The lands of Old Warden manor passed at first into royal hands and then in the 1690s, various portions of land were consolidated as Old Warden Park by a rich linen draper called Samuel Ongley. It was almost certainly Samuel Ongley who built Queen Anne’s Summerhouse in around 1713.
The Ongley family owned the Old Warden estate until 1872. In the late 18th century, Robert Henley, inheriting through his mother, became 1st Baron Ongley of Old Warden. It was his grandson, the 3rd Lord Ongley, who created the picturesque Swiss Garden on the other side of the estate (now restored and open to the public) and began to build the model village at Old Warden in the 1830s. However, by the 1870s the family’s wealth was failing and their line exhausted. In 1872 the estate was sold to another self-made man, Joseph Shuttleworth.
Joseph Shuttleworth was the son of a Lincolnshire shipwright who spotted the potential of steam. With Nathaniel Clayton, in 1842, he formed The Clayton & Shuttleworth Co., an iron foundry and engineering business that made mobile steam and traction engines. By 1872, when Joseph Shuttleworth came to Old Warden, the firm had branches throughout Europe and exported their engines all over the world. Shuttleworth employed architect Henry Clutton to demolish the old brick mansion and build him a new one. Shuttleworth took as his model Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire, an early Jacobean seat of Shuttleworth namesakes but not, it seems, his ancestors. Clutton transformed its design into the ‘Jacobethan’ mansion that stands at Old Warden today.
Working with Clutton was a local architect called John Usher. Estate accounts show that it was Usher, rather than Clutton, who in 1877-8 designed and built Keeper’s Cottage, a short distance from the summerhouse on The Warren and today also a Landmark. Both Joseph Shuttleworth and his son Colonel Frank Shuttleworth (who inherited the estate in 1883) loved to shoot, and Old Warden became renowned for its pheasant and partridge shooting. Queen Anne’s Summerhouse perhaps provided the shooting party with a suitable setting for refreshments.
In 1940, Frank’s only son and heir, Richard Shuttleworth, died in a flying accident. His mother Dorothy decided to make the estate over to an educational trust in his memory and the mansion became a college for countryside-based studies. Both Queen Anne’s Summerhouse and Keeper’s Cottage became derelict, their repair beyond the resources of a trust devoted to other aims. In 2001, knowing about Landmark’s restoration of Warden Abbey on the neighbouring Whitbread Estate in the 1970s, the Shuttleworth Trust approached the Landmark Trust to take on both Keeper’s Cottage and Queen Anne’s Summerhouse, offering generous donations towards their restoration costs.
Keeper’s Cottage is a model gamekeeper’s establishment provided in 1878 by Joseph Shuttleworth. The Cottage, outbuildings and kennels together form a handsome example of Victorian model estate architecture, based on the pattern books published to help architects, builders and clients design ideal homes for people from all levels of society. The fashion for such dwellings (and there are many in Old Warden village) was driven partly by benevolent landowners’ desire to improve the living conditions of their estate workers and partly by the same landowners’ wish to create a picturesque landscape in which to exist and demonstrate their position in local society.
Estate accounts show that it was John Usher, rather than Henry Clutton, who designed and built Keeper’s Cottage in 1877-8. Usher’s designs for the cottage and its outbuildings are now at the Bedford & Luton Archive Service. The gamekeeper was a crucial member of the estate team in building up the pheasant and partridge shooting for which it became well-known. The preparation for the shoots and their management would have been masterminded from Keeper’s Cottage, where pheasant chicks were hatched in the sitting house and working dogs housed in the kennels.
Keeper Richard Aireton and his family were the first of several such estate families to live at Keeper’s Cottage. However, despite being such a model establishment in the 1870s, the Cottage failed to keep up with the times. Left without water or electricity, it became first a weekend cottage and was finally left deserted. By the time the Landmark Trust was approached for help, the Cottage’s outbuildings had mostly fallen down, its roof had holes in it, the windows were boarded up and floorboards were rotten and dangerous. The roof of the detached kennel block had collapsed.