Monday, 9 May 2011

The RSPB Lodge Nature Reserve

For our next trip around the Bedfordshire countryside, we move over to the eastern side of the county into what could be classed as Tatty country. OK, so this is a somewhat rather ambiguous analogy, but this is the area where the old fool resides.

Rear of the Lodge (image by uncletatty)

History of the Bird Lodge

Just outside of the town of Sandy (on the Potton Road to be precise), the headquarters of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), at the Lodge Nature Reserve is to be found. The reserve covers an area of 102 hectares (or 252 acres) of woodland and heath which is open to the public.

At the entrance to the reserve, a “Swiss Cottage” is to be found, which now houses a shop and visitor centre. It was originally built in around 1851, for Captain William Peel who was the son of Prime Minister Robert Peel (the founder of the Police Force). Upon Captain Peel’s death in 1858, the estate was passed down to his brother Arthur Wellesley Peel, an eminent politician, who was later to serve as Speaker of the House of Commons for an 11 year period from 1885.

Swiss Cottage, (also known as the Entrance Lodge or Gatehouse. (Image by Martyn Johnson).
Arthur Peel had plans for a far bigger home on the estate and commissioned London architect, Henry Clutton to build what became the Lodge, which is set further back on the estate. Completed in 1870, Sandy Lodge as it was initially named, was constructed at a cost of £6,695. At the time, Peel also contacted the local authorities, unsuccessfully attempting to get the bridle path removed from the land.

Upon his retirement from the House of Commons, Arthur became Viscount Peel of Sandy and continued to live at the Lodge until his death in 1912. The house stayed in the family’s ownership over the next 22 years, although it was rented out at one stage for a 7 year period.

In 1934, the Lodge was sold to the chairman of the London Brick Company, Sir Malcolm Stewart. The gardens surrounding the mansion and the swimming pool located at the rear were the result of Stewart’s ownership (the pool however is no longer used for human swimming and is now the home of many koi carp. A hungry heron is never very far away).

Lodge gardens in springtime (image by uncletatty)
RSPB at the Lodge

Malcolm Stewart passed away in 1951 and after the death of Lady Stewart; the entire estate was sold to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in 1961, for the sum of £25,000. Moving from their severely cramped headquarters in central London, the downstairs rooms of the house were used as offices whilst the staff lived upstairs. 

It is believed that HRH The Princess Margaret was interested in purchasing the estate around this time, but the continuing problem of the bridle path running so close to the house, brought about possible security risks and the idea was subsequently dropped.

In 2011, the RSPB are celebrating 50 years at the Lodge. There are now many more buildings situated beyond the house, all of which are used as offices for the charity, who now boast over 1 million members. The staff living quarters have long since gone and the house itself, now being made up totally of office space, is only open to the public on rare occasions.

The RSPB continue their work to restore heathland at the Lodge Nature Reserve and to secure a healthy environment for birds and wildlife. For more information, go to
Front of the lodge, at a distance (image by Martyn Johnson)
Are you familiar with the Lodge Nature Reserve or even an RSPB member who regularly visits another of the reserves in the UK. Please let me know your stories.

Check back soon for more about beautiful Bedfordshire.

The full version of this article, with alternative images, is available by clicking here. 

It was also publicised by the RSPB on their daily "Natures Voice" newsletter (dated 15 May 2011)


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