Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Art, History & Archaeology Sites & Museums

Best known for the towns of Bedford and Luton, Bedfordshire has a lengthy history. Evidence for prehistoric habitation can be found on the rolling Dunstable Downs, where Bronze Age communities buried their dead beneath earthen mounds now known as the Five Knolls. The county’s medieval heritage is reflected in the Norman earthworks of Bedford and Totternhoe Castles as well as in the surviving ruins of Bushmead Priory, used by Augustinian canons before the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The 15th-century Someries Castle is one of the earliest examples of a brick building in England, while the 17th-century Houghton House displays the blossoming of brick architecture through the Jacobean style. The attractive landscapes of Bedfordshire unsurprisingly attracted England’s wealthy, and today the county showcases some of the country’s finest 18th-century stately homes, most notably Luton Hoo and Woburn Abbey.

Archaeology & History Sites in Bedfordshire

Cardington Airship Hangars

In two large sheds at Cardington is where in the 1920s, then the largest built in Britain, the airships were developed. Following the crash of the R101 in October 1930, near Beauvais in France, all work on the airship in England stopped. The two Cardington sheds have since been used for many different purposes, including research, training and even as a studio for feature films (the Batman trilogy and Star Wars) and a sound stage for rehearsals (Paul Macartney, Take That).

Houghton House

Although Houghton House survives only as a ruined shell, it was once a grand house built in the early 17th century for Mary, Dowager Countess of Pembroke. King James I had granted her the land, and the building initially served as a hunting lodge. Architecturally, it blended elements of the Jacobean and Classical styles. The house was dismantled in the late 18th century, with many of its features taken to be used elsewhere. Much of the building has survived, now a picturesque ruin in the grounds of Ampthill Park.

Willington Dovecote and Stables

A 16th century stone dovecote and stables, this building is near Willington’s church. Local landowner Sir John Gostwick, a treasurer for King Henry VIII, commissioned the construction of the buildings for his own estate. The limestone rubble used for the walls may have been taken from nearby Newnham Priory, which had been recently demolished following the king’s dissolution of the monasteries. The dovecote remains in use, housing 1,500 pigeons, making it a good spot for bird watching.

Woburn Abbey

Woburn Abbey is a historic country house that is home to the Duke of Bedfordshire, and has been since 1547. Originally a Cistercian Abbey that was founded in 1145, under the land was given to the Russell family by King Henry VIII after his Dissolution of Monasteries in the late 1530s. The first house was built on the site of the abbey, hence retaining the name. Although still a private home, it does open to the public. The house and the gardens are currently closed for refurbishment until the spring of 2024.

Wrest Park

Built in the 1830s, Wrest Park is the creation of Thomas Robinson, the 2nd Earl de Grey. Designed in the style of an 18th century French chateau, the building sits on land that had been in the de Grey family since the Late Middle Ages. The formal gardens predate the house, a rare example from the early 18th century. Some of the garden designs are those of one of England’s greatest designers, Capability Brown. The building served as a military hospital in the First World War.

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Museums & Art Galleries in Bedfordshire

Shuttleworth Collection

In the six hangars on the Shuttleworth estate is a collection of restored vintage vehicles and historic planes. Besides early 20th century aircraft that are all airworthy, the collection includes various historic cars, buses and motorbikes as well as steam engines and farm machinery. Of particular note is the the 1909 Blériot XI, which is the oldest flying plane in the world. Visitors are able to explore the collection as well as view restoration in progress in the workshops. There is also a programme of live events.