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Park wall of Hinchingbrooke House fronting Brampton Road and Pepys Steps

A Grade II* Listed Building in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

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Latitude: 52.3272 / 52°19'38"N

Longitude: -0.1997 / 0°11'59"W

OS Eastings: 522780

OS Northings: 271430

OS Grid: TL227714

Mapcode National: GBR J2V.4B8

Mapcode Global: VHGLW.HR8T

Entry Name: Park wall of Hinchingbrooke House fronting Brampton Road and Pepys Steps

Listing Date: 27 May 1977

Last Amended: 15 April 2016

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1128652

English Heritage Legacy ID: 53495

Location: Huntingdon, Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire, PE29

County: Cambridgeshire

District: Huntingdonshire

Civil Parish: Huntingdon

Built-Up Area: Huntingdon

Traditional County: Huntingdonshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire

Church of England Parish: Huntingdon St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Ely

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Park wall to the east of Hinchingbrooke House, built in various stages between the late C16 and early C18, and associated flight of steps to the east of Hinchingbrooke House, known as Pepys Steps.


Park wall to the east of Hinchingbrooke House, built in the late C16 - early C17, with a second section added probably in the late C17- early C18, and associated flight of steps to the east of Hinchingbrooke House, known as Pepys Steps, which date from the mid C17.


Wall: the park wall is located east and south-east of Hinchingbrooke House. The section to the east of the house runs parallel with Brampton Road for approximately 112 metres with a short stretch (c.7m in length) running parallel at each end, leading towards the house.

Pepys Steps: a single flight of 14 steps, rectangular in plan, located approximately 20 metres south-east of Hinchingbrooke House, leading up to Pepys Walk.


Wall: the first section of wall to the north-east and east of Hinchingbrooke House, was constructed in the late C16 or early C17, of re-used medieval masonry to the Brampton Road elevation, and red brick to the interior laid in stretcher bond. The wall is surmounted by Ketton limestone coping and limestone ball finials, placed at regular intervals. Originally a brick-built gazebo on a stone base was positioned in the north-east corner of the wall and evidence for this survives in the form of a late-C16 or early-C17 red brick parapet.

The second section of wall to the south-east of Hinchingbrooke House, probably constructed in the late C17 or early C18, is composed of ashlar masonry to the Brampton Road elevation and light-coloured brick to the interior laid in an irregular English bond. This section of the wall is also surmounted by Ketton limestone coping and limestone ball finials, placed at regular intervals.

Pepys Steps: the 14 shallow steps are constructed of cut Ketton limestone slabs, with bull-nosed moulding to each tread. Although the steps are shown in Buck’s engraving and on the 1757 map, the brick spandrel walls appear to be of C19 construction.


Hinchingbrooke House stands on the site of a Benedictine nunnery, which occupied the site from at least 1087 until the dissolution of the priory in 1536. The remains of the priory buildings were granted to Sir Richard Williams in 1538, and were developed in the late C16 and early C17 by the Cromwells. The main approach to the house was updated in the late C16, with the relocation of a late medieval gatehouse from Ramsey Abbey to the north entrance of Hinchingbrooke Priory by Sir Henry Cromwell. The Hinchingbrooke estate was sold in 1627 to Sir Sidney Montagu, and his son Edward Montagu later became Baron Montagu of St Neots, Viscount Hinchingbrooke and Earl of Sandwich. The house at Hinchingbrooke was developed in the 1660s and an icehouse, designed by Lord Clarendon, was built in 1666 (destroyed in 1912).

It is likely that the wall to the north-east of the house was constructed in the late C16, when the adjoining gatehouse was relocated from Ramsey Abbey. It is probable that the wall to the east of the house which runs on a north-east - south-west axis along Brampton Road was also constructed in the late C16 or early C17. The section of wall fronting Brampton Road is composed of re-used medieval masonry, with late-C16 or early-C17 brickwork to the parapet of the north-east corner, where there was formerly a gazebo, the plan of which is shown on an estate map of 1757 (removed in the late C18 or C19).

Samuel Pepys, a second cousin of the first Earl of Sandwich attended school in Huntingdon around 1644, and recorded his visits to the Earl at Hinchingbrooke House in the 1660s, describing the contemporary alterations made to both the Elizabethan house and its gardens. In the summer of 1661 Pepys wrote that Hinchingbrooke ‘is now all in dirt, because of my lord’s building, which will make it magnificent.’ In his diary entry of 20 September 1663, Pepys notes the recent works to the east garden wall to Brampton Road, writing ‘my Lord… singly demanded my opinion in the walks in his garden, about the bringing of the crooked wall on the mount to a shape’. Due to the mention of the raised terrace and steps in Pepys’ famed diary, they are colloquially known as Pepys Walk and Pepys Steps respectively.

