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Ashridge

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Ashridge is an estate and house in Hertfordshire, England; part of the land stretches into Buckinghamshire and it is close to the Bedfordshire border. It is situated in the Chiltern Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, about two miles north of Berkhamsted and twenty miles north west of London. Surrounding villages include Aldbury, Pitstone, Ivinghoe, Little Gaddesden, Nettleden, and Potten End.

The estate comprises 20 square kilometres (5,000 acres) of woodlands, commons and chalk downland which supports a rich variety of wildlife. It also offers an good choice of waymarked walks through outstanding country.

From mediaeval times it was the location of an abbey founded in 1276 by the Earl of Cornwall, who had a palace here. The order was known as the “Bonhommes”, or “bluefriars” on account of the colour of their robes.

At the foundation of the abbey the Earl of Cornwall donated, among other things, a phial of Christ’s blood, in honour of which the convent adjacent to the abbey was founded. This deposit proved fruitful for the abbey and convent, as pilgrims from all over Europe flocked to worship the phial of blood. The abbey grew quite wealthy as a result.

One such visitor was King Edward I. In 1290 he held parliament at the abbey while he spent Christmas in Pitstone. However in 1538 the “blood” was publicly proven to be nothing more than honey with colouring added. The building ceased to be used as an abbey shortly afterwards.

The abbey then became the private residence of Princess Elizabeth, younger daughter of King Henry VIII. It was here that she was arrested in 1552, under suspicion of treason.

From 1604 to 1848 the estate was the property of the Dukes and Earls of Bridgewater (the Egerton family). The Bridgewater Monument was built in memory of the 3rd Duke, Francis Egerton, the “father of inland navigation” with a view to the Grand Union Canal. The monument contains a narrow spiral staircase of 170 steps and is open to the public.

The abbey, which was of grand proportions and richly decorated, was pulled down in 1802 by the 7th Earl of Bridgewater, and was replaced by a large neo-Gothic house designed by James Wyatt and now a Grade 1 listed building. The then boundary between Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire passed through the dining room, though the house is now entirely in Hertfordshire. The estate then passed to the Earls Brownlow, and then in 1921 was split, with the land passing to the National Trust, while the house and garden became the Ashridge (Bonar Law) College.

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