14 MARCH 2022 – VISIT TO DANESFIELD HOUSE
Blue skies and sunshine! We were blessed with perfect weather for our visit to Danesfield Hotel on Monday 14 March. Twenty-two ‘A Foot in the Chilterns’ walkers, spouses and friends joined Dan Lawrence, the Head Gardener for a tour of the garden and a talk on RAF Medmenham (the RAF station based at Danesfield during WWII).
The present house was built in neo-Tudor style over the period 1899 – 1901 to a very high standard. The beautiful chimneys are similar to those at Hampton Court, each one is slightly different. The building is not stone, but brick with rendering cut to look like stone blocks. The cost of re-rendering, now overdue, is an eye-watering half a million! Once completed, the old Georgian house and Pugin chapel were sadly demolished.
Danesfield became a country house hotel in 1991. The building is a Grade II* listed, while two lodges, the steps, walls and fountains are Grade II listed. The coat of arms in evidence everywhere was recently designed by marketing!
Dan was a great guide; he has been at Danesfield for five years and is clearly passionate about his job. Until recently there were three gardeners, but currently there are only two of them managing the entire estate. Lawns and hedges take up a great deal of their time! To date, they have escaped blight attack to the box hedging (though there has been some insect damage). The formal beds were prepared but empty, waiting to be planted with hundreds of geraniums once the threat of frost has passed.
Dan was full of interesting little anecdotes. In this photo, we are standing above the old swimming pool, which he had heard had been filled in many years ago with anything unwanted that was lying around, such as old chairs and doors. Dan has first-hand evidence that this is true; his very expensive lawnmower hit a door handle a few years ago, resulting in a £2000 repair bill!
Beyond the old pool was this massive Cedar of Lebanon tree trunk. The
current owner is from Lebanon and he will not allow it to be cleared away. It does make a nice feature!
Here we are on the listed steps. The views from there were wonderful and it was clearly a sun-trap as the magnolia shows – the flowers significantly ahead at the time of the ones in gardens near me.
From this area, there were great views of the river and across the valley, none of which I photographed! The fountain and ponds were close to here with lots of large koi carp and goldfish, the latter were apparently added by some of the staff! No longer wanted fairground prizes perhaps?
A bad fire badly damaged the house in the 80s during renovation. After the fire, this pipe down to the river was installed so that if there was ever another fire, water could be pumped directly from the river. Dan told us that the fire brigade come every year to check that it is still in sound working order. Celia then told Dan that after that fire she attended a special service, where the Medmenham Church priest said prayers to protect the site from ever suffering fire damage again!
The spa was opened in the 1990s and is linked to the main building by a glass corridor.
As the plaque shows, the RAF used Danesfield during WWII as a base for photographic reconnaissance. Phyllis Court and Hughenden were also part of this work. After the garden tour, Dan showed us some interesting photographs taken during this time.
Danesfield House stands on a plateau, on the site of an ancient hillfort where artefacts from Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages have been found. The land shelves steeply down to the River Thames to the south. Its lofty position means we can often see it from our ‘Foot in the Chilterns’ walks. When I next see it in the distance, it will give me great pleasure to know a little more about it!
(If anyone would like to add more photos, please send them to Anthea. I particularly regret not taking one of the lead drainpipes which were beautifully ornate).