Monday, 25 April 2011

Chenies Manor House Part Four

Having toured the house and looked around the church of St Michael’s I wended my way to the gift shop to hunt out some blackberry jam. There was none to be had so I made do with another fridge magnet and a tea towel.   

A rope barred my way to the medieval stone undercroft so I decided to go along to the pavilion, or what was known in Elizabethan times as the Nursery.

On my way to the pavilion I stopped at a modern weatherboard and glass fronted building housing an exhibition of paintings in aid of the mental health charity MIND. Upon leaving the by another exit, I realised as I walked through the gardens that I had in fact in fact been in the pavilion all along. On one side was a modern exterior and on the other what appeared to be an extant Elizabethan building, which had once served as the temporary lodgings for Elizabeth’s I principal Secretary of State, William Cecil.

The formal gardens fell into a decline as Chenies went from being a principal residence of the Bedford family to winding up as a farmhouse, with the gardens constituting valuable agricultural land. The present chatelaine, Elizabeth MacLeod Matthews, has spent the past fifty years restoring the gardens to their current award winning state.

There is a sunken garden, a mature yew maze, a small physic garden and an ancient oak tree that was said to be centuries old when Queen Elizabeth I visited the house, allowing her to shelter in its shade.  

 A 19th century brick well house contains a  medieval well that  once used horse power to pump up water for the village.There is a quirky collection of lawn mowers in this out-house.

There are a number of sculptures scattered around the gardens. I do not know whether they form a permanent feature. 

One elegant feature that appears authentic to the house is actually a leftover prop from a BBC television production. The pretty white wrought iron gazebo was used by the BBC when they did  location shooting for Little Dorrit at Chenies. They offered to leave the summerhouse behind and very imposing it looks too.

I had a final chance to admire the exterior of Chenies and the decorative Tudor chimney pots before making my home.

Prior to concluding this post I decided to replay the Time Team episode on Chenies Manor House. It seems the escape tunnels are in fact the Tudor drainage systems for the house, stables and dairies. But at least I got to see inside the mysterious tunnels: a man can just about move along them with no room to spare.The Pavilion or Nursery is now thought to be one side of a Tudor gatehouse. 

The strangely blank walls along one range of the mansion are the result of tenant farmers in the late 18th century removing 60 out of 100 windows in response to the onerous window tax which can come into force. Despite some disappointments, Time Team did find the exact location of the state rooms with their bay windows where Henry VIII and later his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I stayed.  His ulcerated leg meant that Henry’s bedchamber was on the ground floor, which makes nonsense of the suggestion that his shade would go hobbling up the spiral staircase of the extant medieval tower  in search of his wanton of a wife, Catherine Howard. Queen Elizabeth I must have loved Chenies because in 1570 she stayed for an entire month which, given the size of her entourage, must have almost eaten poor Sir John Russell out of house and home. Bur I leave the final words to Time Team presenter Tony Robinson: “Which just goes to show you shouldn’t always believe what you read in the guidebooks.” 

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