The Coleshill History Group was inaugurated in January 2010. The group was formed to continue and expand the work of the Coleshill History Project which produced the book A History of Coleshill published in November 2009.
The group exists to encourage the study of all branches of local history, paying special attention to the collection, preservation, and compilation of records relating to the history of Coleshill and its surroundings.
The group holds meetings six times a year with occasional guest speakers. All villagers are members of the History Group. Do ask for details if you are interested.
News - Spring 2017
Cliveden is by no means the oldest – nor the most architecturally distinguished -- of the country’s stately homes but it’s come to national prominence more than once (which of us of ‘a certain age’ can forget the Profumo Affair?); is right on our doorstep; and enjoys the most magnificent setting high above the Thames. It was therefore felt to be an entirely suitable topic for the History Group’s meeting in January. Stephen Palmer was the speaker and he gave us a highly illuminating account of the mansion’s history.
Soon after the Restoration, in 1666, the notorious George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, was responsible for the first house to be built on the site. Conveniently located to Windsor, London and the Court, it was intended to be for the use of his mistress, the Countess of Shrewsbury. After a fatal duel with her husband two years later, however, and the scandal caused by the latter’s death, the King forbade Buckingham and the Duchess to live together.
The next phase of its life began in 1696, when Cliveden was bought by the Earl of Orkney. It stayed in Orkney family hands for over 100 years and during that time two wings were added to the original building; the parterre below the terrace was laid out; and the grounds were landscaped with the many woodland walks which we still enjoy today. Then, in 1795, a fire almost totally destroyed the house and it lay derelict for the next 30 years until its purchase in 1824 by Sir George Warrrender.
Sir George remained in possession until 1849 when he sold Cliveden to the Duke of Sutherland. Only two months after the sale, the house suffered its second disastrous fire – being again almost completely burnt down. The one bright spark (sorry) to fly from this unhappy event was that the Duke commissioned Charles Barry (he of Houses of Parliament fame) to rebuild; and it is the exterior of his house that we see today (Barry’s interior was later remodelled by the Astors).
|Nancy Astor with Charlie Chaplin
and his wife on her right and
George Bernard Shaw to her left
After the Sutherlands (and the Duke of Westminster for 30 years or so) came the Astors – first William Waldorf, who bought it in1893 and later his son Waldorf, together with his perhaps more famous wife Nancy, from 1906 when the house was a wedding present from father (who went off to live in Hever Castle) to the happy couple. Nancy, in the spare time she had from her duties as an MP, made Cliveden the centre of English social life between the two World Wars. Famous names attending the frequent weekend parties included Chaplin, Shaw, Churchill, FDR, TE Lawrence, Gandhi and many others. Joyce Grenfell (a cousin of Nancy’s) lived in an estate cottage.
One perhaps anomalous feature in a stately home is a cemetery – and not just any old cemetery but one to the war dead. There are 42 Commonwealth War Graves, predominantly Canadian as a result of the Astors allowing the Canadian Red Cross in both wars to build hospitals in the grounds. It’s somewhat hard to locate but you’ll find it a moving and tranquil place.
Cliveden’s current phase of life began in 1942 when it was sold to the National Trust with the proviso that the Astors could continue living there – which they did until 1968. It was an overseas campus of Stanford University in the 1970s and, since 1984, a number of hotel companies have held the lease.
The next meeting of the History Group will be on Thursday, 18th May, when we expect to be hearing about Robert Shaw and Mary Ure and their time living in Coleshill. Every one is welcome and there is no charge. 8pm prompt start.