Bernard O'Connor 2000
Tetworth Hall was one of a number of large properties built during the first half of the 18th century on the top of the Greensand ridge — the others being Everton House, Woodbury Hall and Hasells Hall in this area. Further west there were Ickwell Bury, Wrest Park, Ampthill Park and Woburn Abbey. Further east there were Gamlingay Park, Merton Grange and Hatley Park.
Tetworth Hall is a red brick, two-storey Queen Anne mansion with a prospect over the lower Ivel valley to the northwest. Local carstone has been used for dressing. This is a type of sandstone from the quarries along the face of the Greensand Ridge near Sandy. The house has basements, attics and an unusual tiled and hipped roof. Scratched on two bricks immediately to the west of the back door are the initials and date ‘J P Esqr 1710’ and ‘T R 1710’. The house was built that year for John Pedley, the MP for Huntingdonshire between 1706 – 8. The Pedley family had been landowners here since 1653. James Pedley Junior of Tetworth died in 1714 and William Astell, one of the directors of the South Sea Company of London, bought the southern part of the estate. The South Sea Bubble burst in 1720 following financial scandals. He and his descendants made their fortune from importing tea and other products from India and the Far East.
James Pedley’s heir died in 1722, also without a male heir. As a result the Pedley family line in Tetworth died out in 1726. It then was owned by Edward Harley, the 2nd Earl of Oxford, a collector and patron of letters and in 1740 it was owned by Philip Yorke, the 1st Earl of Hardwicke and Lord Chancellor. Stanhope Pedley, one of James’ relatives, acquired the estate in 1759 and kept it until he died in 1802. His wife, Mary owned it until her death in 1823. The coat of arms over the front door is of Pedley impaling Foley, alluding to the marriage into the Foley family of Essex. The estate is thought to have then descended from the Pedleys to the Foleys. Henry Foley was the landowner in 1829. Charles Duncombe, first Lord Feversham, subsequently purchased it from the owner of nearby Waresley Park. One of his descendants rented it to one of the members of the Orlebar family, Bedfordshire merchants thought to be from Hinwick Hall.
Augustus Orlebar was born in Willington Vicarage, Bedfordshire, on April 28th 1860. He studied at Eton and Worcester College, Oxford where he got a 1st class degree in Classics. He won the Varsity half-mile and rowed for the college. He became a VI Form tutor at Radley and Wellington Colleges between 1884 and 1891, travelled a lot but settled at Tetworth Hall after he married Hester Mary Knowles in 1895. He farmed 35 acres and was very sporty, engaging in motorcycling, shooting and amateur photography. He became the chairman of the Education Committee, a member of Caxton Rural District Council and Board of Guardians, a JP and was president of the Gamlingay Conservative Association. He was churchwarden of St Mary’s Church, Gamlingay from 1912 until his death in 1918. He left a son and three daughters. Augustus Orlebar was leader of the RAF team that won the Schneider air trophy for Britain in 1929. He became an Air-Vice- Marshal. Dorothy, one of his three daughters, started the Guides in Gamlingay in 1920 and worked with them and the Brownies. She was Brown Owl during the Second World War and became Divisional Commissioner in the 1960s and eventually Division President. She died in 1988 and a window in St Mary’s church in Gamlingay is dedicated to her as well as a room at the Cambridgeshire Pack Holiday House
In the late-1930s the Hall was rented to Leonard Bower, but he had to move out when it was requisitioned during the Second World War. What it was used for is not known for certain. Certainly, troops were stationed in the grounds who guarded Italian and German prisoners-of-war. Some outbuildings still have their graffiti on the wall. Whether there was a direct link with the secret operation going on down the hill on Tempsford Airfield has not come to light. Local gossip had it that there must have been spies living there as sometimes lights were seen in the upstairs windows.
Peter Crossman of the Watney Mann (?) brewing chain bought the whole estate in 1962. Lady Crossman still lives there. The gardens are open to the public on two Sundays each summer as part of the Open Gardens Scheme. Posters advertising it appear several weeks beforehand. The wooded slope has been landscaped with pools, ferns, and shady pathways amongst rhododendrons, magnolias and a wide variety of trees. The microclimate in the shaded woodland provides perfect habitat for some beautiful plants – well worth a visit.
THE OLD MOON
The eccentric Sir George Downing Bart died at Gamlingay Park on June 9th 1749. There is nothing remaining of his magnificent mansion which was pulled down in 1776 except some odd brickwork in his estate.
“the only indication of the site of the mansion are the cellars underlying the mould, and the only brickwork that has resisted the ravages of time is the curious “O” or moon, situated near the Cinques hamlet. This pile of brickwork, which is very massive, has been the cause of much conjecture and argument. Fifty years ago (1880) the circle was perfect, but now the top has fallen in, and the only portions left are in the form of two upright piers of brickwork. It is believed that more than one piece of brickwork was erected upon the estate by the eccentric Downing. The fact that the circle alone can now be seen need not to infer that it was the only erection. Circular work has a curious property - that of binding itself together with age. The theory is that the last wall of the estate, of which this is a portion, contained the word Downing. The local tradition, handed down through the years, is that Sir George Downing built a high wall on the eastern boundary. The letters of his name, “Downing,” were inserted into this wall, and the intervening spaces filled with glass. Also that Dick Turpin, on his memorable ride from London to York, being closely pursued by the myrmidons of the law, jumped through the “O” upon Bonnie Black Bess in reckless bravado, scattering the glass in every direction.”
(Fowler, E.J. “History of Gamlingay and Neighbourhood, Fowler Bros.Gamlingay,1935,p.8)
The Turpin connection is considered to be a fable but Fowler suggested another theory. This was that the owner of Woodbury Hall in the reign of Charles I, Sir John Jacob Knight, had the wall built to commemorate his centenary and that it contained the number “100.” It was a local landmark until early in the 20th century when it eventually collapsed. It was a brick letter O about 24 feet high! (Ibid.)
The plan of the park and gardens showed carefully laid out paths and avenues between carefully planted blocks of trees or shrubs. At the top of the map was marked the “Full Moon” and a little further east was the “Half Moon”. Recognising that the “Moon Gate” was almost due North of the mansion I wondered whether there might be any days of the year when, after a good meal and lots of wine, Downing and his guests might have taken a stroll to the northern side of the trapezium lake and, on entering the avenue of trees, have been able to see the full moon.
I contacted Mike Collins, the Everton astronomer, who, after being provided with the details, went on a field visit. He reported that the “Moon Gate” was 13o west of North and that the moon would never be seen through the aperture. The furthest north the moon could be seen on the western horizon was 39o. He suggested that the architect of the gardens created a huge folly at the northern end of an avenue of trees through whose aperture one could see a huge circle of moonlit sky. If one imagines a dark tree-lined tunnel with an eight-foot diameter disk of light at the end, it would appear that man had recreated the heavens on earth, fitting the Masonic idea of “As above - So below”.