Recent authors have referred to Nether Winchendon House in these terms:
“A fascinating example of the smaller English country house at its idiosyncratic best, Nether Winchendon is mediaeval in its origins, but now predominantly Tudor with a light-hearted overlay of late eighteenth-century Gothick which suits it remarkably well.” John Julius Norwich “The Architecture of Southern England”, reprinted by kind permission of Macmillan General Books.
“Medieval, or Georgian Gothic? Tudor, Jacobean, or nineteenth-century reconstruction? Nether Winchendon House beguiles the eye and teases the mind to equal degree.”
Anna Sproule and Michael Pollard “The Country House Guide”, reprinted by kind permission of Ebury Press, a publisher in Random House UK Limited.
Visitors may also wish to refer to the entries for Nether Winchendon House and the Church of St. Nicholas, Nether Winchendon, in Simon Jenkins’s “England’s Thousand Best Houses” and “England’s Thousand Best Churches”, both published by Allen Lane, the Penguin Group.
NETHER WINCHENDON HOUSE
Nether Winchendon House is listed Grade I. The house and its grounds comprise about seven acres of garden with fine and rare trees and shrubs. The house is lived in by the present owner, Robert Spencer Bernard (pronounced Spencer Barnard), his wife Georgianna and their family. The house contains fine family portraits of the owner’s forbears since the beginning of the 17th century and good English furniture spanning the 17th to 19th Centuries. Since 1956 it has been open to the public who are welcomed into a home in which the family live.
The property is shown in Domesday Book (1086) as having been the property of Walter Giffard, newly created Earl of Buckingham, and before the Norman Conquest the property of Queen Edith, wife of King Edward the Confessor. It was valued at 12 pounds together with a Mill worth 20 shillings and four score eels.
The Great Hall is believed to date from the reign of King John (1199-1216).its beams were later removed and re-used in the fine 18th Century Manor Farm barn. The Great Hall now has a vaulted ceiling designed by Sir Scrope Bernard and is the family's drawing room.
Nether Winchendon House dates from the middle of the 12th century. Walter Giffard, grandson of the Walter Giffard of the Domesday Book entry, gave the Manor of Nether Winchendon as part of his endowment of the nearby Notley Abbey which he was founding for Augustinian canons from Arras in 1162, the year in which Thomas a Becket became Archbishop of Canterbury. The property remained vested in the Abbot of Notley until the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The Manor of Nether Winchendon passed to the Crown on the Dissolution of the Monasteries and thence by grant of King Edward VI to the Russell family, then of Chenies and later of Woburn. There is a fine Flemish tapestry on display which depicts King Henry VIII with Sir John Russell who had just been installed as a Knight of the Garter in 1539.
What is now the dining room was built on by Sir John Daunce in about 1530 as his “Parlour”. Sir John proved to be the last tenant of the Abbot of Notley and the original of his lease, dated 1528, is on display. Sir John was a notable and powerful man of his time. He was one of the King’s Council and Surveyor General of Crown Lands as well as being a Commissioner for the war against Scotland which culminated in the death of King James IV of Scotland at the Battle of Flodden in 1517. His son married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England and author of “Utopia”, who was executed in 1535. This room has fine oak linenfold panelling and a carved oak frieze, commissioned by Sir John and displaying his portrait and initials. Subsequently, the panelling was painted white to celebrate the Restoration of King Charles II to the throne in 1660.
In 1559 the Manor of Nether Winchendon was bought from the Russells and conveyed as part of a marriage settlement to the Tyringham family. (It is since this time that the house has been passed by family inheritance to the present owner). The last of the Tyringhams, Mrs. Jane Beresford, gave the clock from the house to the Church of St. Nicholas, Nether Winchendon by her Will on her death in 1771.
