Direction: NNE – SSW Distance:
The Greensand Ridge Walk is a popular route which passes through the parishes of Everton cum Tetworth and Sandy and is made up of Bridleway 5, Footpath 5, Bridleway 2 (Everton), Footpath 7, Footpath 2, Bridleway 3 and Bridleway 27. Bridleway 5 starts (or finishes) at a small lay-by on the west side of the road from Gamlingay Cinques to St Neots on the top of Tetworth Hill (TL 225522). There is a 62 metre spot height marked on the map showing that you are on the crown of the hill. There is enough room for you to park your car but as there is a field gate to a cow pasture it would be best to arrange to be dropped (or picked up) there. However, there is a small car park (TL 227528) in the centre of Gamlingay Cinques, the small hamlet by the crossroads. Boots are recommended, as the path can be uneven and muddy in places. A pair of binoculars will be useful too for there are a range of interesting sights to observe trees, birds and buildings. Maybe you will spot a muntjac or two, the symbol seen on the Greensand Ridge Walk signposts. This small deer was introduced into country parks in southern and eastern England in 1900 and are now quite common in Bedfordshire following their escape from the deer park at Woburn Abbey. Many have been spotted in this area in recent years.
After going through the field gate you follow an uneven footpath past a 1.5 metre high tree stump of a diseased elm, southwestwards alongside the fence. It was one of numerous elms cut down in the 1970s following an outbreak of Dutch Elm disease. Horses’ hooves and burrowing rabbits make the route slightly awkward, especially in wet weather. Depending upon the time of year there might be a herd of cattle. They can be quite off-putting when they follow you closely. The route is close to but not actually on the edge of the Greensand Ridge. It is a few hundred metres away to the northwest on private property behind Tetworth Hall. You can get glimpses behind you to the north over the rolling Cambridgeshire countryside and westwards across the Ivel valley. There used to be five sand pits dug into this part of Gamlingay Great Heath. One can be seen just before the field boundary. Nowadays, it forms part of an obstacle course for horse-riders, Many of the fences along the first part of the path have jumps over them.
To the south you can see green barns and red-bricked buildings of Green Man Farm (TL 225530) in Gamlingay Cinques (sometimes spelt Sinks). During the 19th century it was very common for farmers to brew their own beer and provide it free to their agricultural labourers, with extra quantities at harvest time. This explains why the farm was once used as a public house. Its connection with the ancient stories of the green man is not certain. He is a pre-Christian symbol found carved into the stone and wood of pagan temples and graves and used in medieval churches and cathedrals across an area stretching from Ireland in the west to Russia in the east. During Victorian times it was an architectural motif. Although it is thought of an ancient Celtic symbol, its origins and original meaning are shrouded in mystery. Aerial photographs of the ridge show evidence of prehistoric settlement with a number of hut circles. The ridge top was used as a trackway as the lighter sandy soils supported less trees than the poorly drained valley bottoms so visibility was greater.
There have been a variety of spellings for Tetworth. They include the 12th century Tethewurda and the 13th century Tetteworth and Tettesworthe. It is claimed to have derived from the Old English Tettan-wor, meaning “Tetta's enclosure or farm.” Who Tetta was is not known and it is uncertain whether he, if it was a he, lived on the site of Green Man Farm, Tetworth Hall or the moated Valley Farm at the bottom of the ridge.
After about 400 metres through two fields of pasture you pass through a field gate onto a single-track road leading to Tetworth Hall. At the corner you pass Holly Cottage (TL 222532), an attractive tiled white brick late-18th century estate cottage with an ornate chimney and porch. As you follow the farm track you can spot numerous beehives in two small plantations by the roadside. A few hundred metres down the tree-lined drive, you pass Dell’s Cottage (TL 219529), another small, late 17th or early 18th century timber-framed estate cottage with a thatched roof and well-kept garden created in another disused sand pit. Its chimney breast occupies about half the width of the gable end. The road then turns northwest towards Tetworth Hall (TL 219530) down the ridge past the medieval moated house of Valley Farm towards the Roman Road, Cold Arbour Farm and Tempsford. This was part of the ancient trackway from Gamlingay to Bedford, crossing the Great North Road and River Ivel at Tempsford. The Greensand Ridge Walk, however, continues as Bridleway 5, through a small iron gate into Tetworth Park.
Tetworth Hall was one of a number of large properties built during the first half of the 18th century on the top of the 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. 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, azaleas and a wide variety of fine trees in a large woodland garden and bog garden. The microclimate in the shaded woodland provides perfect habitat for some beautiful plants – well worth a visit.
