Chenies

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

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