Tag Archives: Sevenoaks

CHEVENING

Sixty years ago, Chevening was bequeathed to the nation to ensure that the estate would not be broken up, but would instead retain a significant role as a private house in public life.

The oldest part of the house was built between 1616 and 1630 by Richard Lennard, 13th Lord Dacre, and the work had traditionally been attributed to Inigo Jones. Later, the wings were built by the first Lord Stanhope, who died in 1721. Pilaster and older stonework, added by the third Earl, completely hid Inigo Jones’ red bricks on the façade. Lord Roseberry, who as a boy stayed at the mansion, invariably called it ‘Paradise’. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

In May 1959, the Chevening Estate Bill, published details about Lord Stanhope’s gift of Chevening, Kent, to the nation. Lord Stanhope, the owner, who would leave no heir to the earldom, and had been a widower since 1940, said that as long ago as 1937 he had told Neville Chamberlain of his intention to bequeath Chevening to the country. During the Second World War he had told Winston Churchill of his wish.

However, it fell to Harold Macmillan to make a formal acknowledgement of the gift.

An endowment provided for the upkeep and maintenance of the house and the 3,000-acre estate, which could be used by Prime Ministers, or nominated members of the Cabinet, or members of the Royal Family. There was also provision in the Bill for its use as the residence of the American Ambassador if other nominees failed to make use of the house.

Mr Macmillan said that the mansion had associations with many distinguished statesmen. Lord Stanhope’s long service to the State, had been crowned with a gift which would allow the rare beauty of Chevening and its peace and serenity to serve the same high purpose which he and his forbears had always cherished.

The main staircase at Chevening, Kent. Lord Stanhope, a former first Lord of the Admiralty and Leader of the House of Commons, standing on the staircase in 1959. It was made of Spanish oak between 1720 and 1723. Behind were pieces of armour from a disbanded militia regiment in Ireland in the reign of Queen Anne. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

Chevening had been in the possession and occupation of seven generations of Stanhopes, except for a brief period in 1769 when Lord Chatham stayed here with his family. During this period Pitt planned the carriage drive known as Lord Chatham’s Ride, partly to facilitate visits from his family residence at Hayes to see his only daughter, who married Charles, later the third Lord Stanhope.

The Print Gallery at Chevening, Kent. The long room contained engravings of leading personalities of the era between 1855 and 1875. Many of them were signed. There were also several framed letters of interest. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.