“A fascinating example of a smaller English country house at its idiosyncratic best, Nether Winchendon is medieval in its origins, but now predominantly Tudor with a light-hearted overlay of late eighteenth-century Gothick which suits it remarkable well.” [John Julius Norwich: ‘The Architecture of Southern England’]
“Intimate and unassuming, Nether Winchendon, has, one feels, always been loved by its owners but never allowed to dominate them. It radiates an air of friendliness and charm.” [Idem, page 67]
“Medieval or Georgian Gothic? Tudor, Jacobean, or nineteenth-century reconstruction? Nether Winchendon House beguiles the eye and teases the mind to equal degree.” [Anna Sproule and Michael Pollard: ‘The Country House Guide’]
“A very interesting house, too little known.” [Sir Nicolaus Pevsner: ‘The Buildings of England, Buckinghamshire, 1960’]
Nether Winchendon House is included in “England’s Thousand Best Houses” and the Church of St. Nicholas, Nether Winchendon, is included in “England’s Thousand Best Churches” both by Sir Simon Jenkins.
Nether Winchendon House is listed Grade I. The house and its grounds comprise about seven acres of garden with fine and rare trees and shrubs. The house is lived in by the present owner, Robert Spencer Bernard (pronounced Spencer Barnard), his wife Georgianna and their family. The house contains fine family portraits of the owner’s forbears since the beginning of the 17th century and good English furniture spanning the 17th to 19th Centuries. Since 1956 it has been open to the public who are welcomed into a home in which the family live. It is a founder member of the Historic Houses Association.
The property is shown in Domesday Book (1086) as having been the property of Walter Giffard, newly created Earl of Buckingham, and before the Norman Conquest the property of Queen Edith, wife of King Edward the Confessor. It had an annual valuation of 12 pounds together with a Mill worth 20 shillings and four score eels.
Nether Winchendon House dates from the middle of the 12th century. Walter Giffard, grandson of the Walter Giffard of the Domesday Book entry, gave the Manor of Nether Winchendon in 1162, the year in which Thomas a Becket became Archbishop of Canterbury, as part of his Endowment of Notley Abbey which he was founding nearby for Augustinian canons from Arras,. The property remained vested in the Abbot of Notley until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530’s.
The Great Hall is believed to date from the reign of King John (1199-1216). Its beams were later removed and re-used in the 18th Century Manor Farm barn. The Great Hall now has a vaulted ceiling designed by Sir Scrope Bernard and is the family's drawing room.
What is now the dining room was added by Sir John Daunce in about 1530 as his “Parlour”. Sir John proved to be the last tenant of the Abbot of Notley. Sir John was a notable and powerful man of his time. He was one of the King’s Council and Surveyor General of the King’s estates as well as being a commissioner for the war against Scotland which culminated in the death of King James IV of Scotland at the Battle of Flodden in 1517. His son, William, married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England and author of “Utopia”, who was executed in 1535 [ “A Man for All Seasons”] The dining room room has fine oak linenfold panelling and a carved oak ceiling and frieze, commissioned by Sir John and displaying his portrait and rebus (initials). Subsequently, the panelling was painted white to celebrate the Restoration of King Charles II to the throne in 1660.
The Manor of Nether Winchendon passed to the Crown on the Dissolution of the Monasteries and then by grant of King Edward VI to the Russell family, then of Chenies and later of Woburn. There is a fine Flemish tapestry which depicts King Henry VIII with Sir John Russell who had been installed as a Knight of the Garter in 1539. Sir John Russell, later Earl of Bedford, was Lord Privy Seal in almost direct succession to Thomas Cromwell.
In 1559 the Manor of Nether Winchendon was bought from the Russell’s by Sir John Goodwin and conveyed as part of the marriage settlement of his daughter into the Tyringham family. (Since this time the house has been passed by family inheritance to the present owner). The last of the Tyringhams, Mrs. Jane Beresford, gave the single-handed clock from the house to the Church of St. Nicholas, Nether Winchendon by her Will on her death in 1771.
Having no direct heir, Mrs. Jane Beresford bequeathed Nether Winchendon to her cousin, Sir Francis Bernard, Bt (1711-1779). Their mothers were sisters. He was the last Royal Governor of the Province of Massachussetts Bay. The town of Tyringham in Massachussetts was named after his cousin, Jane (nee Tyringham), and it is believed to be the only town in Massachussetts to have been named after a woman [Links with the United States of America] Other towns in Massachussetts were named after him: Bernardsville, Bernardston, Bernard and Winchendon. Sir Francis left his American library to Harvard University of which one of his sons, Sir Thomas Bernard Bt., was a graduate.
Sir Thomas Bernard (1750-1818) was a noted philanthropist and Treasurer of the Foundling Hospital in the chapel of which he and his wife are buried. He was one of the founders of the Royal Institution. and personally drafted its royal charter in April 1799. The Royal Institution has a distinguished history and fourteen of its members have won Nobel prizes. Michael Faraday had his Magnetic Laboratory in its basement and it was there that he gave his first lecture in 1824.
Sir Scrope Bernard, Bt. (1758-1830) was a younger brother of Sir Thomas. He was Member of Parliament for Aylesbury, Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office under Lord Grenville and Black Rod in Ireland. He married Harriet Morland, on 26th July 1785 and one of their daughters, Mary Ann, married into the Spencer family. With his wife’s fortune Sir Scrope was able to embellish Nether Winchendon House, hitherto a timber-framed house, in the fashionable Strawberry Hill Gothick style. His work entailed altering the pitch of some of the roofs and crenellating the house with battlements, having first obtained a Parliamentary licence to “fortify” his home.
