George, Earl of Macclesfield, when he married Lane's eldest
daughter, came into possession of the Woodbury estate about 1746. He was a
president of the Royal Society and died in 1764. Nathaniel Richmond, a landscape
gardener and contemporary of ‘Capability’ Brown, landscaped the grounds between
1760 and 1767. There was an informal park, a separate and distinct walled
garden and a serpentine belt of bushes and occasional clumps of shrubs.
Richmond was working between 1764 – 68 on William Pym’s Hasells Hall estate a
few kilometres down the Greensand Ridge towards Sandy. George’s grandson, the
third Earl, ran out of money in 1803 and sold it to Rev. John Wilkinson (Rev.
William Wilkieson in VCH Cambs.; Alum. Cantab 1752-1900; Complete Peerage,
viii. pp.334-5). According to Major Wills of Everton Heath it was a Rev.
William Wilkinson of Bath who bought it in March 1804 from the then trustees -
Lord Heathfield and John Fane). He then proceeded to build a new mansion in
another part of the grounds that was named Woodbury Hall.
The cost of the Woodbury estate was
£29,000, the present day equivalent of about £1 million. It was much larger
than it is now. (Notes of Major Wills, Everton Heath.) The core of Woodbury
Hall was built between 1803 – 1806. In 1832 Wilkinson leased the house for five
years to the Rev. Thomas Shore, M.A. of
Wadham College, Oxford. His family's stay in the village provided considerable
insight into life in Everton during the first half of the nineteenth century.
Shore had been living with his wife and
four children at Brook House in Potton where he made a living as a private
tutor, preparing the sons of the nobility for entrance to Oxford or Cambridge.
His students lodged at his house and included the earl of Desart from Ireland,
Lord Granville, Lord Ipswich, Charles Howard and Arthur Malkin. He participated
in performing church services locally but never took up the priesthood because
of his religious doubts. The children had health problems in Brook House and
the move to Woodbury on Christmas Eve, 1832, was partly on health grounds. 'we
find Potton agrees very ill with our health, while Woodbury is remarkably
healthy, and is situated on the celebrated Gamlingay Heath.' (Gates, B.T.,
(1991), 'Journal of Emily Shore,'
University of Virginia, p.23) It was
also to provide accommodation for his students. His youngest daughter, Emily,
can be thanked for her details of Woodbury and the surrounding area as her journals detailing her stay in the house
have been recently published.
She was a remarkable young lady by any
standards. Born in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, on Christmas Day, 1819 she had .
When she her first work published when she was eight! It was a sixteen page
little book with a paper cover and printed in capitals, “Natural History, by
Emily Shore, being and Account of Reptiles, Birds, and Quadrupeds, Potton,
Biggleswade, Brook House, 1828, June 15th. Price 1 shilling.” She had written a
history of the Jews before she was twelve with maps and illustrations as well
as a History of Greece and Rome. She had written a conversation between her and
Herodotus, two epics, “Witikind the Saxon” and “Cosmurania,” three novels,
three books of poems as well as her diaries, drawings, sketches and plans. She
had even translated seven chapters of the first book of Xenephon's “Anabasis.”
(Ibid. Itroduction, pp.viii-xiii)
The editor of the journals, Barbara Gates,
informs readers that Emily Shore is a tough critic of the arts and politics, a
keen and experienced observer of nature, and a young woman who knows what she
is about as she creates her own personae. She fittingly holds authority over
the ins, outs, ups and downs of a young girl's life. She does inscribe the
woman's day as a projective male reader might expect her to, but she does much
more as well. (Ibid. Introductory, p.xiv)
“Emily Shore, I need not say, went to no High School, no College, no
Lectures, passed no Examination, and competed with no rivals; her teaching was that
of Nature and Love. Her education had two characteristics: it allowed her own
individuality, with all its tastes and tendencies, freely to expand; and it was
an education of pure and good home influences. her sole instructors were her
parents, especially her father; but much, very much, was done by herself. She
made her whole existence a happy schoolroom. Besides the father's lessons so
eagerly assimilated and followed out, she had two worlds in which she was her
own sole teacher - the world of nature and the world of Imagination.
