Medmenham

Notes

The picturesque village of Medmenham nestles in the lee of Wooded Hill to the north and is principally a street of brick and flint cottages which straggles from the now discontinued ferry on the river Thames to its junction with the main Henley-Marlow road half a mile away.

The cottages and houses were built for the servants of the nearby large houses and estates such as Medmenham Abbey, Danesfield, Wittington, Kingswood and Harleyford Manor. In the past fifty years many of these large houses have taken on new roles. Some have been sub-divided into smaller houses or apartments, while others have become offices. In the village the cottages have been modernised, sometimes two combined to make larger properties and few modern houses erected. Fortunately no new estates have marred the beauty of the area.

The employment pattern has changed too and most of the residents now work far from their homes. The village itself has escaped serious industrial development, only the Water Research Centre has intruded upon the scene and it is screened from the river and village by trees.

At the junction of Ferry Lane and the main road is the ancient parish church of St Peter and St Paul, the road here is very narrow* and opposite is the cosy 14th century inn, the Dog and Badger.

Danesfield House, an imposing residence built in 1900 on a cliff overlooking the river Thames, was occupied by the Royal Air Force until 1977, when a Ministry of Defence Police Training Unit took over the buildings in the grounds and Carnation Milk bought the house. The original Danesfield House was built in 1750 on a site previously occupied by Medlicotts, during the Middle Ages. A tradition had grown up locally associating the prehistoric earthworks in the grounds with the Danes who were known to have penetrated the Thames valley as far as Reading, some 15 miles further up-stream. In 1896 the Medmenham Abbey Estate was acquired by Mr Robert Hudson, reputed to have made his fortune with 'Hudson's soap'.

At the foot of Ferry Lane stands Medmenham Abbey, founded as St Mary's Abbey by the Cistercian Order in the 13th century. It later became derelict. However, in the 18th century Sir Francis Dashwood restored the Abbey and it is said to have been used by his 'Hell Fire Club' for orgiastic rites. It is now a fine residence overlooking a pretty reach of the river.

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

Notes


My parents and I came to Buckinghamshire in 1921.

On our way we observed four cottages. In large white-washed lettering were the words 'I BE TO LET', on the next cottage 'SO BE I', on the next 'I BAINT' and on the fourth cottage, 'NOR BAIN'T I'. We thought this highly amusing, but as time went on we found this was typical Buckinghamshire dialect. At school I could not understand when there were arguments amongst the children, some would say •Letter B', meaning 'Let 'er be'.

For many years there was a bib factory in Marlow. Round about 1917 there was a fire which damaged the factory but all who worked there managed to carry on, including my husband's cousin Bella who used to make bibs for twopence a dozen. There were bibs for the rich and bibs for the poor, the best bibs were made of silk and satin and were made for sixpence a dozen.

In 1925 my mother joined Medmenham WI where she learnt to make her own soap and to cure rabbit skins. When the skins were completed they were made into gloves for my sister and me.

Mary Mitchell, Medmenham

Extracted from 'A Pattern Hundreds' (1975) and reproduced with the kind permission of the Buckinghamshire Federation of Women's Institutes

Description

Description of Medmenham from J. J. Sheahan, 1861.

Medmenham, or as it is spelt in Domesday Medemeha contains 2,420 acres and 380 souls. The parish is bounded on the south by the Thames, is about four miles in length, and contains up to 600 acres of woodland. The village is delightfully seated at the foot of a woody hill, 3 miles S.W. By W. from Great Marlow. The dwellings are mostly neat in character. The house now used as a Post-office is attractive on account of its antique style and appearance; the upper story overhanging the lower, and the entrance door being oak, thickly studded with large-headed projecting nails.

After the general Dissolution of the Religious Houses, the Manor of Medmenham and the site of the Abbey were granted to Thomas and Robert Moore, who in 1548 conveyed the estate to the family of Duffield. The Duffields converted a portion of the Abbey into a mansion, in which they dwelt. Willis mentions its appearance, in 1718, as if erected after the Dissolution, with a chapel at the termination of one of the wings, and in the chapel were remaining some marble carvings, four pillars of the north aisle, and high and spacious windows. Hearne gives a somewhat similar account of the “Abbey House of Medmenham.” In 1778 the Duffield family sold the estate to John Morton, Esq., Chief Justice of Chester, who resided at Danesfield, and from whose widow it was purchased in 1780, by Robert Scott, Esq., of Crailing, Co. Roxburgh.

At his death, 1808, Mr. Scott bequeathed his estates in the neighbouring parish of Hambleden, to Charles Scott Murray, Esq., his nephew, only son of his sister Eliza, married to Charles Murray, Esq.; and he also left him the estates in Medmenham, after the decease of his widow, Mrs Scott.  This Charles Scott Murray, Esq., was grandson of John Murray, Esq., of Philliphaugh, Co Selkirk, by Eleanor, daughter of Lord Basil Hamilton, of Baldoon. He died in 1837, and was succeeded in  his estates by his son (the present owner) Charles Robert Scott Murray, Esq., who was one of the Knights of the Shire for Bucks from July 1841 to 1845; and High Sheriff of the County in 1852. This gentleman married the Hon. Amelia Charlotte, daughter of Thomas Alexander Fraser, the fourteenth Baron Lovatt.

