Chippenham Park, near Newmarket, has a rich history. The best stretches of wooded country in the Cambridgeshire landscape often turn out to be the remains of 18th-century parks surrounding surprisingly little-known country houses. Typical of these is Chippenham Park, which lies between Ely and Newmarket. The house, seen from the park, appears to be a late-19th-century red-brick. neo-Queen Anne country house, typical of those built round Newmarket for shooting and racing parties-indeed, the Prince of Wales and his brother the Duke of Cambridge stayed here for a shoot in 1896.
However, the parkland has plantings going back probably 200 to 300 years. To the east of the house stands a handsome late-17th-rentury red-brick coach-house, and the north court – now the entrance front-still has brickwork of that period.
Chippenham Park has clearly been the subject of considerable alterations and remodelling. In 1985 the estate came to Mr and Mrs Eustace Crawley. It had passed by descent in Mrs Crawley's family since 1791. At that time, the house appears to have been a compact hunting box, carved out of a more substantial 17th-century house in the late 1780s.
This earlier house was advertised for sale in 1783 as 'a most superb magnificent capital Mansion House consisting of rooms of every description, and all convenient offices attached'. It was bought by a banker. Drummond Smith, who reduced it to a mere fraction of its original size.
The 17th-century mansion is usually thought to have been built in about 1690. by Admiral Edward Russell (later Earl of Orford). who acquired the estate from a distant kinsman, Sir William Russell, 4th Baronet, in 1688. Sir William's family had owned the hall from the late 16th century. The first baronet, also William, Treasurer to the Navy, who died in 1656. was a Royalist. But his son Francis. 2nd Baronet, favoured the Parliamentary cause. In 1659, Sir Francis's eldest son, John (later 3rd Baronet), who fought on the Parliamentary side, married Frances, Oliver Cromwell's fourth daughter. On May 10, 1669, during their occupation, the house was visited by Cosimo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany. His travels were recorded by Count Magaloiti (published in English in 1832). who wrote: 'The villa stands in a delightful plain, in the midst of a lawn, which surrounds it on every side: and both with respect to the materials of which it is built, the ornaments with which it is decorated, and the arrangement of its domestic conveniences; it will bear a comparison with the most distinguished county seats of the principal gentry of the kingdom.'
Cosimo 'went over all the apartments. and found them handsomely furnished . . . Amongst other things that the house contains, the gallery, which faces south, is not die least remarkable; for besides the view which it commands from its windows, there is on top of it an open promenade, that being connected with the roof, which is covered in lead, affords on every side a prospect of die surrounding country.' Cosimo went up 'to view through a telescope the City of Ely and its cathedral church'.
This then was the mansion just before it was acquired by Admiral Russell in 1688. A nephew of the 1st Duke of Bedford, he had served in the household of the Duke of York later James II), but he was also one of the "Immortal Seven' signatories of the letter which, in 1688, invited William III to come to Britain to 'protect the liberties of England'. In 1689 he became treasurer of the Navy, In 1692, he was the victor of La Hogue, defeating a French fleet sent in support of James II. MP for Cambridgeshire, he was created Earl of Orford in 1697. He clearly spent a great deal of money on Chippenham. on rebuilding (or refitting) the house and creating a park. The avenues are thought to have represented the battle formations at La Hogue. First Lord of the Admiralty under Queen Anne and George I. Lord Orford entertained the latter at Chippenham on October 4, 1717.
A local tradition mentioned by Ross (1995) that the house was built by Inigo Jones has no other supporting evidence. However, a 1712 survey of the park laid out by Lord Orford shows an E-plan house which would seem old-fashioned for the 1690s. Could it be that the house was still substantially one of the pre-Civil War era, perhaps built by Sir William Russell, 1st Baronet?
Celia Fiennes who visited Chippenham in 1698 remarked that the dining room had "looking glasse on the two peers between the three windows . . so it shews one from top to toe'. Moreover, "the roomes were all well wanscoated . . . and there was the finest carv'd wood in fruitages herbages, gemms beasts fowles, etc., very thinn and fine all in white wood without paint or varnish, the severall sorts of things thus carv'd were exceeding naturall all round'. The looking glasses in those chambers 'were the largest … I ever saw'. This carving (by or in the manner of Gibbons) and the looking glasses were 'much talked of.
The paintings mentioned included full-length portraits of the royal family and a large marine painting of La Hogue. The latter, together with several Van de Veldes and a portrait of the Whig 'junto', went to Ombersley Court. Worcestershire.. built by the 1st Lord Sandys in the early 18th century. Lord Sandys's wife, Laetitia. was Lord Orford's great-niece and sole heiress. Lord Sandys sold the Chippenham estate in 1749. It was later bought in 1780 by the Mr Smith who pulled the greater portion down. Nothing at all survives of the carving or looking glasses.
