A Bit of History
Ashburnham Place has a colourful and fascinating history that weaves back through some of the world changing historical events of the last eight centuries. The Ashburnham family line can be reliably traced back to Reginald ‘de Esburneham’ who in 1194 gave land to the monks of Battle. The heyday of Ashburnham Place was between 1850 – 1900 at which point the house was full of rich furnishings, art treasures and antiques together with an exceptional literary collection.
The house had 9 main state rooms, a dairy, bakehouse, brewhouse, laundry, kitchens, 38 bedrooms, 52 chimneys and 365 windows! The grounds and gardens were maintained by a team 37 gardeners. The Ashburnham family line finally came to an end in 1953 with the death of Lady Catherine. The house and its extensive grounds and gardens then passed to a young clergyman, John Bickersteth. Seven years later he gifted the house and surrounding parkland to the Ashburnham Christian Trust.
For over fifty years Ashburnham Place has been a Retreat and Conference Centre, offering well-equipped meeting rooms, comfortable bedrooms and a range of dining rooms. Conference guests are also able to enjoy campfires, lake swimming, woodland walks, the stillness of the Prayer Garden and even a spot of fishing. The Trust is committed to having a positive and life-giving impact throughout society, an aspect of which is the development of Ashburnham Place Therapy.
We have a warm and peaceful therapy room within a beautiful historic stone building, overlooking a cobbled courtyard and fountain. We enjoy a convenient location between the car park and Orangery Tea Room!
Grounds and Gardens (Context for Eco-Therapy)
The grounds of Ashburnham Place were laid out in the mid-eighteenth Century by the renowned garden designer Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, he created the three lakes and enhanced the natural woodland around them, introducing walks and sight lines back to the house. He was also responsible for designing the Walled Kitchen Garden and building the Orangery, which now houses the Tea Room.
Beautiful in all seasons, part of the grounds are designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) because of the valuable, and in some cases, rare, flora and fauna found here. As you walk through the woods and around the lakes you may see and hear woodpeckers, swans, coots, ducks, herons, geese, Great Crested Grebes, kingfishers, deer, badgers and foxes.
Entering via the main drive, you will pass under magnificent Cedar of Lebanon Trees that frame the bridge over the lake. The stone terraces in front of the house were originally laid out with formal parterres but are now simple areas of lawn with Iceberg roses planted in the centre and different varieties of climbing and rambling rose growing on the walls.
The main area of ornamental garden is the West Garden, at the top of which is the Orangery Tea Room, which houses Camellias that are thought to be the oldest in the country, dating from 1833.
The West Garden comes alive with colour in the spring as the Rhododendrons and Azaleas come into flower and scented daffodils flower in the grass verges. Later in the year drifts of Fuschia and Hydrangea take over. There are some magnificent trees in the gardens, the Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) is probably one of the most spectacular, at the side of the Orangery steps.
The Walled Kitchen Garden is seven acres in total and the walls are an impressive fourteen foot high. A large area is used for growing fruit, vegetables and flowers for use in the house and to supply Adam Byatt’s Trinity Restaurant in Clapham. This is also the setting for Ashburnham’s Employability Program. Apple juice from the trees in the orchard can be bought in the Bookshop or Orangery Tea Room.
One of the smaller areas of the walled garden, which was originally used to grow flowers for the house is now a peaceful, Prayer Garden and has been planted with shrubs and perennials that are scented, including Magnolia grandiflora, Witch Hazel (Hamamelis) and Sweet Box (Sarcococca confusa). There is a greenhouse in the garden which is a lovely place to sit when the weather isn’t so good.
You can walk around all three lakes and the woodland paths are beautiful at any time of the year, there are mature Oaks, Beech, Amelanchier, Chestnut and Hornbeam as well as many other species. The grass banks around Frontwater are left long in the summer and the meadow grass and wild flowers attracts all kinds of butterflies and other wildlife. In the Spring there bluebells and primroses flower profusely.
If you walk around Frontwater, you will come to another lake, Reservoir Pond, which is a very peaceful spot to reflect in. You might even be fortunate enough to spot a Kingfisher here. You can walk around this lake too, it can get a bit muddy so be prepared! If you don’t want to face the mud you can walk across the grassy bank between the lakes and pick up the path around Front Water which will bring you back to the Bridge.
The third lake, Broadwater also has paths all around it and this is probably the easiest lake to get around if you have mobility problems. From the main path you can explore Burrage Wood, this covers the hill between the lake and the drive. You can pick up a path to the Lady Spring Grotto too, a stone structure built by Capability Brown with a fresh water spring flowing into a trough at the back. The damp, shady structure provides a great habitat place for ferns and mosses to grow.
The river Ashbourne runs along the Northern boundary, you can walk along a stretch of it accessible from the bridge at the start of the back drive. There is a weir that used to be part of the hydraulic system to get the water up to the house and the pump houses have been converted into simple prayer rooms that can be used by individuals or small groups.
Target Wood is a spit of land that can be accessed from paths in front of Target Lodge. Target wood was probably intended as a pinetum and the line of Monterey Pines (Pinus radiate) along the field boundary date from 1833, other evergreens such as Holm Oak (Quercus ilex) and Yew (Taxus baccata) are dotted through the woodland. Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) grows along the river bank in the Spring.