Dorney

In the very south of the county lies the village of Dorney, bounded by the river Thames, which used to flood the surrounding farmlands, turing it into an island. The manor of Dorney is named in the Domesday Book and was famous for its honey — hence the derivation of its name from the Saxon 'Island of Bees'.

Dorney is three miles from Eton, and approaching from that direction you must first cross Dorney Common, carefully avoiding the cows, whose grazing rights go back to feudal times. The Common is now enclosed by cattle grids, but in the 1920s there were gates, opened for passing traffic by Mr Tugwood, resplendent in a cutaway coat and gaiters. He received a small wage, but made it clear that tips were welcome. There is a tradition that Queen Victoria's carriage once became stuck in a deep pool known as Lot's Hole, and she had to shelter in a cottage.

At the end of the village street is the main entrance to Dorney Court, the beautifully-preserved Tudor manor house, opened to the public in 1981, which receives visitors from all over the world. There has been a house here since before the Conquest, and the present building dates from 1510. It was acquired by Sir James Palmer in 1600, and handed down from father to son ever since. The Great Hall, where the Manor Court was held, contains portraits of twelve generations. Sir James was Chancellor of the Garter to Charles I, and his son Sir Philip was a Colonel in the Royalist army, and cupbearer to Charles II. Philip's brother Roger was the husband of the notorious Lady Barbara Palmer, Countess of Castlemaine, the favourite of the King.

One of the bedrooms at Dorney Court was said to be haunted by a 'Grey Lady', but she has since been exorcised and is seen no more. Today the family still farm the surrounding area, and have developed a new breed of sheep.

Behind the house stands the parish church of St James the Less with its red brick tower. The church is 13 th century, but traces of an earlier Saxon window and door can be seen. The large vicarage nearby is now used by the Eton-Dorney Project, begun when the popular Roger Royle was vicar, to provide holidays for underprivileged children, with Eton boys and local people as helpers.

Across the motorway, a winding old road leads to Huntercombe Manor and Burnham Abbey, both ancient sites still in use today. The nuns were turned out of the Abbey by Henry VIII, but the building survived and was re-consecrated in 1915 to become the home of an Anglican order. The farmhouse of the Abbey became a private house named The Chauntry, and was the scene of a horrifying murder in 1853. The owner came home one night to find bloodstains in the hall and the mangled remains of his housekeeper upstairs. She had been battered to death by the groom, Hatto, after a disagreement, and the murderer was duly tried and hanged. Not surprisingly, this house is also said to be haunted.

The old road, known as Marsh Lane, winds the other way towards Dorney Reach. One of the bends, called Climo's Corner, was the site of the forge where the village blacksmith carried on his trade. At Dorney Reach many new houses were built this century leading down to a beautiful stretch of the river. The school and Village Hall are the centre of activity here.
The building of the M4 brought this area with a jolt into the second half of the 20th century, but has made it an attractive base for television personalities and many commuters to London. As the traffic roars past, how many travellers realise the wealth of history hidden among the leafy lanes of Dorney?

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

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