Sunday, 17 April 2011

Chenies Manor House Part Two

I don’t know why but I was strangely unable to bring to mind the interior of Chenies Manor House on my one and only prior visit. That had been with the Partridge and her youngest siblings. I was able to recall the exterior with far greater exactitude, perhaps because it was on a Bank Holiday and we were obliged to queue in the grounds, whiling away the time discussing the architectural features. This time the Brimstone Butterfly turned up on an equally glorious weekday in the Spring.

Having time to spare before the official tour of the house started, I made my way across to the fruit orchard and kitchen garden. The latter contained a scarecrow sporting a rather natty scarlet scarf. I later discovered that the kitchen garden contained gooseberry bushes. I need to get netting in for mine as I have spotted fruit growing on them in the kitchen gardens at Brimstone Butterfly Towers. This time I hope to harvest more than the single gooseberry which constituted last year’s crop.

In the orchard a labyrinth had been cut into the turf. In the medieval period, perambulating such labyrinthine paths would have served as an aid to meditation, helping to induce a trance-like state. At least I could not get lost within it unlike the mature yew maze elsewhere in the grounds. I could not even peep over the top of the yew hedge, despite standing on tip-toe.
Porch Chenies Manor
Porch Eastbury Manor House
Returning to the little green in front of the house, I joined the official guide. We did not enter the house through the red brick porch which was very reminiscent of the one at Eastbury Manor House. Instead we entered the house by a side door set into the New Lodgings wing. Walking along a small panelled passageway we came into the Long Room, one of the largest chambers in the house. It seems the Bedfords had stripped the house of all furniture when they were forced to sell up in the 1950s in order to meet death duties. Thus, the furnishings on display owed everything to the current owners’ personal taste rather than to having a direct historical association with the mansion.

The Long Room has roughly hewn exposed beams, a large working fireplace with logs of wood stacked at the side and 2 crossed halberds and 4 coats of arms decorating the chimneypiece. !7th century heavy oak chairs, a dining table and sideboards are displayed alongside French tapestries and 2 massive candlesticks. I also noted a watercolour by the historian Jonathon Foyle, depicting his impression of how Chenies Manor might have looked in the 16th century. A few years later he was obliged to concede on Time Team that perhaps his theory did not stand up to too close scrutiny given the actual archaeology evidence unearthed by the Time Team dig.
Miles Coverdale
As I was  too busy fishing for coins to pay for my guidebook from a pile on the 17th century dining table, I missed the talk given about the adjoining small panelled closet. It seems the closet is closely associated with the household chaplains, including the Elizabethan divine and one time bishop of Exeter, Miles Coverdale. Having translated the Bible into English and served as chaplain to King Edward VI and as almoner to Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s widow, Coverdale had been forced into exile when the Catholic Mary Tudor came to the throne. Only when her half sister, Elizabeth, became queen in turn could Coverdale return to England on a permanent basis.

The Green corridor leads into the present day dining room. The latter has a strong 19th century feel with Regency style wallpaper, 2 glass chandeliers and a Regency style white marble fireplace dominated by a huge display of dried flowers, presumably cut from the gardens outside. An oil painting of the present chatelaine shows her as a young bride in bottle green silk.

The Dining Room leads to the entrance hall and a spiral staircase and on to the White Drawing Room. This room was roped off because of the fragile floor coverings. But like the Dining Room, it repeated the Regency theme. At one time it had been thought that the White Drawing Room had served as Henry VIII’s bedchamber. The Time Team proved that Henry’s bedroom was actually sited under the tarmac of the present day car-park. This rather puts paid to the legend that Henry’s ghost can be heard making his laboured way up the spiral staircase with the help of his walking stick to the upper floor where his errant wife, Katherine Howard, entertained her lover Thomas Culpepper. The state papers chronicling the case against the queen makes no mention of illicit liaisons with Culpepper at Chenies, although other locations are fully documented. The French Ambassador at the Tudor court wrote sardonically to his own king in Paris: “Colpepre, who had been from childhood brought up in the King's chamber, and ordinarily shared his bed, and apparently wished to share the Queen's too, to judge by their manner of meeting at Lincoln and other places.”
Proceeding along the passageway, we came to the charming and intriguing Stone Parlour, so-called because of the extant flagstone floor, underwhich lie the Tudor subterranean passageways that led from the house to woods nearby. (When I replayed the Time Team episode at Chenies these subterranean passageways were revealed to be prosaic drains).The 1890 wall panelling was painted in a warm yellow to meet the period demands of a film production company. The present family liked it so much they decided not to revert back to the original blue. I recognised the Stone Parlour from the recent BBC production of Little Dorrit. Indeed, I have often seen Chenies Manor used for location shoots on dramas including several different episodes of Midsomer Murders. Our guide paid special reference to the wooden Dole Cupboard, which would have once been kept in a parish church to house the bread and ale distributed to the poor, but my attention was caught by the dual aspect mullioned windows which allowed light to flood into the chamber. Consequently I was not surprised to discover that the Stone Parlour is one of the most popular rooms in the house as far as the present family are concerned.

A small staircase leads to the North Bedroom which, despite its generous proportions, contains a small four poster Indian bed. The red and white of the bed-hangings and coverlet are reflected in the red and white wallpaper designed by May Morris, the daughter of the celebrated Victorian Arts and Crafts designer and writer William Morris. I doubt if May Morris would have wished to be associated with one particular piece of furniture in the bedroom: its wooden frame and red leather upholstery gives little clue to the uninitiated that it was a chair in which a gentleman could watch cock fighting in comfort. Part of one wall has exposed beams, which were uncovered when they needed to be treated for woodworm in the 1950s. Another wall was covered with inbuilt wardrobes, looking to again date from the 1950s.

We passed a closed door leading to the open-plan attics, in which Parliamentary soldiers were billeted during the English Civil Wars of the 17th century. We could also glimpse the head of the internal spiral staircase leading down to the foot of the medieval tower. As this was for family use it has a beautifully carved curved handrail. The poor servants at Eastbury Manor House were afforded no such consideration for their spiral staircase.

We passed by another bedchamber, the Blue Bedroom, this time roped off, containing a larger four poster bed and a striped button back sofa.

A small passageway, hung with tapestries, led into a large chamber whose walls were covered with yellow figured silk.  The large bay windows and huge fireplace indicated that this would have been an important room, perhaps even Queen Elizabeth I’s Council chamber when she came a-calling along with her court. The oak floorboards date from her time and like many other another in the house give a satisfying creak as you walk across them. Others believe that this room was used as the Queen’s bedchamber, having as it does a small closet which would have served as a garde-robe. The room is dominated by another large tapestry, whose allegorical significance was completely lost on me, not being a student of the Classics.

I shall return to the subject anon, having yet more rooms to explore.

Chenies Manor House website