The Abbey stood in a lovely and secluded situation, close to the Thames, and the site is occupied by a building, part of which added on to the old fabric, is of modern date, and is built in imitation of ruins, so that it is difficult to distinguish which are really old parts; all being nearly overgrown with ivy. The portions of a tower and cloister are modern. Over the porch door, formerly the principle entrance, is a plain shield, and the motto of the “Medmenham Club.”*  Fay ce que voudras, the inscription in Rabelais' Abbey Thelme (See description of Medmenham in the Foundling Hospital of Wit, in six vols. 12 mo. London, 1786, third vol., p 104). A portion of one of the pillars of the chapel, or conventual church remains. There is a view of the ruins in the “Beauties of England and Wales” (p375).

Medmenham Abbey (house) is now divided into several tenements for labourers. Near the spot is a ferry across the river, and an inn called the “Ferry Boat.” This place is 3.5 miles by water from Great Marlow. The Medmenham reach of the Thames is very fine.

That portion of Medmenham which was retained by the founder of the Abbey, has been called variously the Manor of Brock, and the Manor of Medmenham. It passed by female heirs to the noble families of Vere, Warren, Fitz-Alan, and Beauchamp. It was afterwards in the Poles; and after having been several times forfeited and restored, it was granted, in 1553, to William Rice, and Barbara his wife. The latter sold it, in 1560, to John Borlace, Esq.,  and it passed with Little Marlow to W. L. Antonie, Esq., Its present owner is C. R. Scott Murray, Esq.

The old Manor House of Brockmer, once the seat of the Borlace family, has been partly pulled down and converted into a farm house, which is now in the occupation of Mr. W. Hobbs. The parlour is an old pannelled room with the arms of the Duffield family over the chimney-piece; and there are other remains of ancient wood carving about the house. An antique barn remains too. “Within the last century,” writes Lipscomb, “there were very aged persons, who remembered King Charles II., accompanied by the celebrated Nell Gwyne, coming on horseback from Windsor, to visit Sir John Borlace here.”

Danesfield, the seat of C. R. Scott Murray, Esq., is one of the most beautifully situated residences in this neighbourhood. “It commands extensive views, and panoramically overlooks the Thames. The mansion, originally built by Chief Justice Morton, was much improved by Mr. Scott, and afterwards almost entirely reconstructed by C. Scott Murray Esq., father of the present proprietor. The fine woods which clothe the steep escarpment of the hills towards the river, abound in holly, yew, and box, which is here considered to be indigenous. These are intersected by winding walks, with lovely  views over the valley. A delightful walk proceeds along the high chalk cliff which overhangs the river, close to the splendid weir of New-lock.

*     The Medmenham Club, stigmatised as the Hell-Fire Club, was a society of wits and humourists, who, in the middle of the last century called themselves “Franciscans,” from their founder, Sir Francis Dashwood, afterwards Lord de Despencer; and converted the ruins of Medmenham Abbey into a convivial retreat which became notorious. Some of the scenes enacted here by this eccentric association, are described in “Chrysal, or the Adventures of Guinea,” in which the mysterious ceremonies appear to have been something approaching Devil-worship, and a mockery of all the rites of religion, with every worst form of debauchery. One night, in the midst of their orgies, the profligate party were overwhelmed with terror at the apparition of a huge ape, hideously attired , which had been lowered down the chimney. These bon vivants for a long time believed that the fiend himself had appeared among them, and their meetings were then (at a date previous to 1764) finally broken up. The club is said to have consisted of thirteen members, of whom were the following :- Sir Francis Dashwood (Lord de Despencer), Charles Churchill, John Wilkes, Bubb Doddington (afterwards Lord Melcombe Regis), Robert Lloyd, Sir John Dashwood King, Bart., Henry Lovebond Collins, Paul Whitehead, Sir William Stanhope, Sir Benjamin Bates, and Francis Duffield, the proprietor of Medmenham. Almon's life of Wilkes mentions the Earl of Sandwich, and Thomas Potter, among the members. These convivialists all slept here in cradles, and a fragment of Wilke's cradle is still preserved in a room of the Abbey. Some pictures of Medmenham, representing the rites of the club, are preserved at the “Thatched House Tavern,” in London.

Education

Medmenham Parish (Pop. 384)

One Daily School, containing 15 males and 15 females, 12 of the latter are educated and clothed at the expense of Mrs. Scott, the rest of the children are paid for by their parents.

One Sunday School, in which 22 males and 32 females are gratuitously instructed; the master and mistress have each a salary of £5  per annum, and one School has a lending Library attached.

ABSTRACT OF EDUCATION RETURNS, 1833.