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Chequers  Buckinghamshire

Beautifully situated below the Chiltern escarpment, this notable 16th century house lies 1 mile from Princes Risborough. It contains valuable Cromwellian relics and was given to the nation by Lord Lee of Fareham in 1917 - to be used as a country home by the Prime Minister of the day. It is not open to the public The AA touring guide to England: 1980.

Chequers Court became the official residence of the British Prime Minister in 1921 through the generosity of its owners, Lord and Lady Lee of Fareham. Here Caractacus had a stronghold, of which the earthworks are still visible. "Radulphus", clerk to the Exchequer, was owner under Henry II, and the place appears to have taken its name from his office. In 1565, his descendant, William Hawtrey, remodeled the house and gave it much of its present character and appearance. In the 18th century a unique collection (which still remains) of Cromwell portraits and other relics was brought by the Russels, who were descended from one of the Protector’s daughters. The Russels maintained the Elizabethan house with little alteration, but Robert Greenhill, who inherited from them early in the 19th century, plastered the whole of the outside and redecorated the interior in Strawberry Hill Gothic fashion.

When the Lees entered on a long tenancy in 1909 they sought to reveal the ancient features, and to introduce others characteristic of the Hawtreys and the Russels. In 1917 Lord and Lady Lee changed their tenancy into freehold and created a trust, which on their deaths should make the house an adequate seat where the Prime Minister could entertain guests. The original draft for the Chequers trust declared that: - "The main features of the scheme are, therefore, designed not merely to make Chequers available as the official country residence of the Prime Minister of the day, but to tempt him to visit it regularly, and to make it possible for him to live there, even if his income should be limited to his salary. With this object a sufficient endowment is provided to cover the cost of a permanent staff of servants, of keeping up the gardens and grounds, of maintenance and repairs, and other necessary outgoings. There is also a residential allowance for the official occupant calculated in a fashion deliberately designed to encourage weekend visits." The draft, however, insisted upon unaltered preservation of both house and contents.

In 1920 Lord and Lady Lee resolved that this generous scheme should not await their death but should take immediate effect. All the preparations for establishing and administering the trust having been completed, the Prime Minister held his house warming on 8th January 1921. His successors have spent part of their time here during their terms of office, and ministerial weekends at Chequers Court have become part of English political life Encyclopedia Britannica.

The locals seem to expect their conversations to be bugged; at least that is one explanation for the camera that watches you as you follow the Ridgeway path.

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Copyright © Adrian Windisch 2004