passion for natural History will appear in the earlier journals; it was indeed,
in a great degree to her wanderings at dawn of day in the dewy woods, and her
late watchings at open windows with a telescope, collecting plants and studying
the habits of birds and insects, that she owed the attack of lung-disease which
terminated so fatefully and so soon. Her almost equal love of Poetry and of
historical knowledge gathers strength through all the later pages. In drawing
she had no instructor but her mother; but the taste came spontaneously, and was
marked as that for any of the serious studies we have mentioned. From six years
old she was accustomed to
using her pencil, copying every object she saw.”
study of natural history is perfectly inexhaustible. I believe that if I were
chained for life to Woodbury, and never allowed to ramble from it more than
three or four miles (the utmost limit of my walks), and excluded as I am, by
its situation, from all the birds that haunt mountains, rocks, and the seaside
(that is, haunting them particularly), and from most kinds that haunt all sorts
of waters - I believe I should forever be discovering something new.' (Ibid. p.92) Woodbury was her own “green
world,” a place where she observed with scientific scrutiny, noting that “in the the study of natural history it
is particularly important not to come too hastily to conclusions, but to study facts
from observation frequently and most carefully before any inference is drawn
from them.” (Ibid. p.119) She goes on to say that even though she carefully
follows her own advice, “still it is
provoking to find myself often making blunders from want of observing with
sufficient carefulness at first.” (Ibid.)
The following extracts help shed light on
many aspects of life at Woodbury at this time. Remember she was only thirteen
when she started the journal.
14, Friday. - There is going on a sale of Mr. Wilkinson's furniture at
Woodbury, and papa went to attend at it. When he returned he told us a story of
what had happened. he rode on horseback, and on his way heard the fox-hounds
for some time; he knew that they were to throw off that day, and hoped not to
get in their way. However, he arrived safe at Woodbury. The auctioneer, Mr.
Carrington, was at his work, when a cry was heard of, “There they are!” Behold,
the whole set of hounds, pursuing the fox, dashed through the garden, over the
beds and everything! Papa was, of course, not highly delighted, but everyone
else was in ecstasies. The ladies jumped up and clapped their hands; Mr. C.
blew a horn which he had in his pocket or somewhere, and leaped out of the
window into the garden, with all the ragamuffins after him. Papa, finding it in
vain to try and stop them, walked out with Mr. Wilkinson to see if he could not
hinder them from doing damage. Mr. W. ordered the door of the courtyard to be
opened, that the fox might pass through; but, unluckily, there was no one to
open it, and he was obliged to turn back, the dogs quite close to him all the
way, and even brushing by papa. The animal made the greatest exertions, but
could only reach the greenhouse, and there the hounds killed poor foxey; he was
quite unhappy, and with his tail between his legs. Just then the hunters came
up; they had taken care to dismount, all except two most ungentlemanly fellows,
who leaped over the haw-haw, cutting up the turf sadly. The fox was now handed
about to be seen, the hounds surrounding the hunters, and great delight was
shown by all; but papa pitied the poor creature, and several times expressed
his indignation, not against the intrusion into the garden, for that he could
have borne with perfect good temper in the pursuit of any rational amusement,
but against the general barbarity and cruelty of the fox-hunters, whom he
detests. He says that he never before saw a fox so closely pursued. Even after
the body was taken away, the place smelt quite offensively. (pp.24-5)
(1832) We took a walk with mamma across the cow-pasture, the first of the three
fields leading to Everton. It is a very pretty little fields, hilly, and partly
covered with broom. It slopes down towards Foxhill Wood, the wood at the bottom
of our garden...
