From construction as a massive 16th century Palace to near ruin 200 years later, and then on to refurbishment and expansion in modern times; Toddington Manor has a chequered and fascinating history. Lady Bowman-Shaw tells the story of the Manor, with all its ups-and-downs.
It was in 1560 that Lord Henry Cheney built the Manor on which today’s house is based. So palatial was it that it was dubbed Cheney’s Palace. The frontage measured 210ft from north to south, there was a chapel and an indoor tennis court. Four turrets enclosed the building - only one remains today.
Henry Cheney was knighted at Toddington by Queen Elizabeth I in 1563. After his death in 1587 his widow continued to live at the Manor for twenty-seven years, after which the estate passed to her great-nephew Thomas Wentworth. He was created Earl of Cleveland in 1626, but by 1664 had allowed the Manor to start to deteriorate.
On his death the estate passed to his grand-daughter Henrietta Maria, Baroness Wentworth. On being presented at court at seventeen, she fell for the charms of the Duke of Monmouth, the illegitimate son of Charles II. Adjoining rooms in the Manor were known as Duke Monmouth and Little Lady’s Chambers.
At one time it was possible that Monmouth would become heir to the throne. However, when the Duke of York became more popular again, Monmouth was ordered out of the kingdom. He went into hiding at Toddington where it is said he hid in the Oak Tree behind the house. From here he fled to Brussels, where Lady Henrietta joined him.
After the death of Charles II, they returned to England and sold her jewellery to fund a rising against James II. He was captured and eventually executed at Tower Hill. He refused to confess to adultery, maintaining even on the scaffold that Lady Henrietta was a woman of virtue. She died a year later - they say of a broken heart - and was buried in the Wentworth Chapel in St. George's Church, Toddington.
During all these troubles the house was very neglected and in 1740 William Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, largely dismantled the house. After the Earl of Strafford’s death the property passed to his sister Anne, married to William Connolly, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons.
After William's son died without an heir the estate was sold in 1806 to John Cooper, who rebuilt much of the Manor. The last Cooper owner was in 1905 and until the Skinner family moved here in the 1930's it was again neglected.
When we moved here in 1979 the house had been only partly lived in for the past thirty years and the garden was a jungle. When the house was habitable we started on the farm-houses and buildings.
Very sadly in 1994 the majority of the farm had to be sold, but we have kept enough grass for fifty sheep and our herd of Highland Cattle. The garden is much the most interesting of all the challenges we have been faced with and hopefully the one with which we can stay involved the longest.
OWNERS of TODDINGTON MANOR
1560: Lord Henry Cheney, built the Manor.
1587: Lady Jane Cheney, née Wentworth (widow).
1614: Thomas, 4th. Baron Wentworth, later Earl of Cleveland (great, great nephew); building begins to deteriorate.
1644: Henrietta Maria Wentworth, Baroness Nettlestead, née Cleveland (grand-daughter).
1686: Lady Anne Lovelace, née Cleveland (niece). Martha Johnson (grand-daughter).
1739: Anne Wentworth (step-daughter), married to Thomas Wentworth who ordered Toddington Manor to be dismantled.
1745: William Wentworth, Earl of Strafford (son); house now largely dismantled. Anne Connolly, née Wentworth (sister).
1806: Sold to John Cooper.
1850: W. Dodge Cooper (son-in-law); partly rebuilt into Victorian Manor House.
1905: Last Cooper dies; house becomes neglected.
1930's: Colonel Skinner.
1948: Sold to be Toddington Manor Research Farm.
1979: Sold to Sir Neville & Lady Bowman-Shaw; house and grounds extensively restored.