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. Knowing about Landmark’s restoration of Warden Abbey on the neighbouring Whitbread Estate in the 1970s, in 2001 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.
History of Queen Anne’s Summerhouse
In 1712, Samuel Ongley was knighted by Queen Anne (who died in 1714) and it was almost certainly Ongley who built Queen Anne’s Summerhouse. The first documentary evidence of the building’s existence comes from a 1736 map and its fine brickwork also suggests an early 18th-century date. The summerhouse was built as a folly, a destination for picnics and walks, and to beautify the estate. It seems to have been built as a miniature mock-military redoubt, on an artificially created platform to enhance its views. Even in miniature, its scale seems somehow oversized, an effect typical of the English Baroque architecture of the early 18th century and of contemporary architects like John Vanburgh and Nicholas Hawksmoor. Local tradition attributes the design to Thomas Archer, a leading exponent of the English Baroque. This is largely on the basis of his involvement at Wrest Park at nearby Silsoe, but no reliable evidence for this has yet come to light.
The Summerhouse is built of exceptionally fine ‘gauged’ brickwork, a technique in which each brick is rubbed to shape. The mortar joints between the bricks are also incredibly fine, carefully lined-out in near pure lime putty and no more than 1-2 mm wide. It is exceptionally fine craftsmanship.
The large main chamber was probably used for elegant refreshments, prepared by servants in the brick vaulted basement below. Two of the turret alcoves in this chamber held ‘buffets,’ sets of shelves on which china could be displayed. There was always a fireplace in the main chamber, a third turret being used for the flue. The fourth turret held a spiral staircase that led up to the roof terrace, where views could be enjoyed of the mansion and surrounding countryside. The rooftop sections of two turrets were tiny pavilions in their own right, the inside of their domes plastered. In planting the woods on his estate, Ongley set out a series of avenues radiating from the Summerhouse and most remain today even though much of the coniferous planting now apparent was planted later. The railings which surround the Summerhouse date from the late 18th century, as they are made of dry ‘puddle’ iron, a forging technique not developed until the 1780s.
The folly was repaired on several occasions through its life, most visibly in 1878 when Joseph Shuttleworth commissioned John Usher to design its terracotta balustrade and gave it its misleading datestone. After 1945, however, the building fell out of use and into dereliction. When Landmark took out a lease on it, the folly’s roof had fallen in. Its foursquare design gave it a deceptive appearance of solidity, but the brick skin was crumbling and separating from the inner core. Windows and doors were missing and the building at risk from vandals. It had no water or electricity.