Houghton House

Built: around 1615
For: Mary Sidney Herbert, Dowager Countess of Pembroke
Subsequent owners: Bruce family, Russell family
House abandoned: 1794

Mary Sidney Herbert was a writer, a translator, a patron of the arts, and a chemist (Wikipedia: “She had a chemistry laboratory at Wilton House, where she developed medicines and invisible ink”).

She died of smallpox in 1621.

After that, the house went through three owners. All of Houghton’s owners had other properties.

The Bruce family owned the house from 1624, and it became their main residence. Thomas Bruce, the 2nd Earl of Ailesbury, supported the deposed James II, and went into exile around 1696. He drew revenue from the estate in the following years, so presumably rented it out. He sold it in 1738, 3 years before his death.

The new owner was John Russell. In the 1760s, the chamber above the Great Hall, which was used for private functions beforehand, was converted into a library.

John’s sons died before he did, so after he died in 1771, the estate passed to his grandson Francis.

In 1794, Francis took the furnishings and the roof, and left the house to the elements. While the house was being taken apart, The Swan Inn in Bedford acquired the great staircase from the house, where it still remains.

The house and its park were sold to the owner of Ampthill Park, a nearby estate, in 1804.

Houghton House is believed to be the inspiration forĀ  the House of the Palace Beautiful, in the late 17th Century book “The Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan.

A paragraph about the house appears in Bedfordshire Archaeological Journal #8, page 138. This describes a preliminary survey, challenging the conventional wisdom about the architect who designed the house. The Council for British Archaeology has scans of the Bedfordshire Archaeological Journal. p138 of the Journal is on page 154 of the pdf.

An archaeological Watching Brief was done when posts were put in for information boards by English Heritage. This is listed on Pastscape, Historic Environment Record for Bedfordshire, and so on. This was undertaken by Northamptonshire Archaeology. I found the pdf at the Archaeology Data Service.

Houghton House at English Heritage
Houghton House on Pastscape
Houghton House on Wikipedia
via Heritage Gateway:
National Monuments Record entry on Houghton House
Historical Environment Record for Bedfordshire: Houghton House

Mary Sidney Herbert on Wikipedia
Thomas Bruce on Wikipedia
John Russell on Wikipedia
Francis Russell on Wikipedia

Related Results
Houghton Park on Pastscape
Ampthill Park House on Pastscape
HER (Beds): Ice house at Houghton House, no longer extant
HER (Beds): Summerhouse intended for Houghton House (designed John’s son, Francis’ father, who died before John)
HER (Beds): Screen and gates, at least parts of which were taken from Houghton House
HER (Beds): Gardener’s house at Houghton House

Mary Sidney at Project Gutenberg
Mary Herbert at Luminarium.org, with transcriptions of some of her works
Mary Sidney at archive.org
Searched for the Memoirs of Thomas Bruce, found Volume II viewable online, but not Volume I.

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