Last weekend, I took advantage of one of the rare open garden events at my local stately home, Chevening, to finally have a chance to see what was apparently the inspiration for Catherine de Bourgh’s Rosings in Pride and Prejudice. Chevening used to be the home of the Earls of Stanhope, a line that died out in the 1960s, and the last Earl left it to the nation on his death. Sadly, rather than genuinely being left for the nation to enjoy, it has always been used as a grace-and-favour country residence for the Foreign Secretary, and so us locals are usually kept out, left wondering what lies behind the colossal red brick wall that borders the acres and acres of land belonging to the house. I was thrilled to finally walk through the gates into the grounds and see the house rise up before me, beautifully symmetrical and glowing softly under the afternoon sunlight. It is surrounded by lawns and thousands of impressive trees, including redwoods, and the house is reflected in a huge lily pad studded lake.
Wandering down the sun dappled paths bordered by hedges, with an enormous variety of beautiful trees towering overhead, time seemed to stand still and I was almost surprised to look down and see myself wearing jeans instead of a lawn dress. This garden must have been the scene of so many wonderful memories for those lucky enough to have once lived here; boating on the lake, teas on the lawn, dancing on the terrace, romantic wandering through the maze of pathways that lead deeper and deeper into the countryside surrounding the estate. What a life they must have led!
My only wish was that I had been allowed to look inside and see the house, but sadly they never open it and it’s just the gardens the public are allowed to see. Nevertheless, it was a real privilege to finally glimpse this beautiful estate, filled with such a variety of interesting plants and trees and so many sections to explore. It is also charming to see the chimney pots of the estate cottages peeking over the wall, and hear the bells of the pretty village church ringing. Chevening really is a rare piece of history; an intact, self-sufficient estate, complete with still tenanted cottages, church and surrounding countryside. It is just like something out of a Jane Austen novel. Maybe because it is!