Warden Abbey

Old Warden, Bedfordshire

Overview

Warden Abbey is the last fragment of a once great abbey, now stranded in quiet fields. Its splendid first floor room was surely a place where abbots once held court. The field around the building, now grazed, is an important and only partially explored archaeological site, its lumps and bumps speaking of past Cistercian wealth.

  • Dogs AllowedDogs Allowed
  • CotCot
  • Fire or StoveFire or Stove
  • Open SpaceOpen Space
  • Parking AvailableParking Available
  • BathBath
  • MicrowaveMicrowave
  • ShowerShower
  • Explorer PacksExplorer Packs

Beds 1 Double, 1 Triple room

Sleeps
5
4 nights from
£360 equivalent to £18.00 per person, per night

A perplexing building of very high quality

Warden Abbey was Cistercian, founded in 1135 and named after its seal which bore three Warden pears. The abbey was dissolved in 1537 and a large house was built on the site by the Gostwick family. Nothing remains of house or abbey above ground except this puzzling fragment. It stands near a big farm in a meadow made uneven by what lies beneath and is a perplexing building of very high quality. The surrounding country has had the advantage of belonging to large estates and is some of the best in Bedfordshire.

Early brickwork

Today’s building clearly formed part of the Gostwicks’ house, but it also incorporates part of the abbey; in the course of our repairs a 14th-century tile pavement emerged, one of the finest ever discovered and today in Bedford Museum. The early external brickwork has a robust delicacy that is a pleasure to contemplate from your deckchair, including a single castellated, barley twist chimney stack. The principal room downstairs seems to have been part of a gallery or broad corridor, with a large open fireplace added to one end that you can still use.

A splendid first floor room with heavily moulded ceiling

Occupying the entire first floor is a single room which has recently undergone a stunning refurbishment and is now a combined kitchen, sitting and dining room that has wonderful countryside views. The room has a Tudor fireplace (now brought into use for the first time in the building’s history as a Landmark), an oriel window and a heavily moulded oak ceiling. It is a pleasure to sit here and wonder for whom such a splendid room can have been constructed: for one of the last abbots, for his guests, or for the Gostwicks? Above is a superb attic, in which one visitor put her three aunts, uproariously sharing a room for the first time since childhood.

 

‘Peaceful, serene, and with the perfect company: a most romantic environment.’

From the logbook

Floor Plans

Map & local info

Warden Abbey stands in the middle of a field and has a small gated garden. The model village of Old Warden is close by as is the Shuttleworth estate where we have two other Landmarks. There is an excellent circular walk.

Shuttleworth is under 20 minutes in the car from Warden Abbey, and well worth a visit. The world famous Shuttleworth Collection is home to 50 unique and original aeroplanes. Look out for special flying days which run from May until October. The Swiss Gardens at Shuttleworth are a tranquil Regency gem where you can take children. 

Look out for the fantastic series of exhibitions and art collections at The Higgins Bedford, as well as plenty of other attractions. 

Luton Hoo Estate derives it's name from the Anglo-Norse word meaning "the spur of the hill", the estate remains steeped in traditional values still today. The stunning walled garden is a must see. 

Knebworth House offers a fantastic family day out, with plenty of fun activities for children. Walk through 500 years of history as you enjoy the house and generations of changes made by the Lytton family.  

Take a look at our Pinterest Page for more information on things to see and do during your stay at Warden Abbey. 

Please Note: The Landmark Trust does not take any responsibility and makes no warranties, representations or undertakings about the content of any website accessed by hypertext link. Links should not be taken as an endorsement of any kind. The Landmark Trust has no control over the availability of the linked pages.bworth Park offers a great day out for all the family, with fun activities f

See all our Landmarks at Old Warden

Warden Abbey
Old Warden, Bedfordshire
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FAQs

    What you need to know about this building

  • Does the property allow dogs?

    Yes.
  • How is the property accessed?

