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Historic Towns & Picturesque Villages

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in the county of West Yorkshire

Pictures of Ampthill

About Ampthill

The lovely town of Ampthill lies sheltered by hills in the sandstone belt of Bedfordshire. It is an historic place with roots stretching back into the mists of time. The name is of Anglo-Saxon origin, it translates 'ant heap' or ant hill. However, neither translation seems appropriate for such a picturesque, historic place.

A market charter was granted to the town by King Henry III in the 13th-century, and today the market held in Ampthill every Thursday, is a ively, colourful event attracting folk from miles around.

The town is famous for its connections with Royalty which began after the Battle of Agincourt in the 15th-century when Sir John Cornwall built a castle fit for his bride who was the sister of Henry IV. Later the castle was to become the home of tragic Katherine of Aragon, first of Henry VIII's six queens, and the woman he divorced for Anne Boleyn. It was whilst being kept prisoner at Ampthill Castle that Katherine heard the news of the divorce, she was later moved to Kimbolton. The castle fell into ruin during
the 17th-century, Charles II gave the surrounding land to the powerful Ashburnham family, who built the present house in 1694. The site of the castle is marked by a stately memorial cross, which bears Horace Walpole's dedication "to the mournful refuge of an injured Queen" inscribed at the base. Ampthill House remains private but the picturesque park with its many ancient oak trees is open to the public.

A walk around the village reveals an astounding number of architectural gems. There are houses ranging from the Tudor period, through to the 18th and 19th-century, as well as interesting conversions of the modern day. There are beautiful timber-frame thatched cottages, and memorable Georgian homes. The outstanding White Hart was once a former coaching inn. Over two hundred properties in the village are listed and preserved for their historic merit, these include 15th-century almshouses in Church Square.

The graceful church dedicated to St.Andrew dates 10th-century. It is an awe-inspiring structure, particularly notable for the stunning marble memorial commemorating the life of Colonel Richard Nicholls, whose family once owned Ampthill Park and who gave New York its name. He served with the Duke of York, and was given the task of capturing the Dutch Colonial City of New Amsterdam, Long Island. After attacking the Dutch with threats of destroying their fort, they quickly surrendered, thus the town was named for the Duke, and Nicholls became the first colonial governor of New York. Richard Nicholls was later killed in the Battle of Solway Bay in 1672, he was hit by a Dutch cannon ball.

Ampthill has literary connections, the writer John Bunyan was a frequent visitor to Houghton House, now naught but a romantic ruin. It was however believed to be the model upon which Bunyan based his novel, House Beautiful. Bunyan is mostly remembered for his preaching and for Pilgrims Progress, there is a statue of him in Bedford. Houghton House, although a ruin is cared for as an ancient monument by English Heritage, the staircase in the house was said to be the work of Sir Christopher Wren.

The town is surrounded by spacious countryside, where there are several wildlife country parks, and plenty of places of historic interest. Maulden Wood, an ancient woodland lies to the north-east of the town and offers pleasant walks with pretty picnic areas.

Visitors to the town will find pleasing shops, welcoming inns and a friendly atmosphere.

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