In 1180 the manorial rights were acquired by a Norman family called Cheney. Over the next 350 years the Cheney family lived here except for a brief period during the reign of Edward 1 when the house was acquired and used as a Royal hunting lodge. The semi-fortified brick manor house which forms the core of the present-day building was built in approximately 1460. It is one of the earliest domestic brick buildings in Buckinghamshire.
In 1525 the estate was bequeathed to Ann Sapcote who later married a rising star in the court of Henry VIII, John Russell. He held many important positions at court including Lord Privy Seal and Controller of The Kings Household. He was knighted and after King Henry’s death was created the Earl of Bedford.
Sir John and his wife modernized the original house and added new wings. Twenty two distinctive chimneys still remain, built by local craftsmen. By 1560 it was termed Chenies Palace with over 60 rooms.
Visited several times by King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I, there are tales of ghostly appearances of Henry searching for his fifth wife Queen Katherine who was having an affair with one of the courtiers, Thomas Culpepper. In the garden is a famous oak, probably over 1000 years old. It is known as Queen Elizabeth’s Oak because she lost some jewellery during a visit as she sat in its shade.
The 4th Earl of Bedford decided to move away from Chenies and build his own stately home at Woburn on land given to his ancestor John Russell, after the dissolution of the monastery there. The Manor was then lived in by distant members of the family and later by stewards and farm managers and many of the original buildings were allowed to fall into disrepair.
In 1956 Chenies Manor was sold to help cover death duties after the death of the 12th Duke of Bedford. It was bought by the Macleod Matthews family who still own it. They began a long process of restoration which still continues. The gardens have also been recreated using old plans that were found.
On the side of the village church Anne, Countess of Bedford, had a chapel built in 1556 as a memorial to her late husband. To this day it is the final resting place for many members of the Bedford family. The chapel contains many fine examples of funeral monuments including an early 14th century effigy to a Cheney and his wife. The chapel is seldom open to the public, but can be seen through the glazed screen in the church.
The gardens at Chenies Manor are included in a recently published book listing 1001 Gardens You Must See Before You Die.
The gardens are arranged around the Manor House in various sections linked by lawns and courtyards. There is a white garden, a sunken garden and colourful well stocked borders, a Physic Garden, topiary birds, statues, a maze and a kitchen garden. In the furthest part of the garden is Queen Elizabeth’s Oak.
In April and May there is a spectacular display of over 6,000 tulips. In July a Plant and Garden Fair is held where plant and garden specialists from all over the country come to display and sell plants and garden equipment.
Chenies village, off A404 between Amersham and Chorleywood
House and gardens are open April-October on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Bank Holiday Mondays 2-5pm. Wheelchair access to gardens and disabled WC. No wheelchair access to house.