Over the nine years of this project, I have discovered a category of National Trust properties that I call 'Doesn't Look Like Much From The Outside But Inside It's Amazing'. Claydon in Buckinghamshire is firmly in that category.
The North Hall
The Chinese Room
Florence Nightingale Bedroom
The Claydon Museum
- There have been Verneys in Buckinghamshire since the 1200s
- In around 1463, the manor of Middle Claydon was bought by one Sir Ralph Verney who had been Lord Mayor of London
- The house was leased to a Roger Giffard, who built a house on the site of today's building as well as the chancel of All Saints church that stands next to it
- In 1620, Sir Edmund Verney decided he wanted Claydon back - he bought the Giffards out of their tenancy and became the first Verney to actually live there
- Sir Edmund was a very interesting man: he had served both Charles I and his older brother, who died prematurely. When Charles acceded to the throne, Edmund was a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber.
- He was staunchly loyal to the King during the Civil War, even though he didn't agree with him. There's a lovely paragraph in the guidebook that explains his position: "I have eaten his Bread, and served him for nearly thirty Years, and will not do so base a Thing as to forsake him; and chuse rather to lose my Life (which I am sure I shall do) to preserve and defend those Things which are against my Conscience to preserve and defend."
- Edmund was right about one thing: he did lose his life. His son Ralph had sided with the Parliamentarian cause and begged his father not to get involved but Edmund ended up as the King's Standard Bearer and died at the Battle of Edgehill in 1642.
- It all gets a bit grisly in the guidebook after that: the enemy troops who killed him couldn't get the Standard from Edmund, so they hacked his hand off. That's the only bit of him that lies in his tomb in the church, as the rest of his corpse was never recovered.
- Ralph was not rewarded for siding with Cromwell. He refused to sign the Solemn League and Covenant, and had to go into exile. Claydon was sequestered.
- Ralph's wife, Lady Mary, came back to Claydon and found it in a terrible state. The house was returned to the Verneys and things improved under Charles II, with Ralph becoming the first baronet.
- His son John was very successful as 2nd baronet and became Viscount Fermanagh in 1703
- John's grandson, also Ralph, ended up as the second Earl in 1752 and it was he that built Claydon as we see it today
- Claydon is located near Stowe, another NT property, which was owned by Sir Ralph's political opponent at the time. Sir Ralph upped his spending on Claydon to compete with the splendour of Stowe. Bad move, Ralph.
- But the house wasn't Ralph's only financial mistake. He was patron to Edmund Burke, the philosopher and economist, who wrote that Ralph "suspects nothing, fears nothing, he takes no precautions, he imagines all mankind to be his friend". And Burke would know - he and his cousin William owed Ralph £71,000 between them and they never repaid it.
- Ralph died a broken man. His niece, Mary, became Baroness Fermanagh. She took on the job of sorting out Claydon, demolishing the rotunda and other wing.
- Mary died in 1810. She was the last in the ancient line of Verneys, and the title died with her too. She left the house to a half-sister who had no children, so she passed it to her cousin, Harry Calvert, who changed his name to Verney.
- He married Parthenope Nightingale after the death of his first wife
- My favourite fact of the whole day: Sir Harry was an MP and was known affectionately in Parliament as "the Member for Florence Nightingale" - I can't imagine there were many occasions in the 19th century when a man was known for being the brother-in-law of a woman more famous than him
- The sixth baronet, Sir Edmund Verney, still farms the estate and lived with his family at Claydon until quite recently
The Claydon Scone
Claydon: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4.5 out of 5
Number of times I said "Oh my God" or heard other visitors saying it as I walked around: at least 20