The hedges, fences and walls that you see today would not have been in evidence a few centuries ago. The grassland on the ridge top was largely used for sheep grazing. Woods, bushes and scrub dominated the scarp slope and the valley floor below the ridge. Wild flowers abounded. Locals could use the woods for collecting windfalls, fruit, mushrooms, nuts and any game they might catch. Great tracts of Everton and Sandy Heath were uncultivated and were mainly used by the landed gentry for shooting duck, snipe, partridges and bitterns.
The agricultural land that you see on the top of the hill today was originally infertile, sandy heath. Over the millennia rainwater leached out the iron and other minerals in the sandstone which crystallised as a hard pan along the water table. As the water level fluctuated over the years a number of iron pans built up which led to poor drainage. Several developments during the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions in the 18th and 19th century allowed this land to be brought under cultivation. They were the deep, cast-iron ploughshare, the steam engine and the coming of the railway.
A powerful steam plough could break up the iron pan and allow the soil water to drain better. To improve the mineral content of the soil, the railway companies provided free freight of horse manure collected from the streets of London and other towns and cities. This allowed farmers to add cart after cartload to their fields. From the second half of the 19th century, artificial chemical fertilisers were used to bring much of this heath land under cultivation.
Further south there are other disused sandpits. The first is overgrown and you can spot rabbits in the undergrowth on summer evenings. Where the road turns northwest towards Tetworth Hall you can see a field gate in the fence in front (TL 218529). Another disused sand pit to the southeast forms one of many obstacles you can see in a large paddock The huge, almost dead tree is an about three-hundred-year old sweet chestnut. Its bole is about four metres wide. Although the tree trunk has had most of its bark nibbled off by animals, one branch is still prolific. The hollow remains of another, about two metres wide, can be seen nearby. There was a fashion for such trees during the 18th and early 19th century following British military and naval expeditions in the Mediterranean against France and Spain.
The path continues for about 100 metres across the grass towards a field gate in the fence. Instead of turning northwest towards the Hall, the path continues for a few metres along the road and crosses a cattle grid. A fence post beside it has a sign saying ‘Warning – Electric Fence’ but there is no evidence of one. The road forms part of the county boundary between Cambridgeshire into Bedfordshire. The Greensand Ridge Walk continues as Bridleway 5 southwest alongside the fence over grassland. There’s evidence of mole and rabbit activity near the copse. Continuing for a further few hundred metres you will see Old Woodbury, a renovated medieval farmhouse on the ridge-top to the west (TL 203528). This used to be known as Woodbury until the early 19th century when Woodbury Hall was built. It then became known as Old Woodbury. It was built by 1635 by Sir John Jacob of Bromley, Middlesex, and said to be “a very pretty gentleman-like house“. He was a ‘Farmer of the Customs’ in that he collected the import and export duties from national and international traders and kept a percentage for his service before handing it over to the King. He benefited Gamlingay by paying for the construction of the ten almshouses on the High Street. Old Woodbury is thought to have been built on the site of the 11th century Tetworth manor house, owned at one time by the Prior of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem. It was the custom for Norman knights to go on the Crusade or a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and, before they left, gave their estate to the church to be managed. The Knights had a preceptory (major centre) at Shingay in Cambridgeshire. In about 1150, Henry de Constentin, his son Geoffrey and grandson Elias granted lands in Tetworth to the Cistercian monastery of Sawtry, near Huntingdon.
An old hollow way about 13 metres wide and almost a metre deep runs northwest down the slope to a deserted medieval settlement of three house platforms and two enclosures. Another hollow way, about 2 – 3 metres wide and up to 2.5 metres deep in places runs southwest through Woodbury Sinks. Over millennia, the constant tread of animals’ hooves loosened the soil and the ruts left by cartwheels during wet weather created deep ruts. These formed natural channels for rainwater to wash out the soil to leave these sunken tracks.
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Edmund, Lord Sheffield, inherited the Woodbury estate including Gamlingay Heath from the Delve family and lived at times in Gamlingay House, a large half-timbered country house in Gamlingay Park. In 1591 it was sold to John Machell, a wealthy London cloth merchant and Justice of the Peace, who lived at Sutton House, Hackney. Machell's purchase of this extensive and expensive estate of 1,800-acre Woodbury Manor stretched him financially. He couldn't raise the money to pay for it. In his attempt to raise the capital he had to mortgage Sutton House and another estate that he owned at Hinxton, near Duxford, to Sir James Deane, an East India Company man and money lender. As he was not able to repay the loan with its interest by the agreed time, Deane deprived him of access to Woodbury and he had to go into hiding. However, it was claimed by Deane that a party of Machell's followers, led by his second wife, Ursula, and their son John, armed with swords and halberds, returned to Woodbury. They entered the property from the rear and seized it from Deane's men.