A further period of alterations seems to have occurred at the end of the C17, and in 1697 Celia Fiennes commented: ‘The Gardens and Wilderness and Greenhouse will be very fine when quite finish’d, with the dwarfe trees and gravel walks, there is a large fountaine or bason which is to resemble that in the privy garden at White hall which will front the house; the high terrass walks look out on the Road; all this country is good land and fruitful and much like Oxfordshire.’

An engraved view of Hinchingbrooke Priory by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck in 1730 shows the house, gatehouse and north boundary wall from the north-east, with a gazebo in the extreme left at the corner of the north and east boundary walls. The engraving depicts the geometric layout of the north and east gardens which are articulated by lawns, topiary and gravel paths. To the east of the house the Pepys Steps are shown leading up to the raised terrace, which is bounded to the east by a wall with ball finials.

The Wilderness mentioned above by Fiennes lies to the south-west of the house, and is shown as ordered woodland on the 1757 plan of Hinchingbrooke House and its gardens. The woodland is separated from the house by a lawn and a retaining wall, which runs perpendicular from the east boundary wall fronting Brampton Road. The retaining wall is constructed of re-used medieval masonry, the stone for which may have been acquired from Ramsey Abbey, judging by the presence of what appears to be medieval ecclesiastical carving on some of the stones. The 1757 plan shows a number of linear walks in the woodland, including a wide path south-west from the house to two long parallel ponds, adjacent to Nun’s Bridge. To the centre of the retaining wall, and on axis with the linear walk from the house, is what appears to be a ramp or a flight of steps. The 1757 map shows a number of square-plan piers punctuating the boundary and garden walls, some of which still remain in situ. It is likely that the two stone benches which occupy either end of Pepys Walk were installed in the late C18, as they do not appear on the 1757 plan.

A disastrous fire in 1830 destroyed the north and part of the east ranges of the house, and John Montagu, the seventh Earl of Sandwich (1814-84) employed Edward Blore to rebuild the house. During his long tenure, the seventh Earl commissioned a number of schemes in the gardens of Hinchingbrooke House, including the construction of a small ornamental cottage in a circular garden to the south-west of the house (listed at Grade II). The landscape continued to develop in the late C19 and early C20 under the direction of the eighth and ninth Earls, mostly to the west and south-west of the house, as is evidenced by the 1888, 1900 and 1927 Ordnance Survey maps. The 1888 OS map does not show the former gazebo in the north-east corner of Pepys Walk, indicating that the gazebo was removed in the late C18 or C19.

In contrast with the 1757 plan of the estate, the 1888 OS map does not show steps at the centre of the retaining wall south-west of the house, which facilitated the linear walk from the house south-west to the ponds. One flight of steps appears on the 1900 OS map, and these were altered to form tripartite steps by the time of the 1927 OS map. In the first quarter of the C20, a square-plan playing-green was laid out to the south-west of the retaining wall. Approximately 35 metres south-west of the tripartite steps, a flight of 7 steps and flanking piers were introduced in the early C20, and are shown on the 1927 OS map.

Hinchingbrooke House was rented to the Red Cross as a hospital during the Second World War, and the ninth Earl and his family moved to the Dower House near the entrance to the park during this time. The family moved back into Hinchingbrooke House after the war, and the late-C19 west wing was subsequently pulled down in 1947, returning the house to its earlier form. Hinchingbrooke House was listed at Grade I in 1951. In 1962 the estate was sold to the local council who utilised some of the grounds as a hospital and a police control centre, while the house itself and the immediate grounds were adapted and developed to become Hinchingbrooke School in September 1970. The park wall to the east of Hinchingbrooke House, fronting Brampton Road, was listed at Grade II* in 1977.

Reasons for Listing

The park wall of Hinchingbrooke House fronting Brampton Road and Pepys Steps are listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: the survival of the late-C16 or early-C17 boundary wall to Brampton Road which contains medieval masonry, and the survival of the mid-C17 Pepys Steps;

* Historic interest: the more than special historic interest of the park wall and steps, which were documented by Samuel Pepys in the mid-C17, and also depicted by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck in an early-C18 view of Hinchingbrooke Priory;

* Group value: the strong group value the park wall and Pepys Steps hold with nearby listed buildings including Hinchingbrooke House and its gate lodge, both listed at Grade I, and associated buildings and park structures, listed at Grade II.

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