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Sunday, 28 May 2017

Seventeenth century carvings, filming locations and stories of ghosts at Chavenage house in Gloucestershire

Chavenage House

Chavenage House is situated near Tetbury in the Cotswolds. It may seem familiar to some readers, as it's been used as a filming location for many films and television series, including being Trenwith house in the most recent adaptations of Winston Graham's Poldark novels.

The house has only been owned by two families since the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The approach that you can see above is very much as it was left by Edward Stephens in 1576.

Edward's grandson was Colonel Nathaniel Stephens, who was Member of Parliament for Gloucestershire during the English Civil War. He was a somewhat reluctant party to the execution of Charles the First and Oliver Cromwell is said to have stayed in the tapestry-lined bedroom which can be seen on the first floor in the wing on the left in the photo above.


Cromwell's bedroom at Chavenage House

The picture of Cromwell on the wall staring down at the bed is more than a little creepy, as is the tiepin on display set with two clear crystals that cover pieces of the hair of Charles the First, which were cut from his head after it had been chopped from his body.



The adjoining bedroom is named after Cromwell's general and son-in-law Henry Ireton. It is also lined with tapestries and is full of Civil War weapons and armour, including these firearms:


civil war firearms

There is also a leather hat cover hanging on a wall, over what looks to be an Elizabethan or early Stuart carved over mantle:



A chair in the corner of the Ireton room is said to have been sat in by Nathaniel Stephens himself.

civil war chair

The house, and the Cromwell room especially, have many ghost stories attached to them.  On the website for Chavenage, one can read the well-known tale of the curse of the Stephens family:

'After the cessation of hostilities whilst Charles I was imprisoned, it became apparent to Cromwell that the King would have to be executed in order to stop any form of Royalist uprisings. To this end he sent Ireton to Chavenage, to try to persuade Colonel Stephens to add his support to the regicide. Ireton arrived whilst Colonel Stephens was keeping the festival of Christmas in 1648. Stephens, known as a mild man, had shown much irresolution in deciding upon sacrificing the life of King Charles I and was on the verge of wavering when Ireton reached his destination. It is said that they sat up all night and eventually Ireton obtained from Stephens his very reluctant acquiescence. 

Shortly after his daughter Abigail returned from having passed the New Year elsewhere, she, in a fit of horror and anger, laid a curse on her father for bringing the name Stephens into such disrepute. The story goes that the Colonel was soon taken terminally ill and never rose from his bed again. When the Lord of the Manor died and all were assembled for his funeral, a hearse drew up at the door of the manor house driven by a headless man, and the Colonel was seen to rise from his coffin and enter the hearse after a profound reverence to the headless personage, who as he drove away assumed the shape of the martyr King, Charles I - this being regarded as retribution for the Colonel's disloyalty to the King. Thereafter until the line became extinct, whenever the head of the family died, the same ghost of the King appeared to carry him off.' 

The Cromwell room has even been exorcised on the orders of the present owner's grandmother. Did I see anything there? I'm afraid not, although I would say that that room felt noticeably colder than the rest of the house (but that could just be due to it being at the end of a wing).

More carvings can be seen in the Oak Room, which dates to Elizabethan times and has carved panelling that is often dated at 1590. However, it clearly shows the date 1627, which was during the reign of Charles the First.  

I think that the representations of the musicians and dancers are some of the most beautiful carvings that I have seen from this period.


wood carving charles the first

More seventeenth century carvings can be seen in the Great Hall, which was also originally Elizabethan but was modified during the Stuart period.


stuart wood carving


There are some fine character heads on the wall of the chapel that is attached to the house. Apparently, this tower was built as a folly in the seventeenth century before being turned into the chapel.

stone carved face


Another folly can also be seen to the left of the driveway, hidden in the trees.


folly

I was lucky enough to be shown around on this visit by a friend who has visited the house many times as a locations manager on productions such as Wolf Hall, New Worlds and Poldark. Thanks to Leon and also to Caroline Lowsley-Williams, the current manager who very kindly gave us access to see the fascinating history and carvings of Chavenage.





chavenage house