The best historic houses in the Chilterns

06/03/2019 11:27

Written by Bradt Travel Guides

The Chilterns is home to some of England's oldest and most spectacular historic houses, all of which boast famous residents and visitors. If you're looking for a day out steeped in history, intriguing stories and beautiful architecture here are some of the best examples of historic manor houses you can visit in the region.

Hughenden Manor

Hughenden Manor chilterns by Patrick Wang ShutterstockHughenden Manor was the home of one of Britain's most influential prime ministers – Benjamin Disraeli © Patrick Wang, Shutterstock

This charming property, the home of one of Britain’s most influential prime ministers, sits 1½ miles north of High Wycombe. When Benjamin Disraeli bought the Hughenden estate in 1848, he acquired an enhanced social status that was a key part of his credentials for high political office. In this era, landowners and inherited wealth ruled.  Disraeli’s time at Hughenden saw him transform from rebel to leader, becoming PM twice and being ennobled as Earl of Beaconsfield.  As you go in, look out for the mahogany letterbox, from Disraeli’s London home, and the brass and cast-iron stove which helped him to cope with regular chest complaints. Outside the house, it’s well worth taking a stroll in the gardens at the back and front of the property.

Chenies Manor House

Chenies Manor House Chilterns by Mark Percy WikicommonsKing Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I have both visited beautiful Chenies Manor © Mark Percy, Wikimedia Commons

The Cheyne family was in possession of Chenies Manor House by 1180. Edward I acquired the manor in 1285 but, within a few generations, the Cheynes were in possession again. Royal visitors have come to Chenies voluntarily (Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I held Privy Council meetings here) and involuntarily (Charles I, as a prisoner of the Roundheads). The current owners, the Macleod Matthews, are the first family since the 17th century to live in the house as a whole. The timed guided tours inside the house demonstrate that they have pulled off the difficult trick of marrying its deep sense of history with a habitable modern house, with the 16th- and 17th-century furniture in the parlour, or long room, and Queen Elizabeth’s room being among the highlights.

Cliveden House

Cliveden House Chilterns by Patrick Wang ShutterstockCliveden House boasts some lovely gardens, which are open to the public © Patrick Wang, Shutterstock

Cliveden, now owned by the National Trust, was home for over 300 years to an earl, three countesses, two dukes, a prince of Wales and the Viscounts Astor. The house is now a luxury hotel and you can visit the ground floor by timed ticket tours on selected days, but the gardens are open to the public. The parterre boasts carpets of spring bulbs, while other highlights include the Long Garden, the orientally inspired Water Garden – the pagoda was once red, but is now a slightly disappointing green – and the Rose Garden.

Greys Court 

Greys Court Chilterns by Crispin Cooper Wikimedia CommonsGreys Court, near Henley, juxtaposes a comfortable family home with fragments of a larger estate from centuries past © Crispin Cooper, Wikimedia Commons

The intriguing Greys Court near Henley-on-Thames juxtaposes a comfortable family home with fragments of a larger estate from centuries past. The place to begin may be the outbuildings, particularly the 16th-century Well House, where you can see a rare surviving example of a vertical treadmill which a donkey turned by walking. While the house has passed through the ownership of six families in half a millennium, its current appearance owes much to the Brunners, the most recent owners, who reversed some of the changes which their predecessors had made.

Stonor Park

Dining Room Stonor Park Chilterns by Simon Upton ShutterstockThe dining room at one of England's oldest manor houses, Stonor Park © Simon Upton, Shutterstock

Home to the Honourable William and Lady Ailsa Stonor, this is one of England’s oldest manor houses; the estate has been in the hands of the same family for 850 years. A collection of the family’s surviving medieval correspondence has been published and provides a fascinating source for medieval historians. The E-shaped Georgian exterior conceals a much older collection of buildings, never completely rebuilt, including a medieval hall.  Beyond the house and chapel, the wider estate includes the site of a prehistoric stone circle.

Waddesdon Manor

Waddesdon Manor Chilterns by Paula French ShutterstockWaddesdon Manor is the best known of all England's Rothschild houses © Paula French, Shutterstock 

Sitting in the midst of the small village of Waddesdon, seven miles to the east of Wotton, is the best known of all England’s Rothschild houses. It was the creation of Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839–1898), who settled in England after his early life in Paris, Frankfurt and Vienna, and bought many art treasures from aristocratic families who had lost money during the agricultural depression of the 1870s. The house provides such a thorough demonstration of exquisite, expensive taste – from paintings to carpets to porcelain to rolltop desks – that every visitor will have their own personal highlights.


Want to learn more about the historical highlights of the Chilterns? Check out our comprehensive guide:

Slow Travel Chilterns

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