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Friday, 22 April 2011

Chenies Manor House Part Three


From Queen Elizabeth’s room we ambled in to the Pink Bedroom, a colour one cannot imagine ever being associated with so formidable a monarch. The half tester bed is adorned with two gilded cherubs holding up the canopy and an extravagant counterpane, dating from 1580, lying on the bed itself. The silver thread on the coverlet has blackened over time but must have looked spectacular when first made. The bedchamber is also graced with a Tudor fireplace and a closet, which once housed a garde-robe. What sets this garderobe apart is that a secret priest-hole was discovered hidden behind the privy. Now the privy has been removed altogether thereby exposing the priest hole, which has been furnished with a tapestry and candlesticks to suggest a small oratory. The Bedfords were Protestant. In Tudor times professing a particular Christian doctrine was a dangerous business when the official religion swung back and forth between the Catholic and Protestants faiths until Elizabeth’s accession to the throne decided the matter once and for all in favour of the Protestant Church.

The Green Room contains the oldest bed on display: a 17th century tester bed. Unlike the other bedrooms the Green Room had exposed ceilings beams and wooden panelling. The back of the fireplace was decorated in a typical Tudor fashion with a diaper pattern in brick. The guide pointed out a 19th century gentleman’s travelling dressing table which featured a mirror, a shaving bowl and candlesticks. Suddenly the guide cried out in alarm that an antique wig stand had vanished. I hope it had simply been mislaid. It would be a terrible breach of hospitality for a visitor to steal something from the house. The sole consolation was that none of our group had been anywhere near where it should have been and therefore we were all free of the taint of suspicion.
I liked the library with its egg and dart trimmed wooden panelling. I was amused to see a paperback of Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A Woman of Substance amongst the books on the shelves. The Library closet contains an extant Tudor privy with a large keyhole shape carved into the seat. What I did think odd was that there was a  bucket of sand by the privy, which also served as a final resting place for a number of dead insects. A small brick-sized opening in the wall, into which a metal grille had been inserted, constituted the sole means of ventilation. Doubtless there had once been a much larger opening. The fireplace had a metal fireback with the date 1602 and the initials IE inscribed upon it. Like nearly all the furnishings in the house, it had nothing to do with the Tudor owners. However there was a nod to Sir John Russell who had commissioned the building of the New Lodgings in the mid-1550s. On the Library wall was a copy of a watercolour of him by the celebrated Tudor court painter Hans Holbein. 
Elizabeth Cheney, Lady Vaux
 The watercolour brought to mind the time the owner of an antique shop in California, who tried to impress the Brimstone Butterfly with what he claimed to be  was an original Holbein drawing concealed in a portfolio between works by lesser artists. The legend on the drawing indicated that the sitter was one Elizabeth, Lady Vaux. There is indeed a drawing of her by Holbein but it resides in the Royal Collection at Windsor. So, despite the Californian’s protestations that his drawing came from a noted American collector, I think he may have been sold a pup. I have since discovered that Lady Vaux’s maiden name was Cheney so there is every good reason to suppose she was related to the family who gave Chenies Manor House its current name.

The Billiards Room is, as one might expect, dominated by a green baize covered billiards table complete with a wooden scoreboard on the wall bearing the legend: “George Edwards Ltd, Kingsland Road, London. Est. London 1852.”  On 7 March 1893 the same company completed a wage survey for inclusion in Charles Booth’s great work to map poverty in Victorian London. Doubtless some of the same staff whose pay had formed part of the survey, had also been involved in the manufacture of the billiards table at Chenies. The Billiards Room is hung with 18th and 19th century family portraits. One painting depicts a woman in what I took to be early 19th century costume but which had a distinctly exotic air to it, partly because of the unusual pearl studded headdress the sitter was wearing. Apparently the painting was half finished, not that it was obvious to me. It seems the subject of the portrait had scandalised Anglo-Indian society by falling in live with the artist. Given the overall style of the painting I assume he was Indian. In another corner of the Billiard’s Room was a square piano with retractable candlestick holders. It was not quite as elegant as the 1810 square piano that takes pride of place in the Partridge's drawing room.

The final room on the tour was the nursery. It had a tester bed, a rocking horse, and two doll’s houses. One doll’s house bore the legend: Sworder Hall presented by Elizabeth Buxendell.  There was a collection of 19th and 20th century dolls grouped around a table as if for a tea party.  I believe the door in the nursery lead up to the attics where soldiers were billeted during the English Civil War. However we returned to the Library and from thence down a set of steep stone steps to the Long Room. As I gingerly descended the stone staircase my attention was caught by the late17th century cream and blue embroidered bedcover that hung from the wall of the stairwell, Our tour ended as it had started in the Long Room.

Before I toured the gardens, I made my way across the little green into which had been set a small roundel of daffodils to St Michael’s church opposite.

Inside, through screens made of wood and glass, I could peek into the Bedford Chapel, which houses the monuments and tombs of generations of the ducal Russell family. I counted around a half a dozen extravagant polychromatic marble tombs in all.  I wondered if the actual coffins were piled up higgledy piggledy in the vaults below. Such was the corporeal fate of that great Tudor matriarch Bess of Hardwick and her heirs. Like Sir John Russell she rose from relatively humble origins to found a dynasty whose heirs would later become dukes. In a documentary it was conclusively shown that beneath her splendid tomb in Derby Cathedral, Bess’s own coffin and contents had long been crushed to dust by the sheer weight of subsequent family coffins squeezed into the vault down the centuries.
My final tour of Chenies will centre on the gardens when I return to the subject anon.   

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