Owner of Ashridge, the old monastery near Berkhamsted, and much of the surrounding land high up in the Chilterns. He commissioned the building of the present Ashridge House and the creation of Ashridge Park
21 May 1738
8 March 1803
Francis Egerton, the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, was a descendent of Queen Elizabeth I’s Chancellor, Sir Thomas Egerton. He was a sickly boy, held in low esteem by his mother, when he inherited his title and substantial riches, including the old monastery and estates of Ashridge. But despite this unpromising start in life, as soon as he came of age he began to spend great energy and wealth in pioneering the building of canals in the north of England, taking huge financial risks but in the end greatly enlarging his fortune. His major new waterway, built near Manchester, was named after him – the Bridgewater Canal – said to be the first true canal in Britain. These canals were key factors - the arteries - that allowed the industrial revolution to boom in the early 19th century. After the Duke’s death a great monumental column to him was erected in the Ashridge Estate. Inscribed on it in large letters is the popular title he was given: The Father of Inland Navigation.
The Duke became the richest nobleman in England, but while he had been so much involved in his business enterprises, he had neglected Ashridge. When eventually he did turn his mind to it he decided to demolish the dilapidated old monastic buildings and replace them with a great palace, set in a magnificent landscaped park. But he died, still a bachelor, before this was achieved, and it was left to his heir to complete the work that is there to be seen today.
Ashridge House is now a business school with a world-wide reputation. Much of the great landscaped park is owned by the National Trust, together with adjoining features such as Ivinghoe Beacon. The house, its gardens and the estate are all well cared for.
An excellent book containing the story of the Egertons is A Prospect of Ashridge by Douglas Coult
A book with fine coloured illustrations, Ashridge – A Living History, by Kay Sanecki, is also in local bookshops.
The Bridgewater Monument next to the National Trust Ashridge Estate Visitors’ Centre, with commanding views over the Chilterns and the Vale of Aylesbury, is open at weekends from March to October.
The Duke was buried in the family vault in Little Gaddesden Church, close to Ashridge, and among the fine collection of memorials to the Egertons to be seen in the church is one to him by Westmacott. This bears an inscription in Latin, the translation of which is ‘He sent barges where formerly the farmer tilled the fields’.