    Via a field track from the main road.
  • What is the nearest railway station and how far away is it?

    Bedford – 6 miles.
  • Is there car parking specifically for Landmark guests?

    There are two parking spaces approximately 40m from the property.
  • What type of heating does the property have?

    There are Rointe heaters and a solid fuel stove.
  • How can I get fuel for the open fire or stove?

    Unfortunately, there is currently no arrangement for the purchase and delivery of fuel, however details of local sources will be provided with your order confirmation.
  • What are the kitchen facilities?

    The kitchen is fully equipped with all plates, cutlery, fridge etc. There is also an electric cooker.
  • What are the bathroom facilities?

    There is one bathroom with a shower over the bath. There is an additional wc.
  • Does this Landmark have steep, narrow or spiral stairs?

    The stairs are steep, spiral and relatively narrow.
  • Does this Landmark have low headroom?

    Yes, some of the doorways have low headroom.
  • Is there a garden or outside space?

    There is a small fenced garden.

    Booking and Payment

  • What happens if I can’t get to the Landmark due to bad weather?

    If the weather is bad, please contact our booking office who will be able to tell you whether the Landmark is accessible. If the housekeeper can safely get to the building to prepare it then we consider that it is open and available for guests. However if we cannot undertake a changeover then we will do our utmost to transfer your stay to another Landmark, depending on what we have available. It may not be of a similar size or in the same part of the country as your original booking. If the building is accessible but the customer cannot travel due to poor weather in his/her local area then please be aware that Landmark will not provide a refund. However the customer may be able to claim on his/her own travel insurance. We recommend that all guests take out travel insurance when they first secure a booking.
  • How can I pay?

    We accept Maestro (if issued in the UK), Visa, MasterCard, direct transfer and sterling cheques drawn on a UK bank. Cheques should be made payable to the Landmark Trust except for Lundy stays and boat/helicopter tickets which should be payable to The Lundy Company Ltd. All payments must be in sterling.
  • How do I create an account?

    If you have not used the Landmark online booking facility before and you wish to register in advance, you can set up an on-line account by following the instructions below:

    Go to the Landmark home page and click on Gift shop (located at the top of the home page in red).

    Select a gift (e.g. Landmark Handbook or Anniversary Mug) and complete the ‘Amount required’ box. There is no need to complete the purchase but this step is necessary in order to bring up the registration page.

    Click ‘Next Step’ at the bottom of the page.

    This will bring you to the ‘Your details’ page.

    Please complete all the fields (name, address, contact details and create an account). Click on the green ‘Create Account’ button once you have finished.

    At the top of the page headed ‘Your details’ there will be a grey box saying ‘Signed in’ and underneath this it will say ‘you are currently signed in as ….

    Here you will also have the option to ‘Sign out’. Please do so and that is your registration completed.

    Please return to the Landmark home page.

    To check your registration or update your account details at any time please ‘Sign in’ using the icon in the top right-hand corner of the home page.

    If you experience any problems in registering or setting up your on-line account please contact webmaster@landmarktrust.org.uk.
  • How do I pick up the key?

    There are various arrangements for picking up keys. To arrange to get into the Landmark, please contact the housekeeper at least two days before your stay
  • Can I pay a deposit?

    If your stay starts more than three months from the date you make the booking, you are required to pay a deposit of one third of the cost of your stay (or £100 per booking, if greater) at the time of booking. Camping on Lundy must be paid for in full at the time of booking.
  • How can I cancel or change my booking?

    If you wish to cancel or change your booking, please contact our Booking Office on 01628 825925
  • Do you accept payment in other currencies?

    At the moment we only accept payment in sterling.
  • What if I arrive late?

    Please let the housekeeper know if you are going to arrive late and s/he will leave a key for you in a suitable place.
  • How far in advance do I need to book?

    It depends. Some of our most popular Landmarks are booked up a long time in advance, but many can be booked at short notice. We will always have Landmarks free for the coming weekend so it’s always worth checking our availability list.
  • Do you have to be a member to book a Landmark?

