Page04/05 - Chorleywood House Estate

writes Chris Cordeux

"I know Chorleywood" a colleague at work said to me recently, "I pass through it on my way to High Wycombe. There doesn't seem to be much there except a garage, a church and a cricket pitch" she laughed. This statement got me thinking, I wonder how many local residents feel the same way; ok we all know there is more to Chorleywood than what we see on the A404 otherwise we wouldn't have moved here. But is there much history in Chorleywood? And if by history is meant the story of battles, famous people and great events then probably not. I am always fascinated by the local history of an area, how it has evolved from what it was to the place we see today, buildings that may be nationally not very important but are worth the world locally. But do we know where they are. who owned them and what they were used for?

I didn't have to start my search very far from the A404. Nestled in its own grounds opposite the common car park lies Chorleywood House.

Destined to be a grand house

A very grand house which was connected to the very aristocratic Bedford family. But its beginnings were much more humble. Back in 1704 when Chorleywood was a far flung hamlet of farms and cottages along the Turnpike (a toll road) at the far end of the parish of Rickmansworth, the Chorleywood House Estate consisted of two farms. the Chorleywood farm and Meeting House farm.

Quakers sold out

The latter was used by Quakers who were very prolific throughout the area. William Penn being the most famous. Both were farmed as one holding and in the ownership of Samuel Ewer of Watford and mortgaged to James Cutler.

In 1724 it was bought by John Hobart and Peter Campbell who were related by marriage and in 1730 was inherited by Edward Hobart. Edward disinherited his son, cutting him off with only 1 shilling and left the Estate to his daughter Ann, who carried it in marriage to Ralph Wilson. Ralph sold Meeting House Farm to his brother inlaw John Winfield, sharing the use of the barns and threshing plant. ln 1756 the separate parts were reunited when they were inherited by George Winfield Wilson who was Captain of the East India Company.

George left the property to his wife Harriet in 1789 and then to his daughter Jane. When Jane Wilson died in 1811 unmarried, she left her estates (valued at £40,000) to many beneficiaries but the Chorleywood farm passed to her nephew George Thomas. He had lived with her and upon receiving the property he and his wife Letitia sold it to their son John. John sold it in 1822 to John Barnes.

John Barnes owned properties

John Barnes was a wealthy stock broker who owned and tenanted several other properties in Chorleywood. Upon the purchase he replaced the existing farm house with a beautiful Georgian mansion. John left the Estate to his sons Charles and Henry, but they ran into financial difficulties and temporarily let the property to the banking family of Cazenov. ln 1870 the estate was bought by Howard Gilliatt. He was cousin to John Gilliatt who was Lord of the Manor of Rickmansworth and resided at the Cedars. He lived in the house for three years before letting it out. At this time the 220 acre estate consisted of a house called Chorleywood House, a coach house, stables, cottages, gardens, pleasure grounds, parklands and land covered by water. On the May 29 l887 the estate was sold to Major Harding Fontanblanque Fox (a biographer and great rider of hounds) who lived there until 1892, when he sold it to Lady Ela Russell for £30,000.

The Russell family resided at Chenies Manor and owned the greater part of Chorleywood adjacent to the parish
boundary (around Green Street). When however Lady Ela bought Chorleywood House Estate their influence spread into the parish.

Founded the working men's clubs

Lady Ela was a competent artist. She was also extremely interested in horticulture, and viewed her responsibilities to the villagers with great seriousness. She was instrumental in founding the working men`s club, a rifle club, and was the first president of the WI, maintaining her interest until her death in 1936. Her memory still lives on with main drive way into the Estate being named after her. Like many of the Bedfords she had the family streak of eccentricity and avoided the company of men, and never married. She left the estate to her sister.

Lady Ela pulled down and built the present house, sold part of the grounds to Arthur Herbrand Russell and bought adjoining tenements in Solesbridge lane. Lady Romola Russell lived in the house for six months before moving to her other estate in Ampthill, selling Chorleywood conjointly to James Henley Batty and Darvell who had already purchased Cedars house and given it to the Royal Institute for the Blind and developed some of the land for housing.

Bought by the council

After the second world war the property was acquired by the Chorleywood Urban District Council which they
converted into offices for their use. The grounds were opened up for public use which now house beautiful gardens with the restored summer house, sports facilities and a garden of rest. Although you cannot see inside the house, the gardens are well worth a visit, especially in the summer months. They are maintained in collaboration with Chorleywood House Estate Community Partnership.

For more information, visit the Chorleywood House Estate website