The present Ashridge House and gardens were completed in 1814 by the Earl of Bridgewater.
The original building on the site was a monastery, built by Edmund Earl of Cornwall, cousin to Edward 1st, in 1283 and called Ashridge College. With its royal connections Ashridge became important and Edward 1st held a Parliament there in 1291. Later on Henry VIII also stayed there, but a few years after his visit he ordered the dissolution of all the monasteries. In 1539 Ashridge was closed, its treasures dispersed and the monks left.
The monastic buildings were used by the royal family, including Henry VIII and his three children. Princess Elizabeth was staying there when her sister Queen Mary had her arrested on suspicion of conspiracy and hauled off to London.
In 1604 Elizabeth’s chancellor Francis Egerton acquired the building and lands and for over two centuries his family were in residence. They became the Dukes of Bridgewater. The most famous was the third Duke of Bridgewater who invested much of his fortune in developing England’s canal network and became known as the Father of Inland Navigation .
Eventually the Duke turned his attention to Ashridge but the buildings were very neglected by now so he had them demolished and drew up plans for a great new house set in a landscaped park. The Duke died before building began but his heir, the 7th Earl of Bridgewater, oversaw the completion. The house was designed by James Wyatt and Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton were involved in designing the park.
For 100 years after it opened in 1814 the house played host to royalty, prime ministers, authors and artists. In 1925 the current owner Lord Brownlow put the house and grounds on the market. Developers had begun to buy up parts when a campaign, led by Bridget Talbot, managed to save much of the park and surrounding land to be looked after by the National Trust.
The house became a hospital and military HQ during WWII, then a ladies finishing college and is now Ashridge Business School.
The book A Prospect of Ashridge by Douglas Coult contains the story of the Egerton family.
Ashridge – A Living History by Kay Sanecki has some fine illustrations.
Leaflets about Ashridge Park are available in the National Trust shop at the Ashridge Estate Visitor Centre near Ringshall.
Head north out of Berkhamsted past the Castle and follow signs for Ashridge Business School, distance about 2.5 miles.
The gardens of Ashridge House are open to the public from 2pm to 6pm on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays from Easter until the end of September. Ashridge House itself is only opened to the public on limited occasions during the summer, usually on afternoons in August; and on one Sunday for choral evensong in the chapel.