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Garden to Howard's House (also known as The Black & White House)


A walled garden at Howard's House created in 1762 by the philanthropist and prison reformer John Howard. There are mature trees, including evergreens and deciduous trees, around the edge of the garden and along the avenue on the south side. An open woodland garden lies at the west end of the site with a walled yard separating it from the house and formal garden area.

The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):

Location, Area, Boundaries, Landform and Setting

Howard's House is located at the north end of the village of Cardington, about two or three miles south-east of Bedford. The garden is situated off Church Lane which forms three sides of a rectangle with Bedford Road forming the west side. The garden is laid out on the north and east sides of Church Lane, opposite the parish church. It is on level ground and occupies an area of approximately four acres. The garden is bounded most of the way round by a high C18 wallof red brick with some vitrified headers laid in Flemish bond. The wall has Romanesque buttresses and a mixture of flat or saddleback coping. The east side of the garden retains a section of the brick wall at the north end and has an apsidal stone-lined ha-ha which does not appear on historic maps and is probably a C20 feature.

Entrances and Approaches

The garden is approached from the south through the gates in front of the house. On the north side of the boundary wall, towards the west end, there is a wide double-leaf wooden door flanked by square brick piers leading into the yard; and there is another door further to the east.

Principal Building

Howard's House (listed Grade II*) is a double-pile, three-bay C18 house, possibly retaining a C17 core. It is constructed of brick with colour washed rough cast and a hipped clay tile roof with a central ridge stack of four diagonal flues. The symmetrical façade has a six-panel front door flanked by three-light casement windows with leaded lights, and is covered in a square pattern trellis.

Gardens and Pleasure Grounds

The small front garden has a low brick wall with C18 iron railings which are covered in honeysuckle and flanked by square brick piers with stone pineapple finials. The wall on the right curves around southwards and has fan trained fruit trees.

Attached to the south-east corner of the house is a brick archway that leads into the main garden. This is now principally a large lawn interspersed with shrubs. There are mature trees, including evergreens and deciduous trees, around the edge of the garden and along the avenue on the south side. The whole south-facing wall was described in 1978 as being covered with tender wall plants, such as Piptanthus, Caenothus, Solanum crispum and Sophura tetraptera (The Gardens of Britain 3: Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, p. 99).

In the north-east corner of the garden is a Grade II listed C18 lead statue on a stone plinth depicting a boy ice skating with game birds strapped to his waist, accompanied by a running dog carrying a game bird in its mouth. The statue is reputed to be Russian and was probably a gift to Howard after his first visit to Russia in 1781. The circular rose garden, just west of the centre of the garden, has at its centre a Grade II listed stone vase on a pedestal. This was erected in 1812 by Samuel Whitbread to commemorate the laying out of the gardens by Howard and Crockford.

An open woodland garden lies at the west end of the site with a walled yard separating it from the house and formal garden area. The yard contains three red brick buildings, probably dating to the C18 or C19. To the south-east of the wooded area is 326 Church Lane, a Grade II listed C18 house which is located in the garden plot and once belonged to Howard's House.

Reasons for Designation

The walled garden at Howard's House, created in 1762, is registered at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

  • Design: it is an excellent example of an C18 walled garden of moderate size laid out to the owner's design;
  • Intactness: its principal components have all survived, namely the boundary wall, the central lawn surrounded by a tree-lined pathway, the wooded area on the east side, and the avenue of trees along the south side;
  • Rarity: it is a rare surviving example of a walled garden that forms the grounds of a gentleman's modestly sized residence, rather than being just one element in a country house estate;
  • Historic interest: it is of undoubted historic interest for its strong association with John Howard who achieved international and lasting renown for his work on prison reform;
  • Historic context: it is located in Cardington, a village that benefitted substantially from Howard's philanthropic enterprise and became famous as an example of practical philanthropy;
  • Group value: it has strong group value with the Grade II* listed Howard's House, the Grade II listed garden statue, and the Grade II listed urn which commemorates the laying out of the garden, as well as with the two Grade II listed cottages that originally belonged to the estate.

Edited: May 2022

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):

17th Century

Howard's House, originally built as a timber framed house in 1642, was purchased by John Howard in 1757 and was then either demolished or substantially rebuilt.

18th - 19th Century

Howard was born in 1726 into a prosperous family and was left a fortune as a young man when his father died, including an estate in Cardington. He toured France and Italy and was in Lisbon during the earthquake of 1756. After his ship was captured by French pirates, Howard ended up in a French prison, later commenting that ‘perhaps what I suffered on this occasion increased my sympathy with the unhappy people' (ie, prisoners).

In 1757, he purchased the farm adjoining his estate in Cardington and devoted himself to improving the estate, particularly with regard to the welfare of his tenants and the wants of the poor.