Jan. 12 - We had a long game of play in the
garden. The flower garden, which is very large, is divided from the kitchen
garden by a noble laurel hedge. Under this hedge runs a path, and there is
another path between it and the kitchen garden, which is surrounded by a brick
wall. The second path runs all round the kitchen garden, and is entered in two
different places by openings in the laurel hedge, which runs round two sides of
it. The laurel hedge is double, and the two rows meet together above, so we found
that the interior is a very noble palace. This suggested the idea of playing
kings and queens.' (p.30)
Dec.27, Thursday. - Today's newspaper
announces that Antwerp has capitulated to the French, who are besieging it in
behalf of the Belgians, and to whom they are to give it up. The commander of
the fortress was General Chasse. The account of the elections was very
entertaining; I read it as usual to the children. It always happens that the
Reform candidates are cheered and applauded while the Tories are hissed and
assailed with groans. The tories have been behaving most shamefully, bribing
and threatening the electors to the utmost degree; but they are generally
Dec. 28, Friday, - After breakfast, when we
were all sitting together in the library, the conversation turned on the late
capitulation of the citadel of Antwerp. Papa made some promiscuous remarks on
the war, of which I will put down what I remember. “The free navigation of the
Scheldt has always been a great object with the other powers, the Dutch have as
strenuously opposed it; but it is a free gift of Nature, and ought to belong
equally to all the countries through which it runs... The King of Holland is a
thorough money-making merchant. he himself trades; he monopolises at the
expense of his subjects.
Dec. 30, Sunday, - Papa said also that
during the war, when the farmers were rich and flourishing, and were amassing
thousands upon thousands, they showed the most brutal indifference to the poor
who were perishing around them; but that now their turn came, they were getting
poorer and poorer, their rents were not paid, and they were eaten up by the
poor rates. (pp.28-9)
Jan. 25. ...mamma remarking that the
Conservatives had still a strong party in England, papa assented, and then said
that the late election cost Mr. Stuart, the Tory member, £20,000. This was
chiefly spent in indirect bribery, by entertaining people in public houses, “a
beastly way of spending money.” (p.32)
May 16, Thursday (1833) - I did wake up at
the proper time, or was woke by the children; and at five o'clock Louisa and I
took an exquisite walk through the wood (Whitewood). We went very slowly, and
at almost every step Louisa called out, and with justice, “Oh, wonders!” The
nightingales were singing in great numbers; and we saw two of them perched in
the middle of a tall oak. There was also a blackcap hopping among some low
bushes... Mamma takes a walk in the wood every morning, to hear the
nightingales and gather lilies of the valley, which are now extremely abundant,
and when gathered scent almost half the house; besides which, they are very
beautiful. I particularly admire the curl outwards of the blossom.
May21, Tuesday (1833)- At about
half-past-six I went out alone into the wood. It is on one side very thick and
entangles, full of briars and bushes; but on the right it is covered with
grass, free from underwood, and filled with tall firs and a few other trees. I
went into this part, and for, I should think, ten minutes watched a nightingale
flitting about from tree to tree, and often perched on a tiny twig, so slender
that it seemed unable to support it, and even shook. he was singing all the
March 25, Tuesday (1834) - I discovered in my
walk today a very pretty little spot, in a kind of hollow, below the
cow-pasture and the other fields between Woodbury and Everton. It was a large
orchard, on a high grassy island, surrounded by a piece of water, which is in
most parts perfectly clear and bright, and about forty or fifty feet wide. On
one side the channel is nearly dry, and filled with rushes. The banks are very
high all round, on the outer side shaded with blackthorn and filbert; on the
inner side they ate thickly covered with dog's mercury, primroses, bluebells, a
few cowslips, and splendid dark-blue violets. There are also very entangled
thickets of thorns, brambles, and briars, and several tall ash trees and
willows. This spot is haunted by a great many different birds - blackbirds, missel-thrushes,
rooks, carrion-crows, robins, wrens, fauvettes, long-tailed titmice, a handsome
kite, and above all, willow-wrens.' (p.73)
March 27, Friday (1835) We entered the
orchard today, and as we were walking about it, a fox suddenly splashed into the
moat, and, jumping out on the other side, ran off over the cow-pasture. A
gentleman's house, in the reign of Elizabeth, stood on the ground now occupied
by these moated fields and orchards. (p.91)
Woodbury, June 23, (1834) - There was a
tea-party at the Astell's. Mamma, the gentlemen, and all of us went, so that,
with the Clutterbucks (of Tetworth), Paroissiens, and some others there were
twenty-five in number. We drank tea out of doors, while the gentlemen of the
party were engaged at cricket; then followed archery and Les Graces, during
which I contrived to keep close to Miss Caroline (Astell), and had a great deal
of merry converstion with her, of which the following is a sample:-
Emily. I have a question to ask you. At
balls and such places, what do people talk about? If they talk about neither
sciences nor natural history, I shall set them down as thoroughly stupid.