    No, Landmarks are available to be booked for anyone.
  • Do I need a Handbook to be able to book?

    No, all the information you need can be found on our website, although we’d like you to buy one anyway as it will be a pleasure to own!

    Staying at a Landmark

  • Are Landmarks accessible for people with disabilities or limited mobility?

    Some of our Landmarks are suitable for people with disabilities or limited mobility. However, many Landmarks have steep or narrow staircases, uneven floors and thresholds, changes of level, low ceilings or beams, as well as indistinct colours on steps and in corridors. We recommend that you call Booking Enquiries on 01628 825925 if you would like to find out the suitability of a particular Landmark for anyone with a specific disability.
  • Are Landmarks only available as self-catering accommodation?

    Yes, Landmarks are only available as self-catering accommodation. We do not offer bed and breakfast.
  • Do you provide catering?

    Landmark does not provide catering, but we can recommend Greycoat Lumleys who can arrange for expert and well-trained staff to cater for one evening or for your entire holiday. Their cooks and chefs are able to work with you to meet your specific requirements
  • Do you allow dogs?

    You may bring up to two dogs to properties where dogs are allowed (please see specific property details for exemptions however dogs are not permitted on Lundy except assistance dogs). They must be kept off the furniture and under proper control.
  • Can I bring a pet?

    Apart from two dogs (see above) no other pets are permitted.
  • Am I insured if I break something?

    We do not carry insurance for breakages. However we appreciate that accidents do sometimes happen. If you have a breakage during your stay, please let the housekeeper know and if appropriate we reserve the right to invoice you accordingly.
  • Are Landmarks suitable for children?

    Yes, most of our Landmarks are perfect for children, with gardens to play in and secret places to discover. Our furniture is surprisingly robust and we positively encourage families to stay. However, some of our buildings may not be suitable for small children; for example, some of them have steep or uneven spiral staircases. We recommend that you call the Booking Enquiries team if you would like to find out the suitability of any of our Landmarks for young children.
  • Can I get married in a Landmark?

    Unfortunately, most of our Landmarks are not licensed for weddings. However, you may get married on Lundy.
  • Can I hold a big party in a Landmark?

    All our larger Landmarks are perfect for gatherings of family or friends. You may invite an additional two guests to visit you during your stay, however they must not stay overnight. This is very important because our fire regulations specifically note the maximum number of people in any one building. In addition our properties are prepared, furnished and equipped for the number of people specified and greater numbers cause damage and excessive wear and tear to vulnerable buildings. Should this condition be ignored we shall make a retrospective charge per person per day (whether or not they stay overnight) for each guest over the permitted limit, the charge being pro-rated on the total cost of your booking.
  • Are there televisions in the buildings?

    We deliberately do not provide televisions and find that most people appreciate this.
  • Why are your access tracks sometimes difficult?

    One of the challenges of restoring unloved buildings is gaining access to them. We frequently have to negotiate rights with our neighbours and share tracks with them. In many cases tracks do not belong to us and we have no right to maintain them. Wherever possible we work with our neighbours to provide you with a good quality surface, but where this is a problem then you will be warned at the time of booking.
  • Will there be sockets for my electrical appliances?

    Yes, we have standard electricity sockets for UK appliances. If you are coming from outside the UK, you will need to bring your own adaptor plug(s). If you are visiting one of our European properties we have standard European electricity sockets. If you are visting from the UK, you will need to bring your own adapter plug (s).

    Facilities

  • Are the kitchens and bathrooms restored to a modern standard?

    Sometimes our kitchens and bathrooms have to be imaginatively fitted into the available space in buildings where before there were none, but they are all planned and equipped to a high and modern standard.
  • Is linen provided?

    Yes, Landmarks are fully equipped with sheets and towels. All the beds are fully made up for your arrival.
  • Are the kitchens fully equipped?