Tharp, who bought the estate from Smith in 1791. had a large fortune from Jamaican plantations. He leased Home House in Portman Square and clearly intended to establish himself, or his family, among the fashionable gentry. John Tharp's eldest son, Joseph, was educated in England, at Eton and Trinity College, and served in The Life Guards. He married Lady Susan Murray and it may have been to accommodate them (a son and future heir was born in 1794) that John Tharp engaged James Wyatt to draw up designs for a substantial new house.
A full set of these plans (signed and dated June and July 1794) survives. The plans show a substantial new Classical house facing south across the park— the old house and yard were to be retained behind. The entrance elevation was to be divided between a central Corinthian portico, with a single tri-partite window on either side on the ground floor, under a shallow arch. Above each of these a Classical bas-relief is shown. A letter in the Cambridge Record Office, presumably from Tharp's then agent, reads: 'I think Wyatt the quickest and cleverest fellow I ever saw. I am sure if you were here now you would . . . follow his advice implicitly. I am of the opinion he will make you as convenient and elegant a house as any in the kingdom. It will not have the grandeur of Blenheim, but will possess what I think of much more importance, which is comfort'.
A sketch on this letter shows a more impressive layout than Wyatt's finished drawings, and presumably represents an earlier idea. The ground door is shown divided between a central spacious hall opening, through a double screen of columns, to a grand staircase that rose in a semi-circle. To the east of this a grand and a small drawing room were proposed and to the west a dining room and a library. In the finished plan, dated 1794, the south-facing drawing room and dining room are separated by a small hall ; to the east is a library, to the west a billiard room separated by a bedroom suite.
The only part of these plans to be built was an entrance gateway on the approach road from Newmarket in the manner of a triumphal arch with a pair of lodge cottages, which again bear some comparison to the gateway built to Wyatt's designs at Dodington Park. The collapse of the project for a new house may have something to do with the unexpected death of Joseph Tharp in 1795, although this did not stop his father adding to the park and acquiring additional neighbouring estates: Badlingham in 1797 and Snailwell in 1798.
In 1798 and 1799, the Suffolk architect Thomas Sandys also prepared proposals for the house, on a lesser scale, with new rooms wrapped round the existing house. Sandys probably designed the north lodge cottages, now the main entrance, and may have been responsible for New Row, the orderly cottages built in the village for John Tharp.
Tharp returned to Jamaica in 1802 and died in 1804. The estate passed to Joseph's son. then a minor. Although he married on coming of age to Lady Hannah Hay—a daughter of the 7th Marquess of Tweeddale—Joseph was declared a 'lunatic'. The estate remained 'in chancery' until his death in 1863.
His uncle and cousins ran the estate. There were at least two more attempts to redesign the house which both came to nothing. In 1821. Charles Humfrey, a Cambridge-based architect who had been in Wyatt's office, drew up more designs for extending the main house. In the late 1850s and 1860s designs by John Moves were drawn up for a neo-Jacobean house.
Monty Tharp-Gent inherited in 1875. In the late 1880s he had the house rebuilt in the Queen-Anne-Revival style, raising the existing house by a floor behind three shaped gables. The central hall was recast with a new staircase and the main drawing room was considerably extended to the east with a single-storey addition. The architect is not known, but the style is consistent with a number of good houses of this date by architects such as W. Young and A. N. Prentice. Built round Newmarket for racing enthusiasts, many of these houses are now racing stables.
A few alterations were made by Paul Phipps, a pupil of Lutyens, in 1933. He moved the entrance from the south-east corner to the middle of the north front. The 1880s entrance hall became a loggia and the 1880s conservatory, on the southwest corner, was converted into a substantial dining room which is still used today. The staircase hall and the large drawing room remain as they were designed in the 1880s. while the library between the hall and dining room may have been formed by Phipps for Mrs Crawley's great-aunt.
The estate passed to Mrs Crawley in 1985. Together with her husband, and advised by Messrs Bidwells of Cambridge, they have restored and refurbished the main house and most of the buildings on the still large estate. The garden has been extended from five acres to 15. and is very popular on the three days a year it is opened for charity.
Chippenham Park remains the thriving heart of a family and a busy estate. The interiors still have much of the character of the 1880s house, as modified by Phipps. and retain a number of family portraits of the Tharps and other connections, that hint at the complicated story of the house, and of the things which might have been.
Please note: The gardens at Chippenham Park are open to the public – details. The house is however a private residence and is not open to the public.
Based on an article that appeared in Country Life – January 2004
To a casual visitor, Chippenham might seem to be in a time warp. On the surface it seems little changed from the days when the village existed only to house workers on the estate. The lovely row of pink and yellow William and Mary cottages are still there on the High Street. Next to them is the beautiful Georgian building that used to be the village school. Opposite is the 11th Century Church of St Margaret, and at the junction of Palace Lane with the High Street in its own little shelter is the village pump.
