The Pilgrim’s Progress and A Winter’s Tale – Some Literary Remains in Bedfordshire

The clues to the literary connections in the local area can always be found in the Landmark Library of any property.

Keeper's book case

John Bunyan was a Bedfordshire man. He was born in the village of Elstow in 1628 and he spent 12 years as a prisoner of conscience in Bedford Jail where he had the idea to write his most famous work. The Pilgrim’s Progress was published in two parts in 1678 and 1684. Bunyan died in Holborn in London in 1688 and I have seen his grave and memorial in Bunhill Fields Cemetery in London.

Bunyan in Bunhill Fields

I discovered the existence of Houghton House not too far from Old Warden from another little series of books which I consult before making trips; the Heritage Unlocked series published by English Heritage.

EH Heritage Unlocked

I’m not a member of EH and to visit the remains of Houghton House, just outside the busy little town of Ampthill, it’s no advantage to be because it’s free to visit during daylight hours.

Houghton House

From the EH website :

Houghton House today is the shell of a 17th century mansion commanding magnificent views, reputedly the inspiration for the ‘House [or Palace] Beautiful in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

It was built around 1615 for Mary, Dowager Countess of Pembroke, in a mixture of Jacobean and Classical styles: the ground floors of two Italianate loggias survive, possibly the work of Inigo Jones.

EH Information board

Information panels describe the house, its owners and the surrounding hunting estate.”

Approaching HH

The ruin of Houghton House is approached along a tree-lined track.

Tree with mistletoe

There are also many trees laden with mistletoe – giving quite a seasonal feel. Also, it was approaching dusk which increased the dramatic effect of the ruin but maybe my photos turned out a little on the dark side.

HH south

Houghton House “commands spectacular views over the Bedfordshire countryside and would have been a grand setting indeed for the countess’ social events.”

And in the History Album at Keeper’s Cottage we are informed of a Shakespearean connection to Old Warden :

Warden Pear. A small pear used for cooking, the Warden Pear was the key ingredient in Warden Pies, which crop up here and there in Elizabethan and Stuart literature, most notably in Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale , where the Clown almost gives the recipe : “I must have saffron to colour the warden pies; mace; dates? …nutmegs, seven; a race or two of ginger, byut that I may beg, four pounds of prunes and as many raisins o’ the sun” [Act IV, sc. Iii] Hot Warden Pies were still sold in Bedford in the nineteenth century.”

The Winter's Tale


9 comments on “The Pilgrim’s Progress and A Winter’s Tale – Some Literary Remains in Bedfordshire

  1. Sarah Wrightson says:

    I am enjoying this current trip so much Milady, thank you.

  2. Nilly says:

    I notice the book of John Clare poems in Keeper,s Cottage & am reminded that we keep meaning to visit Clare Cottage near Peterborough. However, the last time we were nearby it was Halloween & we feared an infestation of pumpkins! We don’t like to be curmudgeonly but seasonal themes in such properties sometimes spoil things for “oldies” like us, the National Trust being particularly guilty of this.(Our own children managed to get a lot of fun from visiting historic properties in pre-theme times.)

    • I decided to leave mention of Clare as I may bring him in at a later date. I started reading (but haven’t got very far) Iain Sinclair’s Edge of Orison: in the traces of John Clare’s ‘Journey out of Essex’. I have to agree with you about pumpkins but I also must say how the Christmas trees in the front garden at Blickling sparkled agreeably on a very cold, dark, miserable December late afternoon.

      • But also note, Nilly, the most read book – all about game keeping – is Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

      • Nilly says:

        Thank you for the reminder! I’ve read Ghost Milk, London Orbital and Downriver over the past year or so in an effort to understand Iain Sinclair’s rather masculine take on psychogeography & I had forgotten about Edge of Orison – another one to add to the pile! (I remember my granny lending my mother Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the early ’60’s. I wasn’t allowed to have a look!)

  3. What beautiful photos, and what an intriguing post – a ruined house, John Bunyan, Shakespeare, pears and pies! Oh, I wish I was braver about driving and I would visit there.

  4. And did you understand Ian S Nilly? That must be why I’ve found reading EofO hard going although I am so interested in the idea and the process. I borrowed Lady C from the public library in the 1970s and it had to be fetched from a locked cupboard even then.

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