At the end of the 18th Century the driveway to the house cut across the field known as Home Close. Sir Scrope Bernard added a portico to embellish the centre of the west front. The portico was later enlarged and extended, the only remains of which now are four stone supports. Later it was reduced in size.The house was ‘iced’ with stucco in the Strawberry Hill Gothick style as designed by Sir Scrope and with the addition of the screen of arches and tower folly seemed every bit as daring and enchanting as Horace Walpole’s house ‘Strawberry Hill’. With his wife Harriet Morland (the only child of a wealthy banker), Nether Winchendon House was a perfect home for the stylish and avant-garde couple. Sir Scrope’s grand-daughter, Sophie, later designed and built a large glass conservatory on the south side of the house below the first floor wrought iron balcony, the only remains of which are the highly attractive and intricate metal grilles which covered the heating ducts which ran around the inside walls of the conservatory. Nether Winchendon House is a wonderful, successful and unique mixture of architectural periods, styles and fashions. Sir Scrope also lived at 50 Pall Mall, London where he died on 19th April, 1830 and was buried in the family vault in Great Kimble.
The direct Bernard line died out in 1935 with the death of Lieut-Colonel Francis Tyringham Higgins Bernard, who built and gave The Bernard Hall to the next door village of Cuddington. The Bernard Hall was designed by the celebrated architect Philip Tilden, who was also commissioned to make some alterations at Nether Winchendon House, described in his book 'True Remembrances, the Memoirs of an Architect'. The property now passed to a cousin, John Churchill Spencer, who assumed the additional surname of Bernard at the specific request of his deceased cousin. John Spencer Bernard, as he then became, died in 1977 and was the father of the present owner. Nether Winchendon House is, therefore, one of the rare houses which have passed by direct family descent for almost 450 years. Robert and Georgianna hope that their son, Edmund, will be able to continue family occupation for a further generation.
The Family (Tyringham, Bernard, Spencer) and Nether Winchendon
It is a rare honour in English history to be one of a family who have lived in the same home for over 450 years.
Here are listed the family members who have owned Nether Winchendon House and Estate since 1559, many of whose portraits hang in the house:
Thomas Tyringham & Petronilla (nee Goodwin)
Thomas Tyringham (d. 1629, younger son) & Elizabeth (nee Saunders)
John Tyringham (d. 1704, elder son) & Mary (nee Winlow)
Jane Beresford (d. 1771, nee Tyringham) (only surviving child of John and Mary) & William Beresford. Jane’s only son Christopher died aged 16 at Westminster School
Sir Francis Bernard Bt. (1711-1779) & Amelia (nee Offley) (He was the son of Margaret Winlow, Mary’s sister, and the Revd. Francis Bernard) and so cousin to Jane Beresford)
Sir Scrope Bernard Bt. ((1758-1830), youngest son of Sir Francis) & Harriet (nee Morland). Their daughter, Mary Ann, married the Rev. Charles Spencer, Rector of Wheatfield and nephew of George, 5th Duke of Marlborough. Mary Ann was the great-grandmother of John Gray Churchill Spencer.
Sir Thomas Tyringham Bernard Bt. (1791-1883, fourth son of Sir Scrope). Both his sons predeceased him.
Sophia Elizabeth Charlotte Bernard (d. 1919, elder daughter) & Joseph Napier Higgins Q.C.
Lieut-Col. Francis (Frank) Tyringham Higgins Bernard (d. 1935, only child) & Evelyn (nee Wykeham). No children
Colonel Bernard left the house and estate to John Gray Churchill Spencer (great-great-grandson of Sir Scrope Bernard Bt. ) being his closest male relation and in his Will requested that JGCS assume the additional surname of Bernard.
John Gray Churchill Spencer Bernard (d. 1977) & Elsie Phyllis (nee Corley). They married on 31st August 1933 and had four children:
Julia Diana b. 20-4-1936 d. 1-7-2001 m. Simon Hopton (children Richard, Edward, Isobel & Michael, d. 1977)
Clare Rosemary b. 1-11-1938 m. Arthur Hohler (children Harriet, Camilla, Amanda & Rupert)
Charles Francis Churchill b. 23-1-1942 d. 2-2-2016 m. Rosalyn Plunkett (children Jane, Sarah & Elizabeth)
Robert Vere Spencer Bernard (younger son) b. 1-12-1944 - Present owner
John Spencer Bernard had prepared to pass the house and estate to his elder son Charles on whose 21st birthday in 1963, he gifted the greater part of the estate and village houses. Charles left England to live in France where he and his wife lived with their three children. However he said he did not wish to return to England to live at Nether Winchendon House. Consequently on the death of John Spencer Bernard the house and what remained of the land was left to Robert, the younger son, even though Charles the elder son already owned the greater part of the property, the Winchendon Endowment of village houses and estate land, which had been given to him to safeguard and provide for the upkeep of the house. The house was thus deprived of its endowment.
The property was originally bought by William Goodwin of London from the Russell family in 1559 as a marriage settlement for his daughter and her husband Thomas, the younger son of the Tyringhams of Tyringham in North Buckinghamshire. Since that time the house and estate had passed intact from generation to generation by family inheritance to ensure its survival, which included every house in Nether Winchendon. (Four new non-estate houses at the top of Barrack Hill were built after the Second World War.) Nether Winchendon House, the village and estate had remained intact for over 400 years but now no longer.