    Yes, our kitchens are well equipped with cookers and fridges. There are freezers and dishwashers (in larger buildings) and, where space allows, microwaves as well as a wide and standard range of utensils. A full equipment list is available at time of booking.
  • Do you provide logs for the open fire/stove?

    Logs are provided at many of our Landmarks for an additional cost.
  • Will there be a mobile signal in the Landmark I book?

    Mobile coverage varies. Some Landmarks have an excellent signal, but others have none at all. If you are concerned, you can check with the housekeeper before your arrival.
  • Is there Wi-Fi in your buildings?

    No. At the moment, we have decided not to implement Wi-Fi in our buildings following a consultation with our customers. Many said that they would find it useful, but many also felt that it would somehow damage the experience of staying in a Landmark. As the responses were so split, and as we have so many other initiatives requiring funding, we have decided to put this on hold for the time being.
  • What should I bring with me? Are there toilet rolls, soap, shampoo, milk, teabags, coffee, hairdryer?

    A welcome tray with tea and sugar awaits your arrival and you will find a pint of milk in the fridge. We also provide toilet rolls and a bar of soap per basin, but no other toiletries. We do not provide hairdryers.
History

Founded in 1135

Warden Abbey was founded in 1135 as a daughter house to the slightly older Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx in Yorkshire, whose founder, Walter Espec, also gave the land for this new community. The Cistercians were great sheep farmers, turning marginal or rough grazing land to productive use. This seems to have been true of Warden, which was also called St Mary de Sartis, meaning 'of the cleared land'.

The first abbot was Simon, formerly novice master at Rievaulx and famous for his piety and learning. With this auspicious start, Warden flourished and grew wealthy. Fine buildings followed and by 1300 the monastery was already extensive. It was to continue growing, because around 1320 work started on an abbey church of cathedral-like proportions. Much of the money to pay for this came in the form of alms, gifts from those who visited the church - the medieval equivalent of the modern fabric appeal. The magnificent mosaic tile pavement with which the church was embellished was discovered in 1961 and has since been taken to Bedford Museum. Another similar pavement which is thought to have decorated the Abbot's Lodging was found in 1974 just north of the present Warden Abbey.

Little is known of the abbey during the four centuries of its existence, but such information as exists points to it being highly respected for its spiritual life and religious discipline. The most famous, or infamous, incident took place in 1217, when after a dispute over property Fawkes de Breaute, the overmighty Sheriff of Bedfordshire, killed one of the monks, wounded others and had thirty of them dragged 'through the mud' to his castle at Bedford. Although he later did full penance in the chapter house at Warden, it must have been some time before harmony was re-established in the abbey.

Warden was widely known for more peaceful activities too, since it was here that the Warden pear was cultivated. A small pear used for cooking, it gave rise to the Warden pie which crops up here and there in Elizabethan and Stuart literature, most notably in Shakespeare's 'Winter's Tale'. Hot Warden Pies were still sold in Bedford in the nineteenth century. So proud was the abbey of this horticultural achievement that they put it on the reverse side of their seal, which displays three pears surrounding a crozier.

In 1537, in the reign of Henry VIII, the abbey was dissolved and its estates, valued at £389 16s 6l/2d, distributed to new owners. The site of the abbey itself went to Robert Gostwick whose family were large landowners in the county. He set about demolishing the buildings and selling the materials: 400 cart loads of stone were taken to Bedford to build the new gaol. This was in 1552 and shortly afterwards a red brick mansion was built just east of the site, possibly incorporating some late additions to the Abbot's Lodging. A view of this house was engraved by S. and N. Buck in 1730, at which time the owner was a 'Rev. Mr. Paris'. Later in the century the property was bought by Samuel Whitbread of Southill Park, to whose family it still belongs, although it has been held on lease since 1974 by the Landmark Trust.

