Country houses for sale

The country house where PG Wodehouse wrote one of his best-loved books, and where the wife of Charles I fled from her would-be captors

It was in the grounds of this 15th century property that Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of Charles I, reputedly hid in as she fled on her way to seek refuge in France. Penny Churchill tells its story.

Imposing, Grade II*-listed Cheney Court, which is for sale through Strutt & Parker’s country department at a guide price of £4.5 million, stands on a gentle south-facing slope in the hamlet of Ditteridge in the Wiltshire Cotswolds.

According to its Historic England listing, Cheney Court — or Cheyney Court, as it was originally known — was recorded as the manor of the Cheyney family in the 15th century, although the present house was rebuilt in about 1620 by George Speke, who died in 1656.

During the English Civil War, Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of Charles I, reputedly hid in a barn at Cheney Court as she fled from Oxford to Exeter on her way to seek refuge in France.

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In about 1726, the Spekes sold Cheney Court to the Northey family, wealthy landowners who used it as an investment property, letting it out as a desirable house convenient to Bath, suitable for the ‘middling sort’ of people.

According to the writer Alan Payne, an early tenant was John Neate, a prosperous Bristol merchant, who lived there in 1769 before he built Middlehill House nearby.

In the late 1890s, George Edward Northey decided to move with his family to Cheney Court, where he embarked on a major renovation of the rambling, 18-bedroom house.

He found the court rather too quiet for his liking, compared with the busy social whirl of his father’s house at nearby Ashley Manor, and invited his many friends to visit him at his new home.

These included the Revd John Bathurst Deane, a South African-born English clergyman, schoolmaster, antiquary and author, who, with his second wife, Louisa, had 13 children. Among them was Eleanor, the mother of P. G. Wodehouse, and when the Revd Deane died at Sion Hill, Bath, in 1887, his widow and four unmarried daughters moved to Cheney Court, where Wodehouse spent much of his childhood when his parents were living in Hong Kong.

The set up at Cheney Court was recreated in The Mating Season (1949), written by Wodehouse two years after the last of the aunts died, in which the house is named Deverill Court, after one of five Deverill villages around Ditteridge.

The Japanese gardens at Cheney Court were a source of wonder in the early 20th century, with a lake covered in water-lilies and a cascading stream rushing down a grotto into the valley below; the ponds and pools remain today.

However, the cost of upkeep was enormous and, in 1948, Armand Northey sold Cheney Court, together with his other Ditteridge properties. The house became a hotel, then offices, a television studio and finally, in 1989, an international language school, which was forced to close its doors in 2020 due to the pandemic.

The main house, set in 11½ acres of gardens and grounds, is approached along a drive lined with lime trees. It offers some 9,500sq ft of impressive living space, including a large reception hall, drawing room, dining room and first-floor sitting room, a commercial kitchen, 10 offices and seven bedroom suites, plus two further bedrooms and a bathroom.

Additional accommodation is provided in various buildings arranged around the campus, including a further five offices and 27 bedroom suites. A large detached barn comprises a conference room, gym and billiard room on the ground floor, with more offices on the floor above.

The property is 3½ miles west of the picturesque town of Corsham, 5½ miles north-east of Bath and just under 1½ miles from the the Three Shires Stones, where the counties of Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire meet.

Cheyney Court is listed with Strutt & Parker for £4.5 million