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The de Grey family establish the manor of Wrest as their main residence.
The family fortunes peak when Edward IV makes Edmund Grey his Lord Treasurer in 1463 and Earl of Kent in 1465.
Having squandered his inheritance, Edmund’s grandson Richard sells most of the family’s estates, including Wrest, to pay his debts. His half-brother Henry buys Wrest back 12 years later.
Amabel Benn, wife of Henry, the 10th Earl, together with their son, Anthony, and his wife, Mary, rebuild the north front of the house, lay out large formal gardens and create the Long Water.
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Henry Grey, Duke of Kent, inspired by what he has seen abroad, creates the Great Garden, a formal woodland garden centred on the Long Water.
Henry’s granddaughter Jemima and her husband, Philip, bring in Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to soften the edges of the gardens while keeping their formal spirit – preserving, in Brown’s words, the ‘Mystery of the Gardens’.
Thomas Robinson, 2nd Earl de Grey, demolishes the old house, builds a new mansion in the French style and complements it with formal flower gardens.
See highlights from the collection at Wrest Park
The last Grey to live at Wrest is Anne, the dowager Countess Cowper, a staunch evangelical and philanthropist. Her son Francis, 7th Earl Cowper, inherits, but visits Wrest rarely.
Francis’s nephew Auberon (‘Bron’) Herbert leases Wrest to the American ambassador, Whitelaw Reid.
Wrest is used as a convalescent home and later a military hospital, which is forced to close in September 1916 after a fire.
Bron Herbert is killed in action, and his sister Nan sells Wrest to brewing and mining magnate John George Murray.
The Sun Insurance Company buys Wrest for its wartime headquarters. Many of its employees live on site, sleeping in the converted stables or dormitory huts in the grounds.
The Ministry of Works buys Wrest and leases it to the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering (later the Silsoe Institute), which becomes world renowned for its research into farm mechanisation and trials of new techniques and equipment.
English Heritage takes over the house and eastern service buildings, and embarks on a 20-year plan to restore the gardens to their pre-1917 appearance.
Learn more about the history of Wrest Park
English Heritage cares for over 400 historic buildings, monuments and places - from world-famous prehistoric sites to grand medieval castles, from Roman forts on the edges of empire to a Cold War bunker. Through these, we bring the story of England to life for over 10 million people each year. The English Heritage Trust is a charity, no. 1140351, and a company, no. 0744722, registered in England.