In about 1790, the main part of the Tudor house was pulled down, leaving only a short wing which ran back from its north-west corner. This wing is the building known today as Warden Abbey, which is therefore all that is left to us here, above ground, of both monastery and house. With its red brick walls, ornate chimney, and tall mullioned windows it is recognisably Tudor, but the story is more complicated than first appears. The north-west corner is in fact the stone buttress of a vanished medieval building to the north. Inside, in the main ground floor room, is an arch through which you could once pass into a room beyond; this was later blocked and then turned into a fireplace. The whole of this surviving fragment could even be earlier than the Gostwick house, perhaps built by one of the last abbots who might have used the fine room on the first floor as a sunny south-facing parlour.

Restoration

Described as ruinous in 1912

When the Landmark Trust took on Warden Abbey in 1974 the building had been derelict for many years. As long ago as 1912, in the Victoria County History, it was described as being 'very ruinous' and used only as a pigeon house. In the 1950s the roof was damaged by a fire and although repairs were carried out in the 1960s, where the corner of the garderobe tower next to the stair turret had collapsed, a full restoration was still urgently needed.

This the Landmark Trust offered to carry out in return for a lease of the building. Once repaired the building would be let for holidays, which would bring in an income to maintain it. Since each party of visitors would only be here for a short time there was no need for a garden, neither was it essential to bring a car right to the door. The position of the building in the middle of an actively-farmed field was therefore no impediment.

The restoration was carried out under the supervision of the architect John Phillips from London. The builders were Bernard Ward of Bedford. Work started in 1974 and the building was finally furnished and ready for visitors in 1976. A minor alteration to the stair turret was made in 1979 to extend the stairs to the attic, which to begin with was only reached by ladder.

The first task in 1974 was to repair the roof. The west gable had to be taken down and rebuilt, and eight new rafters fitted. The old tiles were then put back, with second hand ones to make up for those that were missing. The stair turret was given a new conical top based on that in the Buck engraving. A hidden dormer was made behind the tall chimney at the same time to give it extra support. The west chimney was made taller to encourage it to draw.

Some sections of the parapet had to be taken down and rebuilt with new coping stones laid on top. In the walls themselves one or two corner stones, or quoins, had to be renewed and several bricks had to be cut out and replaced. Only the east wall was in reasonably sound condition, since this was only built when the Tudor range beyond it was demolished in about 1790.

Most of the windows had been blocked and these were now opened up again, and the mullions repaired. Only the later window in the east wall of the first floor room was left blocked to recreate the original arrangement of that room. New windows were made to light the present bathroom and the loo above it. All the windows were then reglazed by Denis King of Norwich.

In the north wall of the building, next to the stair tower, was a blocked doorway. Since visitors would approach from this direction, it seemed sensible to open this up and make a hall at the foot of the stairs. The more elaborate southern doorway opened into a small room which since it was next to the main living room seemed the best place for the kitchen. Upstairs the large first floor room had long been divided into two rather small bedrooms. Since this had originally been just one room, and a very fine one, the partitions were taken down to allow it to be enjoyed as one room again.

The ceilings were repaired on both floors, particularly where the ends of beams had rotted, and the moulded wallplate or cornice had disappeared. New oak floors were laid on the upper floors, with tiles on the ground floor. The walls were replastered where the old plaster was missing or decayed and then limewashed in the traditional way. Around the building the ground level had risen considerably. The work of lowering it and digging trenches to bring water and electricity into the building was carried out by archaeologists from Bedfordshire County Council, with exciting results. Some of the finds can be seen in Bedford Museum.

In 2007 and 2009, Landmark completed the restoration of two more buidlings in Old Warden, Keeper’s Cottage and Queen Anne’s Summerhouse, which both stand on the Shuttleworth Estate.

Availability & booking

Select a changeover day to start your booking...

What's a changeover day? and Why can't I select other dates?Explain MoreQuestion

A changeover day is a particular day of the week when holidays start and end at our properties. These tend to be on a Friday or a Monday but can sometimes vary. All stays run from one changeover day until another changeover day.