Gone however are the village post office, the village shop, and the village bakery, victims of the motor car and supermarkets. A remnant of the post office lives on at 45 High Street, where a disused post box remains in the front wall. The bakery is now a private house, with only its unusual chimney hinting at its previous life.
The village pub (Tharp Arms) is the centre of the village, its name drawn from the family of Tharp who still live at Chippenham Park. This is however not the original name, until late in the 19th Century it was called the Hope Inn.
History of Chippenham
The history of Chippenham can be traced back to William the Conqueror who gave the manor of Chippenham to one of his Knights – Geoffrey de Mandeville. In turn Geoffrey's son William gave it to the Order of Knights Hospitalers of St John of Jerusalem in 1184, and they were the Lords of Chippenham for the next 300 years. The Order was founded to protect a hospital in Jerusalem, and then to help sick and needy pilgrims to the Holy Land. Its Preceptory at Chippenham on the site of the Queen Anne School, opposite the Church was one of the most important in England. The churchyard contains the graves of at least two of the Knights.
The Order of St John was suppressed in England in 1540, but take a look at the village sign – a knight in armour can be seen riding past the Church.
With the departure of the knights, the manor passed to the Russell's who were baronets of Chippenham for the next century. Chippenham hall was built in the mid 17th Century and the estate became a park in the early 18th Century. In 1792, the estate was sold to John Tharp, the great-great-grandson of one of the first settlers in Jamaica.
Chippenham Hall was rebuilt and enlarged around 1890, about the same time as the Public House formerly the Hope Inn, was renamed the Tharp Arms. The pub sign shows the coat of arms of the Tharp family surmounted by the mysterious Tharp lady. A stone image of the Tharp lady stands over the magnificent gateway that framed the start of the 3 mile drive from the old Bury – Newmarket road. Legend has it that on New Year's eve at midnight the lady comes down and dances. The driveway was however severed years ago by the A14 road.
During the early 1900's the Tharps and Chippenham Hall played host to many of the Aristocracy. and often Royalty. The growing popularity of racing at nearby Newmarket brought many of the titled up from London, and Chippenham also became popular for shooting. In these days over 100 people worked on the estate, the entire working population of the two villages of Chippenham and Snailwell. Today that number is down to a handful. The huge post war social and economic changes combined with mechanisation of farming almost killed villages such as these which existed only to serve the great estates.
Through lack of work, housing and modern amenities the population of Chippenham dropped leading the Vicar in the 1970's to lament "the village is dying". In 1978 the school closed, with only 11 pupils and 2 teachers it was no longer viable.
Rebirth of Chippenham
Mrs Anne Crawley, a fifth generation descendant of John Tharp inherited the estate, and still lives in part of the Hall with her husband Eustace. The two wings are now let out to tenants, and the farming is done in partnership with local farmers. However the estate is now 3000 acres, less than half its peak.
The estate had suffered over the years, and much had fallen into disrepair. To pay for renovation parts of the estate had to be sold off. The old stable block has been converted into houses and flats, and the estate buildings in the village renovated or rebuilt. More than half the High Street consists of listed buildings, and where there were once cowsheds and pig sheds there are houses. Everything possible has been done to create a thriving community living in modernised homes, but retaining the unique character of Chippenham.
The new housing estate at Scotland End divided the village, and is still a bone of contention to some. The renovation of the old William and Mary houses merged what had been 2 or 3 tiny cottages into single dwellings, as a result the total number of homes in the village had reduced. To maintain a viable population, new homes were needed. The money from the sale of land for Scotland End was used to finish renovation of the last cottages and to build a new village hall.
The village continues to thrive, and this is demonstrated by the Cricket Pitch with a thriving Cricket Club, Tennis Courts, and Bowling Green built by villagers on land provided by the Chippenham Estate. Money was provided by grants, and labour was provided by volunteers.
Sourced from an article that appeared in the Cambridgeshire Journal in December 1999.
Photograps of the Chippenham Girls Friendly Society in 1928. In the centre of a group of Tennis players is Mrs Tharp.
The photographs were taken from a cutting from the Newmarket Journal dated 16 January 1975 that had been kept by Fred Fuller. They had been lent to the Journal by Miss K Langley of 49 High Street, Chippenham who appears in the pictures.
Kindly provided by Fred Fuller
The above picture shows the Chippenham Girls Friendly Society in 1928. In the centre of a group of Tennis players is Mrs Tharp. The picture below is also of the Society from the same period. The photographs were taken from a cutting from the Newmarket Journal dated 16 January 1975 that had been kept by Fred. They had been lent to the Journal by Miss K Langley of 49 High Street, Chippenham who appears in the pictures.
