- Willington Dovecote and Stables will be open as soon as the National Trust can ensure the safety of guests.
- Explore the dovecote and discover its importance.
- See the Tudor stables and discover their history.
- Enjoy a walk among the gorgeous woodland and willows.
Willington Dovecote and Stables is a National Trust property in Willington, near Bedford, Bedfordshire. The property is from the 16th century, and both the stables and dovecote are Grade I listed buildings created by Sir John Gostwick. A gentleman usher for Henry VII, he was able to rise up the ranks and purchase Willington Manor from Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, where he built up new parts of the area, including the Dovecote and Stables. He was knighted in 1540. The manor is privately owned so unfortunately can’t be visited. The church is not owned by the National Trust but is accessible to the public as it is still actively used.
The Willington Dovecote is one of the best preserved examples of a 16th century dovecote and is also one of the largest. As pigeons were a delicacy, the dovecote shows lord of the manor John Gostwick’s wealth and success. He commissioned the work in the 1540s, following a visit from King Henry VIII. When you’re inside, you can see endless rows of nesting boxes, designed to hold up to 3000 pigeons. The boxes are designed to hold two adult pigeons and two squabs, or baby pigeons. Adult pigeons can produce squabs every few weeks, so be grateful there are no longer any pigeons there, or the smell would be overpowering!
The Stables were also commissioned by John Gostwick. Although originally the family were tenant farms, John Gostwick was able to buy the whole parish in 1529. The medieval moated manor house was demolished, and new buildings took their place, such as the Stables. With a huge interior, the Stables can help to demonstrate how extravagant the other buildings would be. It is possible that the Stables were meant to be a hunting lodge or accommodation for important guests. Can you spot how the building might have been used? A fireplace and window offers a view over the surrounding countryside, and traces of glass in the windows can still be seen. Above the fireplace is the signature of John Bunyan, who was an English writer and Puritan preacher as well as the writer of the ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’. Originally the roof may have been thatched. King Henry VIII is believed to have held a meeting at Willington in 1541, so potentially the king may have stayed in the Stables.
Part of the estate still standing is also the church. Due to working for King Henry VIII, Gostwick worked during the dissolution of the monasteries and personally worked on the dissolution of many monasteries including Warden Abbey, Bedford Greyfriars and Elstow Abbey. Analysis of the church shows that Gostwick used lead from Greyfriars to cover the Willington church roof. He also might have used some of the redundant building materials in the other buildings in the site. The church is a classic Tudor building. The wooden Tudor ceilings have stylized roses, faces, religious figures and other symbols. Within the church are also memorials to Gostwick, such as recreation of the jousting helmet he is said to have worn when accompanying Henry VIII on a visit to the French king, Francis I. The church is still used by the community today.
The Willington Woodland and Willows walk is an easy, dog-friendly, 1 hour walk that explores the new Bedford River Valley Park. It’s ideal for families because the path is accessible and surfaced so is great for wheelchairs and buggies. You will pass Dovecote Lake, Willington, as well as Danish Camp and the old Bedford to Cambridge railway line. It’s also a perfect route for bird watching, with Western Cattle Egrets, White-tailed Eagles and Hoopoes being seen in the area.
Looking for food in Willington? Tasty Indian restaurant The Waters Edge is perfect for some spice. Gastropub The Dragon has some unique dishes for your family to try. Modern European restaurant The Boardwalk Bar & Dining has some great lunch bites. If you want to stay nearby, there are plenty of places. The Cottage is quaint and comfortable. The Boot Inn is chic and fresh in its décor. The Hotel Ibis is great for those looking for a budget place to stay.
If you’re looking for other brilliant places to visit that you might enjoy, Wepre Park is fascinating to visit and will let you explore the native Welsh Ewloe Castle too. Green Park in London is the smallest of the historic parks, but just as interesting to visit as its counterpart.
What to know before you go
- The Dovecote and Stables opening times vary depending on the time of year, so check online before you visit.
- The floor in the Dovecote is uneven, so wheelchair users and families with buggies may struggle.
- Access to the first floor of the Stable is by a steep staircase only so is not accessible for wheelchairs.
- Mobile toilets are available at most events, but there are also toilets in Willington.
- It’s 4 miles east of Bedford and is just north of the Sandy Road on the A603.
- Busses run from Sandy and Bedford to be able to get to the Dovecote.
- Local cycle routes on the National Cycle Network can get you to the Willington Dovecote.