Chenies - a brief history of the Village
Chenies village lies in the very eastern part of south Buckinghamshire, near the border with Hertfordshire. It is situated to the east of Chesham and the Chalfonts. Chenies is also a civil parish within Chiltern district. Until the 13th century, the village name was Isenhampstead.
There were two villages here, called Isenhampstead Chenies and Isenhampstead Latimers, distinguished by the lords of the manors of those two places. In the 19th century the prefix was dropped and the two villages became known as Chenies and Latimer. Near the village there was once a royal hunting-box, where both King Edward I and King Edward II were known to have resided. It was the owner of this lodge, Edward III's shield bearer, Thomas Cheyne, who first gave his name to the village and his descendant, Sir John Cheyne, who built Chenies Manor House in around 1460 on the site.
After the Battle of Hastings,William crowned himself king of England. He set about dividing up parts of the country and giving it to people who had helped him.Also this would have been a way of making sure the Barons remained loyal to him.One such Baron, called Maigno the Breton,a mercenary,who assisted William, was given the area around Chalfont.It is probable that Chenies was included in this area,although there is no mention of it in the Domesday Survey of 1086. Originally Chenies was called Isenhampstead,a Saxon name. The first mention of Isenhampstead is in 1165 when it was held by the Knight,Alexander de Isenhampstead.He was probably the ancestor of Alexander Cheyne who lived there during the 13th. Century. For many years Chenies was know as Isenhampstead-Cheyne.
Several paper mills were once established in Chenies, operated by the River Chess, which flowed here from further west in Buckinghamshire. The parish church of St Michael includes the Bedford Chapel, burial place of many notable members of the Russell family. The church is not of great architectural interest but stands in a delightful position in the Chess Valley near the manor house. "The fabulous series of monuments to the Russells, Dukes of Bedford, and their connexions ... [are according to] the late Mrs. Esdaile ...'one of the finest collections of tombs in England'."
When the Duke of Bedford's estate was split up and sold for auction in 1954, much of it was purchased by a property developer who hoped to be allowed to build more housing on the land. However this was not allowed,and many of the properties were then resold to those who already rented them.In this way some of the farms continued as they had been previously run. However there has been a gradual 'Gentrification' of the farms,with many of the large farmhouses being converted to private residences,and old farm workers cottages changed to farm housing. Also outhouses have been converted to housing and land rented to neighbouring farms. In this way the character of the village and its farms has changed dramatically
Chenies - Written by Derek Ayshford
The village of Chenies is mainly situated on a hill above the beautiful valley of the river Chess.Its history is a long one, dating back to Saxon times when it is believed that there was a wooden church on the site of the present St Michael's church.
The name Chenies is thought to derive from Cheney; a family of that name once being the Lords of the Manor. In 1526 John Russell married the heiress to the Cheney estate and became the village's most notable personality. The owner of a small Dorset estate and a gifted linguist he had the good fortune to be presented to Henry VII, who made him a gentleman usher — the first step to an earldom and the great Bedford fortune.
Under Henry VIII John Russell became Lord High Admiral of England and he served both Edward VI and Queen Mary Tudor as Lord Privy Seal. It is said that his portrait shows a man who was cautious, prudent and thoughtful and this he must indeed have been to serve four Tudor monarchs and to die peacefully in his bed! John Russell loved the village. He enlarged the manor so that he could entertain Henry VIII and he expressed the wish to be buried in the village church. This his widow arranged and built the Chapel in which all the subsequent Earls and Dukes have been buried up to the present time. At the same time that the manor was enlarged the village also grew and became considerably bigger than it is today, though there are still several timber-framed cottages dating from this period.
A later and quite different personality, whose memory is still treasured in the village was the Rev Lord Wriothesley Russell, a younger son of the 6th Duke of Bedford. He came to be Rector of Chenies in 1829, when he was 25 years old and stayed until his death in 1886. Although offered high office in the Church he refused to leave his village flock. In the days before the school was built he taught the village children to read and write in the Rectory kitchen and it is recorded that he refused to have a new carpet in his study as the men would not like to walk on it in their boots. The affection in which he was held is attested to by the lovely illuminated address, with its charming watercolour scenes, which still hangs in the church. This address was presented to the Rector by the villagers to mark his 50th anniversary as their priest. On each side of the address may be seen the signatures of the donors -said to include the whole village. It is interesting that some of these names are still to be found either in the village or the surrounding area. Life in the village must have continued with little change for many years. The men worked on the estate farms and woodlands. Dodd's Mill, at one time a paper mill, functioned as a corn mill until 50 years or so ago and watercress was and is still grown in spring water near the Chess.
The larger houses in the area provided work for both men and women. The village blacksmith shod horses and repaired farm machinery. Bread was baked locally and the necessities of life could be bought in the village shops. With mechanisation, however, came change. Young people were forced to seek employment in nearby towns. Buses and cars took people to more urban areas to shop at more competitive prices and so the local shops closed, the last being the post office in 1975. In 1954 the Duke of Bedford sold his Chenies estate in order to pay death duties, bringing to a close the Russell family's long tenure of the estate. However, the split between Woburn, the seat of the Russell family and Chenies is not complete. The family still show an interest in the affairs of the village and it is still in the Bedford Chapel in St Michael's church that the Dukes are laid to rest among their ancestors.
Article written by members of the Buckinghamshire Federation of Women's Institutes for the publication "The Buckinghamshire Village Book" (1987) and reproduced here with their permission