Wardown Park was once rough meadow and scrub. The 1844 Tithe Map shows sixteen plots of land. A public footpath originally crossed diagonally, connecting High Town with Biscot and Limbury. The River Lea flowed through in two streams.
There were four large plots of land including Bramingham Shott, Rye Mead and Pond Piece. The area around the present cricket ground was called Stocking Bridge Field. Bramingham Shott surrounded Bramingham Villa. Rye Mead was at the foot of Rye Hill and included the land leading up to what is now Cromwell Hill. Much of the ground around the River Lea was very boggy.
Richard How owned Bramingham Shott and the farmhouse, called Bramingham Villa. Bramingham Villa had a kitchen, cellar, entrance hall, drawing, dining and breakfast rooms. Upstairs there were six bedrooms and a water closet. It had ‘every requisite for a respectable family’ and offered ‘an opportunity for occupation or investment that rarely occurs in the neighbourhood’. Wardown Park Museum now stands upon the site of the original farmhouse.
On 2nd July 1868 the building was purchased by Frank Chapman Scargill, a Luton solicitor with a practice in King Street. Scargill demolished the farmhouse and built the present house in two stages. He called this house Bramingham Shott and it was completed by 1877. It was built at an estimated cost of £10,000 and the distinctive locally produced bricks known as ‘luton Greys’ were used in its construction. Scargill also built the outbuildings and lodge, and laid out a cricket ground and a park around his home.’
Today you can still see some of the original outbuildings, the lodges, the gardens and cricket ground. The House is now a grade 2 listed building. It was completed in 1877 as the carving over the archway to the stables records.
An inventory drawn up in 1897 reveals that Wardown contained sixteen bedrooms (including those for servants), a Billiard Room, Smoking Room, Drawing Room, Dining Room, two kitchens, a dairy, laundry, cellars which included one for beer, an Apple Room, Boot Room, Game Larder, School Room, Conservatory, Boudoir, four dressing rooms, four WCs, three bathrooms, plus a number of rooms for the servants and various other closets and cupboards.
F.C. Scargill left Luton in 1894 and let the property to B.J. H. Forder, the owner of a brick-making firm which had recently begun work in Bedfordshire. It was Forder who changed the name of Bramingham Shott to Wardown, which was the name of his previous home at Buriton in Hampshire. After Forder the house was let to one of his business partners, Halley Stewart, later to be the first chairman of the London Brick Company.
The House was put up for sale with the rest of the estate in June 1903 and was bought on behalf of the Council by two local businessmen, Asher Hucklesby and Edwin Oakley. Hucklesby and Oakley, who lived respectively at the Leaside and the Mount in New Bedford Road, were also influential Councillors and sold the estate to the Council (for the same price as they had bought it) in 1904.
On 8th July 1905 Wardown Park was opened to the public. Asher Hucklesby, as Mayor of Luton formally opened the park and in his speech looked forward to a time when the house would be able to hold a museum which would be ‘interesting as well as of an educational character’.
Whilst the park immediately became popular, the house posed more of a problem for the Council who could not find a permaent use for it. With neglect decay set in and extensive dry rot was reported in 1909. During World war One it was used as a military hospital and afterwards its rooms were rented out to Council employees. The ground floor also housed a tea room.
In 1875, The British Architect magazine reproduced architect T. C. Sorby's drawing [above] of Bramingham Shott. A related article in the same edition said:
“The mansion is situate a short distance from Luton and is being erected by F. C. Scargill Esq on the site of an old house, the kitchens and offices being recent erections are retained.
“The walls will be faced with the strawberry-coloured brick peculiar to Luton ['Luton Greys'] with dressings to windows of red Mansfield stone. The carriage portico, cornices and chimney caps ae ion moulded red brick from Mr Gunton's works, Cossey, near Norwich. The roofs will be covered with brindled tiles from Coalbrookdale, with ridges and knobs from Mr Cooper's works at Maidenhead.
“The whole of the ground floor will be laid with concrete, and the first floor partially with Homan's iron joists and concrete and partially with Dennett's arching on wrought pitch pine open framed joisting. All the floors will be finished with wood blocks – deal, pitch pine, oak and walnut – in patterns differing in the various rooms.
“The internal joinery of doors, dados and ceilings will be pitch pine framing, with Vancouver panels, and oak and pitch pine in the staircase.
“On the first floor there are ten bedrooms, four dressing rooms, three bathrooms, three water closets, linen and housemaids' closets etc, and rooms for servants and lumber in the attic. Every room in the house is provided with special means of ventilation, irrespective of doors and windows.”