Chicheley Hall

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Chicheley Hall
Chicheley Hall.jpeg
Chicheley Hall is located in Buckinghamshire
Chicheley Hall
Chicheley Hall
Location within Buckinghamshire
Chicheley Hall is located in England
Chicheley Hall
Chicheley Hall
Chicheley Hall (England)
General information
Typecountry house
LocationChicheley, Buckinghamshire, England
Coordinates52°06′13″N 0°40′45″W / 52.1036°N 0.6792°W / 52.1036; -0.6792Coordinates: 52°06′13″N 0°40′45″W / 52.1036°N 0.6792°W / 52.1036; -0.6792

Chicheley Hall, in Chicheley, Buckinghamshire, is an English country house built in the first quarter of the 18th century in the Baroque style.

Earlier buildings[edit]

An ancient manor house on the site belonged to the Pagnell family of Newport Pagnell, but was given by them to the church. Cardinal Wolsey gave it to Christ Church, Oxford, but it reverted to the Crown, and was acquired by a wool merchant, Anthony Cave, in 1545, who built a manor house in the form of a hollow square.[1] On his death the house was left to his daughter Judith, who had married her cousin William Chester, son of Sir William Chester. Their only son Anthony was High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire for 1602 and created a baronet in 1620. [2]

The house then descended in the Chester family to the time of the English Civil War, when it was shelled by Parliamentary forces and eventually demolished. The present Chicheley Hall was built in the early 1700s on the same site. All that remains of the old manor house is one Jacobean over-mantel with termini caryatids, and some panelling in the new Chicheley Hall.

Current hall[edit]

The present hall was built between 1719 and 1723, with the interior fittings completed in 1725.[3] The house was often attributed to the architect Thomas Archer,[1] but has more recently been attributed to Francis Smith, who is thought to have designed it for Sir John Chester, the 4th baronet.[4]

The principal facade of the house is of nine bays on three floors upon a raised basement; the central section of three bays projects. Massive fluted Corinthian pilasters flank the central three bays. These are repeated at each termination of the facade and again divide the second from the third bay of each wing that flanks the central projection. The facade is symmetrical, however the curve-topped windows of the central projection are taller than the flat-topped windows of the wings, thus uniformity at roof level is achieved by an upward curve to the central section from the wings. These motifs, examples of baroque architecture are exceedingly rare in Britain, where baroque was fashionable for a very brief period at the end of the 17th century and beginning of the 18th.

The main door opens to a fine panelled Great Hall, in the manner of William Kent with a classical double-height ceiling depicting Herse and her sisters sacrificing to Flora. Through an arcade of marble columns, oak staircases lead to the upper floors. The most remarkable room is the 'secret' library on the upper floor, with all shelving and books concealed behind what appears to be panelling, thus disguising the room's true use. The interior includes some of the finest woodcarving, joinery and plasterwork in any English country house of its period.

The house is surrounded by a park of 100 acres (0.40 km2), including a lake, canal, and 25 acres (100,000 m2) of gardens, laid out by George London and Henry Wise. An avenue of lime trees leads to the house, past an octagonal Grade II* listed dovecote. The River Ouse lies to the east.


After John Chester's death the house descended to Charles Bagot Chester, the 7th Baronet, a drunk and gambler, who jumped out of a second floor window in a drunken fit. Before dying of his injuries he bequeathed all of his estates, including Chicheley, to a distant relative and school friend, Charles Bagot, on condition he adopted the name of Chester.

Charles' son Charles Bagot Chester, a gambler, rake and Member of Parliament, rented out the hall for many years. After his death the estate descended to the unmarried Charles Anthony Chester and from 1883 was again rented out to a series of tenants, among whom Gwen Farrar, for the next 70 years.[5]

Recent history[edit]

During the Second World War, Chicheley Hall was used by the Special Operations Executive as its Special Training School No. 46. From 1942 until 1943, it was used for training Czechoslovaks for SOE parachute missions.[6][7] It was later used to train Polish agents, and then became a FANY wireless telegraphy school.[8] Fortunately, the fine interior was protected by hardboard.

The house was purchased from the Chester family by David Beatty, 2nd Earl Beatty in 1952, son of First World War Admiral Lord Beatty, who brought memorabilia of his father. Beatty began a large restoration programme and finally employed the renowned interior decorator Felix Harboard, famed for his work at Luttrellstown Castle near Dublin. Harboard's masterful, classical colour schemes accentuating moulding and panelling perfectly suit the house.

Chicheley Hall remained the home of the 2nd Earl's fourth wife, Diane, after his death. She remarried, to Sir John Nutting, and was later the chairman of the Georgian Group. Together, they ran the house as a venue for weddings and conferences. The house stood in for Bletchley Park in the 2001 film Enigma. It has also been used as a location in several other films and TV projects, including Pride and Prejudice, The Meaning of Life, The Red Violin, Black Beauty, The Fourth Protocol, A Village Affair (1995 TV Movie), and Separate Lies.

In 2007, Grade I listed[9] Chicheley Hall was placed on the market for sale, with a guide price of £9 million.[10] It was bought by the Royal Society for £6.5 million, funded in part by the Norwegian philanthropist Fred Kavli. The Royal Society has spent a further £12 million renovating the house, and adapting it to become the Kavli Royal Society International Centre, a venue for science seminars and conferences. Outside of these scientific events the Hall may be used by others for corporate and social events.[11]

Chicheley Hall was operated by De Vere Venues until the 18th June 2020, when it closed 'permanently' following (initially) a temporary closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic.[12]


  1. ^ SOE Chichley Hall
  2. ^ "The Story of Chicheley Hall". Royal Society. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
  3. ^ "Chicheley Hall (Pevsner gives the date of construction as 1698 to 1703)". Chicheley Hall. Archived from the original on 17 June 2008. Retrieved 4 July 2015.
  4. ^ "The finest country house on the market", Times Online, June 8, 2007
  5. ^ In English Homes: The Internal Character, Furniture & Adornments of Some of the Most Notable Houses of England, vol. 2, Henry Avray Tipping, 1908, Contents Page and p. 360
  6. ^ "Czechs in Exile – Addington House". The Czechoslovak Government in Exile Research Society. Archived from the original on 15 May 2011. Retrieved 31 January 2011.
  7. ^ Rees, Neil (2005). The Secret History of The Czech Connection – The Czechoslovak Government in Exile in London and Buckinghamshire. ISBN 978-0-9550883-0-8.
  8. ^ S.O.E – Training of the S.O.E
  9. ^ Historic England. "Chicheley Hall  (Grade I) (1212277)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  10. ^ Chicheley Hall | News | Houses for sale, properties for sale – Country Life
  11. ^ "Royal Society snaps up a stately hothouse", Times Online, March 29, 2009
  12. ^ "Milton Keynes wedding venue 'to close permanently' due to impact from coronavirus lockdown". 19 June 2020.

External links[edit]