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Cranleigh DFAS visits
Hughenden Manor, West Wycombe Park
and St. Lawrence’s Church

Thursday 11th June 2015

It was a beautiful day.  Clear blue sky and warm sunshine from sunrise to sunset – perfect for enjoying the architecture, lovely gardens and delightful Buckinghamshire countryside.

We had a good journey to Hughenden.  The traffic was kind, and we arrived a quarter of an hour early.  The house was fascinating.  We were all able to make use of guided tours or wander in the house at our own pace.  Most people took advantage of the very informative tours.  The original rustic farmhouse was mentioned in the Domesday Book and replaced in the 18th century with a large manor house.  Now the house is most well known as the home of Benjamin Disraeli.

Disraeli’s family were not wealthy, but at a very young age he decided on a career in politics, telling his father he was going to be the Prime Minister!  About that time, his father fell out with the officials at their local Synagogue in London, and promptly had his sons baptised in the Church of England.  This was very fortunate for young Benjamin as, at that time, Jews were not welcome in public life.  It took several attempts to get elected as an M.P. but he did so in his early 20’s, and managed to obtain a loan to buy Hughenden Manor including its 848 acres of land!  However paying back the loan proved more difficult than obtaining it!  But Benjamin was a resourceful and charismatic young man.  His charms were not lost on the older ladies in society (including Queen Victoria) and one of them paid off the majority of this loan for him, only wanting in return to be buried next to him when the time came!  Benjamin married Mary, the widow of the local M.P, and although more than 10 years his senior they had a long and happy marriage until Mary’s death.  Together they transformed the old Georgian house into a fashionable Gothic mansion.  He had a long and successful career in politics, and was the queen’s favourite Prime Minister.  Indeed she regarded him as a close friend, even when not in high office.  The house today is just as Disraeli left it.  Since the National Trust took ownership in 1947, they have recovered much of the furniture and other household effects, so what we see today is more than 80% original.

Only 11 years ago it was discovered that Hughenden had played an important part in the last war.  There is now an exhibition, in the basement, of the map makers (many of them women) who worked here in secret, creating maps of Germany from aerial photos.  The maps were coloured in black, grey and magenta, which looked realistic, when viewed with a red light at night, in a British bomber setting off to do their work over Germany.

After lunch we set off for West Wycombe Park, another lovely mansion, set in a large estate, but there the similarity ends.  This house was built in the style of a lavish Roman Villa.  It even had a hypocaust!  It was built in the 18th century, by the infamous Sir Francis Dashwood, famous for founding the Hellfire Club and other notorious societies.  He had been on the Grand Tour, typical of wealthy young men of the day, and had been inspired to build his house in this style, full of classical columns, elaborate painted ceilings, and marble walls and floors.  This house remains the home of the Dashwood family and the last Sir Francis restored the house to its former glory, although the hypocaust was beyond repair.

The spectacular ceiling of St Lawrence's Church

Our next stop was St. Lawrence’s Church.  We were taken by coach to the church, decorated in a similar style to the house, on top of West Wycombe hill.  We were all quite tired, so were delighted to find on entering, tables laid with a lovely afternoon tea with homemade scones and cakes.  We were served by the kind folk from the church members, while we enjoyed lovely music played by one of their pianists.

Despite problems with a broken down coach, the day was most enjoyable, and all problems overcome with good humour.  Indeed, the people at the church could not have been nicer, despite us arriving late, and keeping them late in the evening as we waited for our coach to take us home.

Text by Gail Delamare

Photos by John Wright

Related Links (open in new windows):

Hughenden Manor
West Wycombe Park
West Wycombe Church

Members await the replacement coach in the evening sunshine of St Lawrence's churchyard