A personal history of Chippenham and Badlingham
Apart from the war years when my father was in the RAF I lived in Badlingham from 1937 to 1954.I attended the village school where the Head Mistress was Miss Bridgeman and infant teacher Mrs Smith. Both teachers lived in Soham and used to come to the school each morning in a Austin 7 saloon. When I was 11 years I went to Soham Grammar School. In the early years I used to cycle to Fordham to catch a bus to the Grammar School. My mother, after a considerable effort, was able persuade the authorities to arrange for the bus to come from Newmarket via Snailwell to Chippenham to pick up both Soham Grammar School boys and Ely High School girls at the village pump.
In the early 1950’s the village bakery was still run by George and Harold Smalley, the publican at the Tharp Arms was Mr Beal, and the Post Office run by Les Drake. The shop was owned by Mr Claxton and the village policeman was Doug Taylor. We were obviously catered for much better in those days than you are now.
My father, Head Gamekeeper, was employed by John Hely-Hutchinson who lived in Chippenham Lodge. He was ‘something in the City’ and was the brother of Victor Hely-Hutchinson the musical composer. Mr Hely-Hutchinson had a Rolls Royce which had to be cleaned by his chauffeur after each run no matter what time of day or night it was. The shooting rights in the village were divided into two. Effectively, north of the B1085 Fordham, Chippenham, Kennett road was rented by John Hely-Hutchinson. The shooting on the rest of the Estate owned by Mrs Tharp was rented out to Captain MacDonald Buchanan who had connections with Buchanan’s who produced Black and White Whiskey. Many of the ‘guns’ on both shoots were connected with the horse racing fraternity. Jack Jarvis, Capt. Boyd Rochford, Jack Warr, Chubb Leach etc.
I was Treasurer of the Youth Club which was held at the Village Hall. During the summer months we played tennis on a court owned by Arthur ( Sonny) Kent the farmer in Badlingham. As Treasurer I had to go to Chippenham Hall to get my cheques countersigned by Mr Bacon who ran the estate in succession to Mrs Tharp. The Cricket Club was active and we were transported to away fixtures by Mr Beal the publican who had a huge car, probably a Lagonda. The Village Hall was used for all village functions, dances, whist drives, and for cinema shows.
I worked on the farm at Badlingham during the summer months helping to get the harvest in. Horses were still used and my main job was to lead the farm horses from shock to shock when the corn sheaves were being put on the cart. Horses were used in the field and a tractor would be used to take the cart to the stack yard. A barrel of beer was always bought during harvest and the highlight of the day was when beer was sent to field in a gallon earthenware jar. Later the first combine harvester would appear. Work of the farm was hard particularly in the winter, the tractor drivers had no protection from the elements. At Badlingham carrots were grown for Chivers at Histon to be used in jam making. The coldest job on the farm was working on the sluice were the carrots were washed.
There were several ‘characters’ in the village. Stan Tweed had lost his leg during the second world war. Sam Moss a single man worked for Arthur Kent at Badlingham . He would have been in his mid-fifties at the beginning of the Second World War but had served in France during the Great War. His contemporaries said that they remember him in tears when he had to go back to the Front after leave. A woman called Phil Lucas from Freckenham worked on the farm at Badlingham, reputedly as strong as most men. Our next door neighbour Vic Neal had lost his wife and was cared for by Mabel Watkinson . At the time Mabel’s brother Arthur who lived with them spent many happy hours in the Tharp Arms. His liking for Greene Kings brew had given him an expanded midriff and he was nicknamed ‘Scandalous’ by the local villagers . This was after his liking for the word describing any event not to his liking as being scandalous.
I have enclosed copies of a couple of photographs of the local Home Guard at Badlingham taken I would think in 1940. My father is standing (at the extreme left looking at the photograph) with Arthur Neal kneeling, again to the left.
It was about this time that we were bombed. The Germans were looking for Mildenhall and spotted the large farm buildings. They dropped incendiary bombs first and then high explosives. One bomb landed in the moat at Badlingham Manor and covered the front of the house with mud and chalk Another landed close to the house in the meadow where George Neal lived, luckily the blast went away from the house. The only problem was that many of the bombs did not explode, they are probably still there, and we were evacuated to the village for 24 hours.
Many my activities as a boy and a teenager are not now ‘PC’ but I look back at my life in Chippenham with much satisfaction. I left the village in 1954 to undertake National Service and when I was demobbed in 1956 my father had moved. John Hely-Hutchinson had given up the shoot so I never returned to the village. In addition to 18 months in Germany while in the army I lived and worked in Central Africa (Zambia) for nine years and still travel extensively throughout the world, for pleasure I might add. All my ancestors since 1750 worked on the land, in agriculture or as gamekeepers. In some way I broke the mould.
My regards to you and to any of your older villagers who remembers my family, George and Olive Sale, Janet and Margaret.
Contributed by David Sale