of the College after the war.

THE BROWN LOUNGE: Formerly the dining room, leads from the Ante-room to the Dining Hall. The beautiful panelling of Austrian oak, and the heavilty decorated plaster ceiling representing all the fruits of the earth, were badly damaged by water during a fire which occurred in 1946. The restoration took nearly two years. The heavily carved doors bear the two "A"s of Adelaide and Adelbert, the last Brownlow owners. The picture of Windsor, circa 1680, over the fireplace is by Jan Wyck.

THE COLLEGE DINING ROOM: Formerly a conservatory, which was converted in 1929 by Clough Williams-Ellis by taking out the side glass and filling in the space, and replacing the glass roof by bedrooms. The coloured screen and doors at the end lead to the Chapel.

THE LIBRARY: The wall cases of ebony and brass harmonise with the gilt wallpaper mellowed with age. Above the black marbled mantlepiece inlaid with brass is a portrait of Field-Marshal Lord Ligonier by D. Morier (1705-1770). On the wall is a framed document, bearing the original signature of Queen Elizabeth. During the war books were stored and no purchases made. The gap has been most difficult to fill, but since re-opening, the library has been reorganised to meet present-day requirements, and 2,200 books purchased. At the present time it holds nearly 6000 books.

ANTE-ROOM: Stands between the Lecture Room and Brown Lounge and contains a very fine memorial fireplace and portrait of the founder by Oswald Birley. This picture of Urban Broughton is surrounded by some attractive modern carving in lime, and the beautiful frame is of the same wood.

The CHAPEL: Built in 1814 and considered James Wyatt's masterpiece. The exquisite coloured glass was removed by the group who purchased from Lord Brownlow and sold for £27000. It was bought anonymously and presented to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The restful and much admired green cathedral glass was the gift of Lady Fairhaven. Mr H. Mordaunt Roger in "The Making of a Connoisseur" tells us that "the stained glass was probably brought from Germany between 1811 and 1831 and placed in the Chapel." Dr M.A. James has stated that "all the glass appears to be XVIth Century" and that it "probably came from one church, th Abbatical Church of Stenfeld." The organ was built in 1818 and is still in good order. The Chapel clock is marked Thwaites, London, 1804, and the bells are marked 1805. As stated elsewhere the ashes of the Founder and his wife lie beneath the somewhat unusual altar, and the Ante-Chapel holds their memorial tablets.

CRYPT: This is the only part of the original monastery surviving inside the present building. Built in 1285 of Totternhoe stone it is still in a wonderful state of preservation. This is interesting when one considers that in the later 1814 building the same stone was used, and it has now deteriorated sadly under the wind and weather. The crypt was used as a wine cellar prior to occupation by the College.

THE WELL: Situated under the Chapel is the monastic well, disused for many years. This is 280 feet deep and the digging must have been a tremendous task with the primitive tools available at the time. There is a record that the well was operated by dogs in 1604. The existing plant was worked by donkeys.

THE ICE HOUSE: Away in the park, and locked to all visitors for safety, is the ice house. It consists of a cavern dug in the bank with three doors to insulate against heat. At the extreme end is a pit about thirty feet deep, and in this, between layers of straw, ice cut during the winter was laid and kept until required in the summer. The ice house remains as a reminder of the improvisations of other days.

THE GARDEN: It is only possible to give a passing reference to the gardens. Repton was concerned with the original design, but his plan was altered in some respects by Lord and Lady Brownlow, and beyond doubt many have contributed their ideas in framing the lawns and trees, avenues and vistas, rose gardens and rhododendrons into one exquisite picture. Here are trees in profusion - the oak on the lawn in frint of the terrace, planted by Queen Victoria in 1823, mounts guard over the yews of the monastic period; the lime avenue which marked the eastern boundary; the liquidambar avenue which has replaced the elms which marked the western line; the ginko by the rose garden, a remnant of the ice age, and finally the tree circle of incense cedars, reached by a path on the right at the top of the rhododendron walk. If you stand quietly by the stone Bible in this circle and are fortunate enough to see the moon break across the crest of the trees, you will behold the fairies dancing at your feet. *(local legend)

 

 

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