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Claydon House

Claydon House
Claydon House - Buckinghamshire

Claydon House is a country house in the Aylesbury Vale, Buckinghamshire, England, close to the village of Middle Claydon. It is owned by the National Trust.

There has been a manor on the site of the present house since before the Norman conquest of England. In the Domesday Book (a survey of England published in 1086) the house was listed as belonging to the Peverell family, who arrived from Normandy with William the Conqueror. It was being managed for them at the time by their tenants the Gresleys.

Having passed by inheritance through two further families it was purchased by Sir John Brockley in 1433 who was Lord Mayor of London at the time.

Claydon has been the ancestral home of the Verney Family since 1620. The church of All Saints, Middle Claydon lies less then 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 23rd 1642 and is buried in the church at Claydon. It is said that at dusk, on the anniversary of his death every year, an apparition of the battle itself appears on the lawns of the great house, and has been reported by many servants from the house through the years since Sir Edmund's death. In 1661, following the Restoration of the Monarchy, Sir Edmund's son (Sir Ralph Verney II) 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 grandson was, in 1742, created an Earl. Both titles have since, however, become extinct.

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.

Middle Claydon Church

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 (similar, but smaller than that at Ickworth in Suffolk). 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. x 25 ft. x 25ft 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 corinthean columns supporting the huge venetian window. The third principal room was redecorated as a library by Pathenope, 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 iron work 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 basically 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 Pathenope, Lady Verney, who frequently stayed, in old age, with her sister at the house. This was Florence Nightingale the nursing pioneer. At Claydon is displayed a large collection of her letters. She gave great support to the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital in nearby Aylesbury.

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 Verney's 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, and a former High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire lives in the house today.