AMPTHILL, a parish and market town in the hundred of Redbornestoke, in the county of Bedford, 8 miles to the south of Bedford, and 45 miles from London, or 59 miles by rail. It is a station on the Bedford branch of the London and North Western railway. The town stands in a pleasant situation, between two hills, and is nearly in the centre of the county. The manor of Ampthill, belonged, at an early period, to the Pointz family, and Henry III. granted the privilege of holding a market here, to Nicholas Pointz and Joan his wife. This manor, with others, was given by Henry VI. to Sir John Cornwall, afterwards created Lord Fanhope, who married the king's sister, Elizabeth of Lancaster. A castle was erected on the domain, by Lord Fanhope, which reverted to the crown in the reign of Edward IV. He conferred it on Lord Grey, of Ruthin, Earl of Kent, from whose descendants it passed again to the crown about 1530, and became the palace of King Henry VIII. He constituted the manor the "Honor of Ampthill."
It was in the castle of Ampthill that Queen Catherine of Arragon resided, while the question of her divorce was under discussion. It was here she refused to obey the summons to appear before the commissioners at Dunstable. In 1773, a memorial cross, octagonal in form, was erected on the site of the ancient castle, by the Earl of Ossory, with an inscription composed by Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford. The living is a rectory* in the diocese of Ely, value £283, in the patronage of the lord chancellor. The church is dedicated to St. Andrew. It is a handsome building, in the form of a cross, and has a square tower at the intersection of the transepts. It is mostly in the perpendicular style of architecture, and has several brasses, the earliest being of the year 1506. There is also a monument to Sir Robert Nicoll, who was killed by a cannon shot, in 1672, while attending the Duke of York in Southwold Bay. The cannon ball itself is inlaid in the pediment of the tomb. There are places of worship belonging to the Society of Friends, the Independents, and the Wesleyan Methodists. A free school was established and endowed, in 1691, by Mrs. Emery, for boys and girls, the income of which is now £15. National and British schools have also been established. A hospital for a reader, twelve poor men, and four poor women, founded in 1690, stands about a mile from the town. The Bishop of Oxford and the Vice Chancellor of the University are constituted ex-officio visitors. There are twelve poor's cottages, supported by endowment, and mostly occupied by widows, who receive a small sum weekly. Ampthill has a share with three other parishes, in an endowment by Arthur Whitchelner, for apprenticing poor children. The town, which consists chiefly of five streets, two of which cross each other at right angles, is well paved and lighted, and has a good supply of water. Some of the old houses have been taken down, and a market-house has been erected. A county court;is held in the town, and petty sessions for the hundred, once a fortnight. The moot-house, a small ancient building, in which was held a court for the Honor of Ampthill, for the appointment of constables and other officers, was taken down about 1852. Ampthill is a polling place for the county election, and the seat of a Poor-law Union. The manufacture of lace and straw-plait is carried on, and there are some chemical works, and a brewery. A literary and scientific institution was established herein 1846, and a savings-bank. Ampthill Park, with which Houghton Park has been united, is the seat of Lord Wensleydale. The present hall was built by Lord Ashburnham, to whom the estate was granted by Charles II., in 1661, It contains some fine paintings and marbles, and a museum of natural history. In Houghton Park are the remains of Houghton House, which was erected by Inigo Jones for Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, and sister of Sir Philip Sidney. According to tradition, Sir Philip wrote portions of his "Arcadia," under a pear-tree which still stands in this park. The grounds are ornamented by a great number of fine old oaks. Thursday is the market day. Cattle fairs are held on the 4th May and the 30th November, and a statute fair for hiring servants 29th September.