Claydon has been the ancestral home of the Verney family since 1620. The church of All Saints, Middle Claydon lies less than 50 yards from the house and contains many memorials to the Verney family: among them Sir Edmund Verney, who was chief standard bearer to King Charles I during the English Civil War. Sir Edmund was slaughtered at the Battle of Edgehill on October 23, 1642. In 1661, following the Restoration of the Monarchy, Sir Edmund's son (Sir Ralph Verney) was awarded a baronetcy by King Charles II for his and his father's loyalty and bravery during the preceding period of unrest. He was later, in 1703, made Viscount of Fermanagh and his son was, in 1743, created an Earl.
The original house was rebuilt by Ralph 2nd Earl Verney between 1757 and 1771. The house as it stands today is a fraction of its original planned size. The original conception was of a mansion to rival the richer Earl Temple's huge mansion at Stowe, a few miles away near Buckingham.
What remains today is the 'west wing'; this at one time had an identical twin, which contained the ballroom, and other state apartments. The twin wings were separated by a huge colonnaded rotunda surmounted by a cupola. The 2nd Lord Verney ran into financial problems before the latter two wings were entirely completed, and had to spend the final years of his life on the continent to escape his creditors. Following his death in 1792 his estate was inherited by his niece Mary Verney (later created Baroness Fermanagh, in the second creation): a parsimonious woman, unlike her extravagant uncle, she had the house reduced to its present size.
The exterior of the house is quite austere — seven bays in total, on two floors, with a three-bayed central prominent elevation surmounted by a pediment. The fenestration is of sash windows. (The ground floor windows are crowned by small round windows suggesting a non-existent mezzanine.) The centre bay contains a large central venetian window on the ground floor.
By contrast to the exterior the interiors are an extravaganza of rococo architecture in its highest form. The principal rooms: the north hall, a double cube room (50 ft × 25 ft × 25 ft high) may have lost its adjoining hall under the lost dome. However, its magnificence remains. The broken pedimented door cases are adorned with rococo carving, by Luke Lightfoot, the most talented wood carver of the era, who worked extensively on the great mansion. His work can be found on the ceiling and the niches in the walls. The adjoining saloon is slightly more restrained in its decoration. However the ornate carving continues into the dado rails, and onto the Corinthian columns supporting the huge venetian window. The third principal room was redecorated as a library by Parthenope, Lady Verney in 1860. The plaster rococo ceiling remains in all its splendour.
A staircase of inlaid ivory and marquetry leads to the first floor. The walls of the staircase hall are ornamented with medallions and carved garlands reflecting the theme established in the main reception rooms. The wrought iron balustrade of the stairs contains ironwork ears of wheat, which rustle like the real thing as one ascends the flights.
The marvel of the first floor is the Chinese room: one of the most extraordinary rooms in the house if not England. Here the rococo continues, but this time in a form known as chinoiserie — essentially a Chinese version of the rococo decorative style. The entire room is a fantasy of carved pagodas, Chinese fretwork, bells and temples while oriental scrolls and swirls swoop around the walls and doors reaching a crescendo in the temple-like canopy, which would have once contained a bed, but now gives a throne-like importance to a divan.
Also on this floor is a small museum dedicated to the sister of Parthenope, Lady Verney, who frequently stayed, in old age, with her sister at the house. This was Florence Nightingale the nursing pioneer.
Claydon House today
The present Verney family who still live in the later red brick south wing, are in fact the descendants of Sir Harry Calvert (2nd Baronet) who inherited the house in 1827. He was very tenuously related to the Verneys only through marriage. However, he adopted the name Verney on inheriting. The house was given to the National Trust in 1956 by Sir Ralph Verney, 5th Baronet. His son, Sir Edmund Verney, 6th Baronet, a former High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire, lives in the house today.
- The Blacknall Map at Claydon House
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