Miss Car. Stupid! Oh dear me! let me see -
they talk about neither sciences nor natural history.
Em. Stupid people! What do they talk about?
Miss Car. About? Oh, music.
Miss Car. Yes, music.
Em. Well, music's allowable - very proper.
Miss Car. Yes, they talk about music, and
how hot the last party was, and which they shall go to next; and they talk
scandal, and on the works of the day.
Em. Dear me! what foolish people! to talk
about such absurd things! And do you really like to go to such places, Miss
Caroline? Do you actually like it?
Miss Car. Yes, very much indeed (!!!).
Em. Like it! How horrid! How can you like
it? What a very great waste of your time, when you ought to be learning and
improving your mind, to go to balls and talk nothing but nonsense! Where is the
pleasure of it? Do you not think it a waste of time?
Miss Car. Yes, I confess it is; it is a
corrupt habit, but when once you have got it., you can never get rid of it.
Em. That is horrible to think of. I hope I
shall never get it! But if amusement is your object, why don't you study
natural history? There's no amusement so great as that.
Miss Car. But I confess that I don't like
Em. Oh, how very wrong!. You ought to like
Miss Car. But nobody taught me; when I was
a child nobody took pains with me.
Em. very true; then it is not your fault.
But now, may I ask you, Miss Caroline, when you once begin in the season to go to parties, at what rate
do you go? how many in a week?
Miss Car. Oh, why - sometimes to three in a
Em. Three in one night! What a waste of
May 12, Tuesday (1835) My usual walk now is
to go through the lanes to Everton, descend the Tempsford Hill to hear the
tree-lark, reascend it, and return across the heath and through the wood. In
passing the heath I go rather out of the way, through a very pretty part,
enclosed by a high hedge; it is quite covered with gorse in full flower. here I
generally sit down for some time on the gorse, under the high gorse-bushes,
telling stories to such of the children as are with me, according to my
practice, which I shall continue. All round us stone-chats are flitting from
twig to twig, making their clicking noise; ox-eyes are chirping, blackcaps and
willow-wrens singing; all which to the delicious scent of the gorse and the
perfect retirement of the place, make it quite delightful. (p.94)
June 23, Tuesday (1835) I shall now copy
out into my journal a short set of notes, which, in imitation of one in the
Penny Magazine, I kept this spring of the progress of vegetation, and the
appearances of birds and insects.
Jan. 3. Brimstone
Aconite and crocus bloom.
29. Blackbird, thrush, blue-tit, sing.
Feb. 5. Scentless
violet forms flower-buds at the root.
10. Honeysuckle in leaf.
Hazel covered with
24. Greenfinch chirps.
26. Bunting sings.
Mar. 2. Sweet
13. Bees come out.
16. Coal-tit sings.
19. Primrose and ivy-leaved ranunculus bloom.
26. Nettle-butterfly seen.
28. Thrush lays eggs.
1. Peacock and cabbage
6. Marsh marigold,
cowslip, oxlip, bluebell, bullace, black-thorn, pear, bloom.
Spotted orchid and
wood anenome bloom.
and bullace in full flower.
10. Redstart returns.
14. Swallow begins to appear.
20. Larch and hawthorn in leaf.
22. Zephyr butterfly seen.
Birch looks green.
Leaf-buds of oak
nearly in leaf.
May 3. Leaf
buds of lime burst.
Crab in full flower.
Lily of the valley
Hawthorn begins to
tormentilla, Geranium citutarium, bloom.
9. Cockchafer appears.
Yellow wren sings.
leaf buds of oak
in full flower.
14. Swift returns.
Blue-bell in full
16. Sphinx apiformis seen.
22. Young coal-tits fledged.
5. Black woodpecker (very
rare) lays eggs.
10. Young chaffinches and blackbirds fledged. (p.107)
August 9, Sunday - In the evening I walked
to the heath to see some poor people of the name of Betts, whom I sometimes
teach a little. They are miserably poor, and live in a mud cottage, built by
the man himself, and containing only two rooms for themselves and six children.
