Skip to content

A brief history of Ashridge Estate

View of rolling chalk downland from Ivinghoe Beacon in September at Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire
View of rolling chalk downland from Ivinghoe Beacon at Ashridge Estate | © National Trust Images/Annapurna Mellor

From Iron Age farms, Roman settlements and a royal park, to Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and two world wars, the Ashridge Estate, on the Hertfordshire–Buckinghamshire border, is brimming with history.

Ancient sites

The Ashridge Estate is littered with ancient monuments, the most prominent being the hillfort at Ivinghoe Beacon, which once guarded the area against attack.

Monastic Foundations

Ashridge began life as a monastery founded by Edmund of Cornwall, nephew of Henry III, in 1283 to house a holy relic. The monks were known as Bonhommes or blue friars, because of the colour of their robes.

During the 13th century, a deer park was established with the ancestors of the fallow deer that still roam the estate today.

Royalty at Ashridge

Ashridge House was popular with royalty from 1290 when Edward I held a parliament in the monastery. After the dissolution of the monasteries, Ashridge became the property of Henry VIII and his children.

Please note

Ashridge House is not owned or run by the National Trust. For more information on visiting Ashridge House please see

The Egertons

Thomas Egerton, chancellor to Elizabeth I, bought the estate in 1604. He added domestic wings to the ancient monastic buildings.

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown connection

The Ashridge Estate has been adapted by its many owners throughout its history. Around 1760, famous landscape architect Capability Brown worked on the parkland, creating the Golden Valley. His work was continued 50 years later during another phase of redevelopment by one of his students, Humphry Repton.

Summer view of the Bridgewater Monument at Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire.
View of the Bridgewater Monument at Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire in summer | © National Trust Images/John Millar

The Canal Duke

The 3rd Duke established the name in connection with waterways, pioneering the first canal in Britain to serve his industrial interests in the Manchester area. He became known as the 'Canal Duke' and the Bridgewater Monument was built in his memory.

The Brownlows

The Ashridge Estate passed sideways though inheritance to the Brownlow family in the 19th century. Under the third Earl Brownlow the estate developed, and many famous people stayed at Ashridge House.

Ashridge in wartime

During both world wars the house was used to train and billet troops. In the Second World War it became a convalescent home for St Albans Hospital.

View of wider landscape from Ivinghoe Beacon on Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire
View of the landscape from Ivinghoe Beacon on Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire | © National Trust Images/Hugh Mothersole

The history of the Ivinghoe Beacon

Although Ivinghoe Beacon is not the highest point on the Ashridge Estate, it’s the best place to enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.

Bronze age

As you walk across this windswept landscape look about you for signs of the past. There has been human activity on this site since the Bronze Age. You may be able to make out the outline of the remains of an Iron Age hillfort on top of the beacon. Bronze Age burial mounds can be seen throughout the area – all are Scheduled Ancient Monuments.

Centuries of farming

You can see many deeply rutted 'cattle drovers' paths and cross-ridge dykes throughout the Ivinghoe Hills. Our ancestors farmed this landscape for centuries and the cattle and sheep you see here today are a continuation of that process. The animals create the right conditions for wildflowers and butterflies to thrive.

Prehistoric past

Further south towards Incombe Hole, you can see the work of our ancestors at the prehistoric earthwork, Grim's Ditch. Ivinghoe Beacon is the end of the Ridgeway National Trail which starts at Overton Hill on the Marlborough Downs in Wiltshire. It’s also the start of the Icknield Way Trail that runs 110 miles to Knettishall Heath on the Norfolk/Suffolk border.

Family walking a dog at Ashridge Estate, hertfordshire

Discover more at Ashridge Estate

Find out when Ashridge Estate is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

You might also be interested in

Summer view of the Bridgewater Monument at Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire.

Things to see and do at Ashridge Estate 

Ashridge has over 80 miles of pathways 5,000 acres of woodland, from the windmill to Bridgewater Monument and panoramic views of the estate, there’s lots to explore at Ashridge Estate.

Visitor carrying a tray of coffee and cake in the cafe at Llanerchaeron, Wales

Eating and shopping at Ashridge 

Discover the shop at Ashridge Estate. It’s through your purchases that we’re able to continue looking after Ashridge Estate for everyone, for ever.

Family walking a dog at Ashridge Estate, hertfordshire

Visiting Ashridge with your dog 

Ashridge is a two pawprint rated place with over 80 miles of pathways. Find out more here.

Fallow deer in the parkland at Attingham Park, Shropshire

Deer at Ashridge Estate 

The fallow deer are an integral part of the landscape at Ashridge and a much-loved feature of this historic estate. Find out about their history here and how we manage them.

A lake at dawn or dusk with a grand house reflected in it, surrounded by tall green reeds and trees

How to spot a ‘Capability’ Brown landscape 

Brown designed landscapes that fitted in seamlessly with the surrounding countryside. So how do you spot the designs of one of the greatest gardeners of all time?

Visitors exploring in buggies at Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire

Volunteering at Ashridge Estate 

Discover the volunteering roles currently available at Ashridge Estate, and how you can apply and get involved today.

Tree in a buttercup meadow, with Bridgewater monument in the distance at Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire

Looking after our veteran trees at Ashridge Estate 

Veteran trees are old trees which are notable for their features, and they play an important part in our ecosystem. Read about the work the ranger team are doing to protect these trees, and how you can help.

Overhead view of an octagonal table with the figure of Silenus, a drunken follower of Bacchu, in The Library at Claydon House in Buckinghamshire


Learn about people from the past, discover remarkable works of art and brush up on your knowledge of architecture and gardens.