The Chilterns region has a number of distinguishing features: its beech woodlands; its chalk streams; red kites and rare orchids; the number of great writers and artists who’ve lived and worked here; and a generous sprinkling of marvellous historic houses and mysterious ancient hillforts. There are also a large number of market towns – and, in Beaconsfield, Wendover and so on, you can sample the wares of independent food and drink producers at regular farmers’ and artisan food markets.
These refreshing antidotes to the blandness of mass produced food and drink have now had another event added to the list. Princes Risborough today launched the first in what is, we understand, going to be a quarterly series of farmers’ markets at the Grade II* listed Market House. Today’s launch was the latest in a long tradition: the town has been holding markets of one type or another since Henry VIII granted it that right in 1523. We enjoyed the jam doughnuts and fresh cherries on offer this morning, and will be sampling some pork and marmite sausages later. Good luck to all the traders on this latest addition to the Chilterns’ market portfolio.
In the middle of the Metropolitan Green Belt sits the small village of Chenies. Seriously small: there are well under 200 inhabitants. Chenies Manor goes back, in one form or another, at least 800 years, having been in the possession of the Cheyne family. However, the brick manor house which is the central part of what survives today was built in the mid-15th century, and John Russell modernised it in the 1530s.
Russell, a successful operator in Henry VIII’s court, received an earldom and Chenies became the main home of the Earls of Bedford, receiving many eminent visitors including Elizabeth I on several occasions. After the Restoration, Chenies ceased to be the Russells’ principal seat – they used Woburn instead – and, over the following generations, suffered a degree of neglect. The Macleod Matthews, the current owners since the 1950s, is the first family to live in the house as a whole for over 300 years. They have embarked on an extensive restoration programme which continues.
These days Chenies opens to the public on selected afternoons between April and October, with timed tours of the house and plenty of opportunity to enjoy the splendid gardens. The tulips were a highlight of our visit today. There’s also a tearoom across which you navigate with your trolley of tea and raspberry shortcake, trying not to fall over the large, friendly dog which shambles here and there. It’s a splendid day out at a quirky house – look out for the ornamental cut-brick chimneys which look as if they’ve escaped from a Dali painting.