The man can read, and is tolerably intelligent; the woman is deplorably
ignorant, and knows nothing whatever of the doctrines of the Christian
religion, so that she requires the very simplest instruction.
Another family, of the name of Barford,
lives close by; these also I sometimes go to see. They are a very cleanly,
industrious, worthy couple; they have just lost a daughter of a decline, whom I
used to go and read to sometimes while still ill. She died July 20. I saw her
corpse the next day; it was a very affecting and melancholy sight. It was the
first I have seen. The deadly pale of the countenance, the whiteness of the
lips, and the unmoving look give a dead body a ghastly appearance. (p.117)
Oct. 2, Friday (1835) As Richard and I were
sitting in the library, beginning our lesson with papa, at about half-past-six,
a curious interruption occurred. The footman announced that Mr. Clutterbuck
wished to speak with papa, who thereupon went and brought him into the library.
Mr. Clutterbuck then informed papa of his errand. There is a notorious poacher
about here, named Page, for whose arrest a reward of twenty pounds has been
offered. The clerk of Everton was knocked down and injured the other day in the
attempt. Mr. Clutterbuck and Mr. T. St. Quentin (the magistrate) sent for two
Bow Street officers to take him up. He eluded them; but in the mean time two
men committed a daring and impudent theft of two ducks at a farm house close to
our house, about two days ago. To-day they were arrested at Gamlingay by the
Bow Street officers, handcuffed, and ready to be committed. Mr. Clutterbuck
asked if he and Mr. T. St. Quentin could examine them in this house, on account
of it being in the county of Cambridgeshire. He had brought the officers and
prisoners along with him. Papa, of course, agreed. Just then entered Mt. T. St.
Quentin and Mr. Foley, another gentleman who is visiting at Everton. The
servants' hall was lighted up; pen, ink, wafers, and paper were provided. They
adjourned thither; the policemen, prisoners, and witnesses were brought in;
papa, Mr. Foley, R., M., and the five pupils were present as spectators; and
the examination began. It lasted about half an hour. The prisoners were fully
committed and sent to Cambridge Gaol to await their trial at the next quarter
sessions, which will be in less than a fortnight. Their names are Samuel
Gilbert and John Baines. The Bow Street officers were named, one Goddard, the other
Fletcher. The witnesses were three, -our footman; Green, the owner of the
ducks; and Larkins, the man who saw them steal them. One of the prisoners being
asked if he had any questions to put, merely inquired of Larkins, in a drawing
lingo, “Where did you ever see me catch a duck?”
Larkins (in a similar tone). “At the ould
Gilbert. “Oh, did you?”
Mr. St. Quentin examined the men, and Mr
Clutterbuck acted as his clerk.*
*It seems difficult now to believe that for
this attempt to steal two ducklings, in the thieves were interrupted and ran
away, these poor young men, scarcely more than lads, were sentenced to seven
years' transportation. The explanation probably was that they were believed to
be poachers. - ED.
After several visits to London to see
doctors it was recommended that she should live close to the sea in a warmer
part of the country and so, on October 3rd 1836, Emily left Woodbury to go and
live in Exeter. Her health did not improve and eventually her family moved to
Madeira where Emily died of consumption on July 7th, 1839 aged only nineteen.
She was buried under cypresses and orange trees in Funchal, on the island of
Such was the detail that she used that it
is thought that, had she lived, she would have been one of the leading
authorities on natural history. Whether
she met Alfred Newton, the Professor of Zoology at Cambridge University, is not
known. Newton was a Cambridge ornithologist who was living in Everton in 1848.
It is known that she met Alfred Tebbut, a Potton trader who provided her with
many details about bird life and natural history. (Author’s conversation with
Anne Harvey, London, Boo Matthews and Anita Lewis, Potton)
According to Fowler’s History of
Gamlingay, in 1837 the house was vacant and the following year Rev.
