Medieval undercroft in the grounds of Chenies Manor: part of a medieval Great House
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1013942
Date first listed: 29-Jul-1957
Date of most recent amendment: 15-Dec-1995
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Chiltern (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: TQ 01502 98347
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Reasons for Designation
The medieval undercroft in the grounds of Chenies Manor is only part of the original structure of the contemporary manor of Isenhampstead Chenies, which is well attested from historical sources but can no longer be located on the ground. Unlike the buildings originally above it which were largely demolished in the 15th and 16th centuries to make way for the improved manor of the Russell family, the undercroft survives well. The construction methods and masonry details are datable to the 14th century, and demonstrate something of the grandeur and wealth of the original house of the Cheyne family, which would have been principally built in timber. The position of the undercroft (and therefore the early manor) in relation to St Michael's Church is typical of the layout of medieval manorial sites; a layout which was retained through later centuries (the church was also rebuilt in the 15th century), and given a fresh interpretation in the Victorian period through the rebuilding of the tied village. The undercroft represents a survivor of the origins of the village, having remained in use throughout the subsequent development of the manor.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes the medieval undercroft which lies below a gravel
driveway and flagstones on the western side of a modern extension to the west
range of Chenies Manor, a Grade I Listed Building located some 50m to the west
of St Michael's Church. The undercroft is now all that is known to remain of
the earlier medieval manor house of the Cheynes family, which was demolished
in the 15th and 16th centuries to make way for the present buildings.
The undercroft contains two adjoining chambers orientated approximately east
to west, the eastern of which is entered down a flight of concrete and wooden
steps from within the modern part of the manor house. This chamber, the larger
of the two, measures about 5m square. The walls are constructed with blocks of
dressed clunch (a soft limestone), which continues upwards to form a barrel
vault supported by seven chamfered ribs of Totternhoe stone. The vault is
aligned east to west, and reaches a maximum height of c.2.8m. The floor is
composed of red brick, evidently later in date but of considerable age given
the size of the bricks and the worn concavity across the centre. From the
limited height of the walls beneath the springing for the vault (0.8m) it has
been estimated that this floor is built up to around 0.3m above the original
level. The northern wall is partially covered by a later render, coated with
whitewash and pierced by numerous holes suggesting the sockets for a timber
framework or rack. The south wall has a dressed flint facing, and the east
wall carries a palimpsest of rendering, some recent and related to the
insertion of the doorway. Facing this entrance, in the centre of the west
wall, is the doorway connecting the two chambers. This has a plain two-centred
moulding above a lower, rebated archway in the same style. Both jambs have
recently been restored in brick. The doorway is flanked by square recesses cut
into the wall of the larger chamber, enclosed by massive stone lintels and
The smaller, western chamber measures approximately 3m in length and 2m
across. The floor is composed of the same red brick and the ceiling is
supported by five similar ribs with an additional rib running along the apex
of the vault. A narrow passage with five stone steps led up to the original
entrance at the western end. Although this doorway has been blocked by a
dressed stone wall the moulded jambs still survive in part, indicating
construction in the 14th century. An iron hinge within the southern jamb
indicates that the door opened inwards, and sockets in the masonry to either
side show that a cross beam could be used to secure the door from inside.
There must, therefore, have been a second original entrance, probably that
which has been widened to form the present doorway in the east wall of the
larger chamber. There are four alcoves with pointed arches in the north and
south walls of the western chamber, the spandrels of which coincide with the
springing for the ribs of the vault. The arches were all initially built in
stone, though those to the north have been replaced or clad with cement in
recent years and the lower sections on both walls have been restored in brick
with the exception of a single arch . The eastern alcove in the south wall has
a rebated edge and contains a stone shelf just below the arch.
The undercroft, which would have been used primarily for storage, is thought to have lain beneath part of the 14th century manor house; and is the only component of that structure known to remain. The village and manor, previously termed Isenhampstead, became Isenhampstead Chenies in the mid 13th century; named after the Cheyne family who then acquired the manor and held it until it came into the possession of the Russells in the 16th century. The west wing of the present, L-shaped manor house was built by the Cheynes in the late 15th century. The south wing (also known as the `new building') was added around 1530 by John, Lord Russell, afterwards 1st Earl of Bedford. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I both stayed here for short periods and Privy Councils were convened at the manor in 1541 and 1592. The undercroft almost certainly remained in service as a cellar throughout this period. It may have served as a prison during the Civil War when Parliamentarian forces were garrisoned at the manor, and some of the graffiti inscribed on the walls is believed to relate to this time and use. The Russells (Earls, later Dukes of Bedford) had transfered their seat to Woburn prior to the Civil War, although Chenies (as it came to be known in the 19th century) remained in their possession, and the family mausoleum attached to the parish church continued in use. The manor house was renovated in c.1830 following the occupation of an unreliable tenant, at which time the undercroft floor may have been laid. The village, still tied to the manor, was substantially rebuilt in the 1840s and 1850s as part of the many improvments to the Bedford Estates and, although the manor and village were sold in 1954, the village still retains much of its appearance as a model of Victorian social architecture.
The gravel and flagged surfaces above the undercroft are excluded from the scheduling, together with the stairway from the modern extension and the foundations of this building, the wooden door and steps into the undercroft and all electrical fitments and wiring.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 27145
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Pevsner, N, Williamson, E, The Buildings of England: Buckinghamshire, (1994), 228-31
1907 edition, Leland, J, Itinerary, (1543)
A Brief Guide to Chenies Village, Guide in parish church
AM7 Schedule entry, TLJ, Medieval Undercroft in the grounds of the Manor House, (1957)
conversation with the owner, MacLeod Matthews, A F, Chenies Undercroft, (1995)
RCHM, The Historic Monuments of Buckinghamshire, (1912)
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing