Above: Chenies overhead view. Photo: Chenies Manor House
Chenies Manor House is one of the UK’s finest Tudor mansion houses. Steeped in royal links and history, the Grade I listed building is set in Buckinghamshire’s charming estate village of Chenies and overlooks the Chess Valley and Chiltern landscape. Visiting in the 1960s, renowned architectural historian described it as “beautifully mellow under the trees by the church, and archaeologically a fascinating puzzle.”
The parish of ‘Chenies’ was originally known as ‘Isenhampstead’, but from the 13th century merged into ‘Isenhampstead Chenies’ through the area’s connection with the Cheyne family who were resident for nearly 300 years. During the 19th century, the old name gradually dropped from use and today the parish is simply known as ‘Chenies’.
The Cheyne family owned the Manor from 1185, although in the late 13th century the family was obliged to surrender the manor to Edward I in payment of debts. There are still some documents referring to Edward’s ownership, including a royal visit just before Easter in 1290. Surviving accounts list the preparations of an Easter feast in detail, including the boiling of 450 eggs for distribution to the locals, which is possibly the first mention of giving eggs as a gift at Easter! But by 1296 Sir John Cheyne was able to win back his ancestral lands, and part of the fortified brick manor house he built can still be seen today in the site’s crenelated buildings.
In 1526, the house passed to the Russell family through marriage. From a modest gentry background, John Russell became a rising man in Tudor England and created a dynasty as a loyal and rewarded servant to Henry VII, Henry VIII, and Edward VI. In 1550, Russell was awarded the title of the 1st Earl of Bedford - a peerage passed down through the subsequent Earls and Dukes of Bedford.
Chenies Manor remained the Russell family’s principal seat until the 4th Earl, Francis, decided to move the family seat to Woburn around 1627. The house was then occupied by various tenants and stewards until the death of the 12th Duke of Bedford in 1953 when some of the family estate was sold to pay for death duties.
In its earlier days, the Manor played host to several royal Tudor courts, sometimes amounting to 1,000 people who would have been accommodated in a grand wing where the barns now stand. Henry VIII is known to have visited the Manor on at least two occasions, including in 1534 when he attended together with his second wife, Anne Boleyn, and Princess Elizabeth, and again in 1541 with his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. As Queen, Elizabeth I stayed for a month in 1570, and it may have been during this time that she lost some jewellery beneath the shade of an oak tree in the grounds of the house, now renamed the ‘Elizabeth Oak’ in this memory.
In the 20th century, the Manor started welcoming public visitors after Colonel and Mrs Macleod Matthews bought the estate in 1956. In 1965, The Chiltern Antiques Group, gathered in the Long Room at Chenies Manor to hear Miss D. K. Millington on the subject of ‘Small Antiques in our Homes’, which described her collection of Victorian teaspoons. The group later became the first constituent body of the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies (NADFAS) - now The Arts Society - which has maintained a close connection with the house ever since.
During restoration work in the 1970s, the house was opened to the general public to help raise money for the repair of the church roof. The experience encouraged more regular openings, with the former tractor shed converted to a tearoom and volunteers from NADFAS working as guides. Over time, a shop and other visitor facilities have been added and improved to provide a destination well worth visiting.
To this day, Chenies Manor House remains a family home, although it is regularly opened to the public and available for filming, events and weddings.
Chenies Manor has been the location for many weddings over the decades, and it’s easy to see why as the beautiful gardens and fine buildings create stunning backdrops for photography.
Film makers have also taken advantage of the Tudor house’s charm, and many productions have been filmed in the house and grounds, including various episodes of The Crown, Midsomer Murders, Lewis, Poirot and Rosemary & Thyme. Most recently, the site has been used as a setting for BBC’s Killing Eve and Channel 5’s Celebrity Murder Mystery.
Various business and organisations also hold meetings at Chenies Manor too. From AGMs to book launches, the team at the house are experienced hosts, with the idyllic rural setting benefitting from close proximity to London and London Heathrow and the M25.
Location: Chenies Manor House, Chenies, Buckinghamshire, WD3 6ER
Admission: house and garden £9 (adults), £5 (children over 3 years). Family, group, annual membership and garden-only tickets available.
Opening hours: Mondays and Tuesdays from April to October.
There are a number of special events on weekends and bank holidays, including an Easter Family Fun Day and August Dog Show. But it is the garden festivals that are most popular: Tulips in spring, the Plant Fair in July and Dahlias in autumn.
Catering: delicious homemade cakes and wide selections of teas, coffees and soft drinks are available in the tearoom, as well as a full afternoon tea.
Covid-19 specific information: if open during Covid-19 restrictions, pre-paid tickets are required, and the tea-room is only available at pre-booked time slots. Check the website or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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