Wilkieson sold it and part of the estate to Mr. (later Sir) William Booth,
thought to be of the Booth's Gin family. In 1839 Wilkieson died, and his son
William sold the remaining part of the estate to Booth. However, shortly
afterwards, Booth tired of the place and moved to Paxton, near St. Neots, and
in 1858 sold the house and estate by public auction. the estate became
divided. 400 acres were sold to Mr. John Foster of Sandy. The remainder, with
the mansion, was bought by Mr. John Harvey Astell. (Fowler, E.J. op.cit. p.9)
However, the Victoria County History states that the estate had been split by
1844 with Wilkieson holding 315 acres. (C.R.O. Q/RDc 67). Rev Thomas Brown held 380 acres at the western
end of Woodbury and Sir Williamson Broth held 315 acres around Old Woodbury.
Following the passing of the parish
Enclosure Act in 1844 Rev. Wilkieson arranged the construction of sixty houses
in fourteen blocks which became known as the Colony (TL 215513). They were
completed by about 1850 on two parcels
of land about 61 acres in extent (Gardner’s Directory 1844, p.328; CCRO. Q/RDc
67) The bricks were most likely from the local brickworks to the east and
slates brought in from Wales. The general architectural style was gothic with
“rusticated openings and cast-iron casements. Many of the buildings have been
modified or enlarged and the original holdings can no longer be identified. The
block closest to Woodbury Hall were built to a superior specification or white
brick, carstone and thatched roofs. (RCHM, p.109-110)
By 1858 Broth held 457 acres in Gamlingay
and Everton which he sold to Mr Beadell. (C.U.L. Maps. ) The Astell family had
been living in Everton House since 1713 but it had fallen into such a serious
state of disrepair that Clare College refused to renew the lease when it
expired in 1850. They moved into Woodbury Hall in 1860. (Family documents in
possession of Lady Errol) Most of the old house was demolished. The only
remaining part is the old stable block which became known as Park Farm. The
front lawns reverted to agricultural use and in the 1960s a private housing
estate was built on the site. It was appropriately called The Lawns.
Many alterations were made to the house and
gardens of Woodbury Hall. A water-driven corn-mill was erected in one of the
buildings in 1858. (R.C. H. M. Cambs.
i, p.110) There was a period of expansion and modernisation during the second
half of the 19th century. In 1868 the gardener's cottage was built and in 1884
the new buildings at Storey's Farm were constructed. After J.H. Astell died on
January 17th 1887 the estate passed to his son William Harvey Astell. He died
in 1895 leaving a widow and three children, Ison and two daughters, all minors.
His widow married Lord de Lisle and Dudley and the three Astell children were
brought up at Penshurst Place in Kent.
She leased out the Woodbury estate for 18
years, during which time it had four tenants. When the lease expired in 1926,
Richard John Vereker Astell, took possession when he was 35. When he was 21 he
had sold various parts of the Heath and some of its cottages to raise cash. The
house and land were requisitioned during the 1939-45 war and it was occupied
initially by evacuees from the bombing of the cities, then troops from Dunkirk
and finally by various units of the RAF, Artillery and Engineers. With the
construction of the secret airfield at Tempsford the tree-lined avenue from
Everton Church to Story Farm was uprooted to allow the planes an easier take
off over the top of the Greensand Ridge.
Opposite the house was built an Engineer Store as well as a prisoner of
war camp. On 3rd June 1944 there was a serious fire in the house.
How it happened has never been explained but it destroyed the south end of the
house as well as the roof. Interestingly, the army de-requisitioned the house
the next day. Locals suggest that it was to avoid paying any more rent.
After the war repairs and rebuilding
started in about 1951/2 during which time the house was redesigned. The south
end was turned into a courtyard and the whole second floor was taken off. As a
result the views over the Bedford Plain would have been dramatically reduced.
The interior was also reconstructed by Basil Spence. He was also the architect
who built Coventry Cathedral and the multi-storey blocks of flats that
dominated inner cities during the 1960s and 70s. Richard Astell and his wife
reoccupied the house in 1955. He died
in 1969, leaving the estate in the possession of his widow, Lady Astell, who
died in 1994. (Notes of Major Wills, Everton Heath.)
Her niece, Isabelle, took over the estate with her husband Lord Erroll and the Hall was considerably refurbished during the late-1990s.