After his second marriage in 1758 he lived mostly at Cardington where he was an exemplary landlord, building cottages, giving tenants land and employment, assisting them in sickness and educating their children. A contemporary periodical stated: ‘Cardington which seemed to be at one time to contain the abodes of poverty and wretchedness soon became one of the neatest villages in the kingdom'. The walled garden at Howard’s House was laid out in 1762.

In 1773 Howard was appointed High Sheriff of Bedfordshire and with this title came the responsibility for the county gaol. He was appalled by the conditions and human degradation he discovered and determined to visit other prisons in England and then Europe in search of humane prison conditions.

In 1774 he was examined before Parliament which resulted in two Bills being passed, and he introduced the concept of government by inquiry, inspection and report. Howard was for seventeen years the unpaid Inspector of Prisons, making seven large scale journeys between 1775 and 1790, sometimes in personal danger, and at great financial cost.

In 1777 he published The State of the Prisons in England and Wales which described his first two journeys, and thereafter he entered prisons in disguise in defiance of governments who feared the power of his pen. Howard sought to bring about reform through personal initiatives, by arousing the consciences of influential people and stirring them into action. He died of typhus fever in 1790 while visiting Russian military hospitals at Kherson in the Crimea.

A monument was erected there to mark his life and achievements, and it was renovated in 1990 to commemorate the bi-centenary of his death. Although Howard was opposed to any form of monument dedicated to him in England, a statue was nevertheless erected in St Paul's Cathedral. John Wesley regarded him as 'one of the greatest men in Europe', and Howard's work to improve prison conditions is continued today by the Howard League for Penal Reform, established in 1866.

The walled garden at Howard's House was laid out in 1762. In Memoirs of the Public and Private Life of John Howard, the Philanthropist (1823), James Baldwin Brown explains that ‘the grounds themselves were formed entirely under his own direction, out of a field of about three acres, which had formerly been a kind of homestead to the farm'. Brown describes how ‘they are laid out with great taste, having a kitchen-garden in the centre, completely hid from observation by the shrubs surrounding it [...] Between the shrubbery and the house there is a very neat lawn, and the whole is surrounded by a broad gravel walk, sheltered from the heat of the sun by fine full-grown trees or thickly planted evergreens. In one part of the grounds this walk is skirted on each side by a row of very majestic firs, the plants, or seeds, of which are said to have been brought by Mr Howard from abroad'. Brown mentions that ‘the still silence of this shady grove was his (Howard's) most favourite resort'. There was also a ‘root-house' or hermitage in a retired part of the garden.

Howard's gardener was Joshua Crockford who was described in a 1782 survey of Cardington as a labourer, born in Goldington. He was a trusted and faithful servant to Howard and continued to tend the garden for many years after his death. Brown relates that in 1789, on the evening before Howard's departure for what would turn out to be his last journey, he walked with Crockford in the ‘beautiful fir-walk of his garden, which their own hands, and those of a beloved wife [...] had planted in happier hours: giving him directions in what way he would wish the grounds to be kept up'. Howard ‘intimated that he had now got everything in his garden exactly in the order he wished'. In his will he left the house and garden to his cousins the Whitbread family who were also prominent landlords in Cardington.

The first map depicting the layout of the garden is the 1794 plan of Cardington parish. It shows the house and outbuildings occupying the western side of the plot and a small wooded area to the west of this, bounded by Bedford Road. A path runs around the edge of the garden which is lined with trees at the eastern end, becoming a thickly planted avenue along the southern side. The large kitchen garden occupies the central space.

The Tithe Map of 1840 shows a similar layout, depicting evergreens and deciduous trees along the avenue, and lawns to the south and west side of the kitchen garden. The Ordnance Survey (OS) map of 1883 also clearly shows the path, avenue and trees but it is not clear if the kitchen garden is extant. The central area of the garden appears to be a lawn with the addition of a glasshouse at the north end. The position of a statue in the north-west is marked, and the house itself (called Howard Villa) has been considerably extended. The same layout is depicted on the 1901 OS map.

20th Century

In the 1930s the C19 extensions to the house were reduced to two small wings, and the OS map of 1968 shows the footprint as it remains today. The 1968 map also shows that some of the outbuildings had by this date been demolished.

Associated People
Features & Designations


  • The National Heritage List for England: Register of Parks and Gardens

  • Reference: 1431093
  • Grade: II

Plant Environment

  • Walled Garden
  • Environment


  • House (featured building)
  • Description: Howard's House is constructed of brick with colour washed rough cast and a hipped clay tile roof with a central ridge stack of four diagonal flues.
Key Information


Walled Garden


Ornamental Garden

Plant Environment

Walled Garden

Principal Building




Civil Parish