Deane took Machel to court. In the Quarter Sessions there is an account of a fight in the fields of Woodbury between the headstrong William Machell and others of his father's party and some of Deane's supporters involving the use of pikestaffs and poles. One of the group also had a rapier but he claimed not to have used it. Witnesses corroborated Machel's claim that, in 1599, Deane, in the company of the under-sheriff of Cambridgeshire and armed with a writ of liberate, seized the manor house. He forcibly ejected Ursula and her servants who had taken refuge in some of the upper rooms. Although the precise outcome of the case is not known, Deane seems to have prevailed and Ursula had to find alternative accommodation.
In 1606 Machel was committed for six years to the King's Bench prison in Southwark, as a debtor. After his release in 1612 he returned to Old Woodbury where he lived until his eighties. Following his death in 1624 “worn out with care and grief for his losses“, his grandson, also called John Machell, sold the estate sometime before 1640 to Sir John Jacob.
Gamlingay Park was the adjoining estate to the east in which the ‘Full Moon Gate’ was found. It used to be a brick letter ‘O’ about 6.5 metres high with a glass window inside. Dick Turpin, the highwayman, is claimed to have jumped through it on Black Bess, his horse, to escape those chasing him after a robbery. Some documents suggest it was built as a folly in 1712 by Sir George Downing, one time resident of Gamlingay House. A local story has it that his eccentricty included building a brick wall making up the seven ;etters of his surname and only the O survived. As Downing lived from 1624 – 1684 this theory has been discounted. Others suggest that Sir John Jacob had the wall built to commemorate his centenary in the reign of Charles I, and that it contained the number “100”. It was a local landmark until early in the 20th century when the upper arc eventually collapsed. Local people found it a romantic spot on warm, moonlit evenings. A more recent explanation is that it was a lunette – an over two-metre wide circular window at the end of an avenue of trees through which the bright moonlit sky would appear on a dark evening as a huge full moon. Like Gamlingay House, the only evidence of it today is the pillars hidden in undergrowth in a hawthorn hedge.
Downing was a Parliamentarian during the Civil War and acted as Oliver Cromwell’s scout-master (chief spy) in Scotland from 1650 – 1657 for which he was paid £365 a year as well as £300 as a teller of the exchequer. He was then appointed resident at The Hague, to try to unite the Protestant European powers, to mediate between Portugal and Holland and between Sweden and Denmark, to defend the interests of the English traders against the Dutch, and to inform the government concerning the movements of the exiled royalists. Despite his background, Charles II rewarded him for his diplomatic skills with a knighthood in May 1660. He was also given land next to St James’ Park, London, subsequently named Downing Street. During his time in office he amassed enormous wealth. He died in Gamlingay House in 1684. Downing College, Cambridge, was named after his grandson, George Downing (1684-1749), the third baronet. For more details on the Downings read about Footpath 8.
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. The owner of Woodbury estate at that time was George Lane Parker (1724 – 1791), a Colonel in George III’s army. It had been in his family’s possession since his grandfather bought it in the late-17th century. Ralph Lane was a ‘Turkey Merchant’, not the kind that fatten birds for the Christmas market, but a silk and textile trader with Turkey and the Middle East. Richmond was working between 1764 – 68 on William Pym’s Hasells Hall estate a few kilometres down the Greensand Ridge towards Sandy. He would have been seen riding his horse along the same route as the Greensand Ridge Walk.
You can see fenced-in clumps of trees in the pasture and, about 250 metres further, a younger sweet chestnut growing beside the field gate (TL 217528). Once through it, the path crosses the road to Old Woodbury and continues southwest alongside the north-western boundary of a barley field for about 300 metres. A small track to the southeast leads to a smallholding but the Greensand Ridge Path continues for a further 200 metres along the field boundary. Unusually, there are five laburnum trees growing amongst broom, hawthorn and small oaks. Their hanging, yellow flowers are quite dramatic in late spring. Beware of their seed pods as the peas are said to be poisonous. Bridleway 5 ends by the signpost at the gap in the hedge under a several hundred-year-old oak tree (TL 214524) where it meets Bridleway 4. Following it west takes you down the Greensand Ridge past Woodbury Sinks (Cinques), towards the Roman Road and Woodbury Low Farm. The track to the east takes you past the northern boundary of White Wood to Drove Road.
The Greensand Ridge Walk continues as Footpath 5 through Woodbury Park and into Everton. Follow Bridleway 4 west for about 100 metres and you’ll see a kissing gate underneath another ancient oak tree on the south side of the hedge.