Having no direct heir, Mrs. Beresford left the property to her cousin, Sir Francis Bernard, Bt. (1711-1779). He was the last British Governor of the Province of Massachussetts Bay. He named the town of Tyringham in Massachussetts after his cousin (nee Tyringham) and it is the only town in Massachussetts to have been named after a woman [Links with the United States of America] Towns in Massachussetts were named after him: Bernardsville, Bernardston, Bernard, Tyringham and Winchendon. Sir Francis left his American library to Harvard University from which one of his sons, Sir Thomas Bernard Bt., graduated.
Sir Thomas was a noted philanthropist and Treasurer of the Foundling Hospital in the chapel of which he is buried. It was he who framed the constitution of the British Institution and became its first Treasurer.
Another of the Governor’s sons was Sir Scrope Bernard, Bt. who was Member of Parliament for Aylesbury, Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office under Lord Grenville and Black Rod in Ireland. He married Harriet Morland, on 26th July 1785 and one of their daughters married into the Spencer family. With his wife’s fortune he was able to embellish Nether Winchendon House, hitherto a timber a stone house, in the fashionable Strawberry Hill Gothick style. His work entailed lowering the pitch of some of the roofs and crenellating the house with battlements, having first obtained a Parliamentary licence to “fortify” his home.
At the end of the 18th Century when Nether Winchendon House was gothicised, the main driveway to the house cut across the field known as Home Close. Sir Scrope Bernard added a portico to embellish the centre of the west front. The house was ‘iced’ with stucco in the Strawberry Hill Gothick style as designed by Sir Scrope and with the addition of the screen of arches and tower folly seemed every bit as daring and enchanting as his friend Horace Walpole’s house ‘Strawberry Hill’. With his wife Harriet Morland (the only daughter of a wealthy banker), Nether Winchendon House was a perfect home for the very stylish and avant-garde couple. Sir Scrope’s grand-daughter, Sophie, later designed and built a large glass conservatory on the south side of the house underneath the wrought iron balcony, the only remains of which are the highly attractive and intricate metal grills which were made to cover the heating ducts which ran around the inside walls of the conservatory. The house is a wonderful, successful and unique mixture of architectural periods, styles and fashions. Sir Scrope also lived at 50 Pall Mall, London where he died on 19th April, 1830 and was buried in the family vault in Gt. Kimble.
The direct Bernard line died out in 1935 with the death of Lieut-Colonel Francis Tyringham Higgins Bernard, who built and gave The Bernard Hall to the next door village of Cuddington. The Bernard Hall was designed by the celebrated architect Philip Tilden, who was also commissioned to make some alterations at Nether Winchendon House, described in his book 'True Remembrances, the Memoirs of an Architect'. Once again the property passed to a cousin, John Churchill Spencer, who assumed the additional surname of Bernard at the specific request of his lately deceased cousin. John Spencer Bernard, as he then became, died in 1977 and was the father of the present owner. Nether Winchendon House is, therefore, one of the very rare houses which have been lived in by the same family for almost 450 years. Robert and Georgianna hope that their son, Edmund, will be able to continue family occupation for a further generation.
The Family (Tyringham, Bernard, Spencer) and Nether Winchendon
It is a rare honour in English history to be a family who have lived in the same home for over 400 years. Here are listed the family members who have owned Nether Winchendon House and Estate since 1559, many of whose portraits hang in the house:
Clare Rosemary b. 1-11-1938 m. Arthur Hohler (ch. Harriet, Camilla, Amanda & Rupert)
Charles Francis Churchill b. 23-1-1942 d. 2-2-2016 m. Rosalyn Plunkett (ch. Jane, Sarah & Elizabeth)
The property was originally bought by William Goodwin of London from the Russell family in 1559 as a marriage settlement for his daughter and her husband Thomas, the younger son of the Tyringhams of Tyringham in North Buckinghamshire. Since that time the house and estate had passed intact from generation to generation by family inheritance to ensure its survival, which included every house in Nether Winchendon. (Four new non-estate houses at the top of Barrack Hill were built after the Second World War). Nether Winchendon House, the village and estate had remained intact for over 400 years.
Nether Winchendon House: Gardens and Trees