Chesham Bois House

 

History of the Site

Prehistoric:
The most ancient relics are the pre-historic pudding stones up the drive, about 50 million years old, 3 which are incorporated into the terrace on the south front of the house and some elsewhere.

11th – 19th Century:
1000 years ago this was a Saxon estate. It provided food, livestock and fuel for the people living here and was probably bounded by a bank of earth, parts of which can still be seen. The estate belonged to a brother of King Harold killed with him at the Battle of Hastings and probably William the Conqueror gave this ‘royal’ land to his own half-brother, Odo Bishop of Bayeux. Evidence indicates it was one of the 5 estates (or manors) listed in the Domesday Book in 1086 as part of Chesham.

By 1213 the de Bois family were here. They brought their name from France and it became attached to the Parish. Their house must have stood nearby because St Leonards Church started as their private chapel.

In 1433 Thomas Cheyne bought the manor. This important local family maintained an active household on this site for the next 300 years. They continued and developed the agricultural use of the land and added a Park (Long Park) for raising game and later, as they prospered, they laid out considerable formal pleasure gardens around their house. The large flat area behind the present house was their bowling green. We know this from a beautiful coloured map made for the Duke of Bedford when he bought the estate in 1735 and since reproduced in a corner of the Parish Millennium map. This map shows the house was about 4 - 5 times larger than it is today.

This great house was pulled down in the early 1800s having become largely derelict and some of the debris was incorporated in local buildings, but it is now clear that some of it was retained and converted with reused materials into the present house. Unfortunately we have no idea what it looked like but was obviously built of flint and brick with red tiles as they are continually being dug up in the garden.

Some old tiles known as Penn tiles were dug up in the garden in about 1965 and were dated to the 14th century – similar ones are found in Windsor Castle and some of the old Oxford Colleges

History of the Garden:
280 years ago we know that the garden of Chesham Bois House were very extensive and were designed in a formal French style including a long canal of about ½ a mile. After the land and house were bought by the Duke of Bedford, the house was rented out and gradually fell into disuse.

By the end of the 18th century the house was no longer on maps although parts of it still stood until the present house was built out of the ruins in the first part of the 19th century. The garden then was only ¾ of an acre and it was not until about 1928 with a new owner who expanded the garden to its present day size of about 3 acres.

When the present family bought it in 1964 the garden was run down but gradually they brought it back to life and during the past 14 years their daughter, a keen gardener and plantswoman, has been gradually improving and adding various features such as a small ornamental canal with a rill.


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