Editor’s Note: Rogan O’Herlihy guides our England and Scotland hiking tours. He is a native of the famed Cotswolds region in England, and his passion for the area is contagious. We asked him to share a personal recollection of the Cotswolds, and this is his story. Enjoy!
The Legend of Chavenage House
By Rogan O’Herlihy
My life within the Cotswolds runs back to the ripe old age of two. My parents moved there to distance themselves from the hustle and bustle of “The Big Smoke” (London) where they met. They both worked in the arts and felt a rural upbringing surrounded by sloping green fields and scattered sheep was more appropriate in the raising of children than the concrete and pace of life that any large city offers. I am terribly pleased that they made this decision. I love the quiet, quaint splendour of my roots, especially my little corner in the Cotswolds.
When I was twelve, my Dad lived in a little village called Avening, just a hop down the road from the royal enclave of Tetbury. I loved this area of the Cotswolds. It was quiet, peaceful and perfect for a kid who likes to chase sheep and bicycle up and down narrow country lanes lined with hedges and old walls made from famous Cotswold stone.
One evening my Dad and I went for a walk. About two miles towards Tetbury from Avening, tucked away in an old woodland, lies a magnificent, if not awfully spooky (for a child), Elizabethan manor called Chavenage House. A section of the house was built during the Middle Ages, which by the standards of the Cotswolds is quite common.
We jumped in my Dad’s battered old jeep, parked up by the Avening football club pitches, and started towards the manor, casually leaping over cow patties and climbing old stiles. A stile is a structure that provides passage for people through, or over, a fence or boundary via steps, ladders or narrow gaps.
This was early spring and there was a chill to the air as dusk approached. Springtime in the Cotswolds is my favourite time of year, (with the exception of October perhaps). The budding flowers and light green trees holding to the slopes of the peacefully undulating landscape, the warmth of the days and the crisp air of the mornings and evenings, and the slow awakening of life post-winter set amongst the honey coloured hues of the sleepy villages is just magic.
As you walk toward Chavenage House, you amble along a quiet country lane framed by tall oaks planted to line the long approach to the manor. It is quite the sight. Equally so is the manor itself as it comes into view. A classic Elizabethan Cotswold manor renovated from its medieval roots in 1576, complete with ecclesiastical glass from Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and timbers from old galleons broken up on the nearby River Severn, it is truly a fantastic building. Just a short stroll from my childhood home, the beauty of Chavenage is part of what made growing up in the Cotswolds so special.
An Old Ghost Story
The Legend of Chavenage is a tale that has been shared many times over the centuries about a man named Nathaniel Stephens, M.P., P.C., who was the Lord of the Manor during the Civil War of 1641-45.
During the war, Stephens fought on the side of the Parliamentarians against King Charles I and his Royalist supporters. After hostilities ceased, and the King was imprisoned, it was decided by the Parliamentarians that in order to ensure no Royalist uprisings, King Charles needed to be executed. Oliver Cromwell, a Parliamentarian leader, sent General Henry Ireton (his son-in-law) to Chavenage House in order to persuade Colonel Stephens to add his support for the death of the King. Stephens was reluctant. He wavered in his support for the execution of King Charles I, and it took all night for Ireton to convince him to join the cause.
As legend has it, Colonel Stephens eventually agreed, but soon after his daughter returned and discovered what had happened. So horrified and angered was she at the shame that her father brought to the family name, that she cursed him, and soon after Colonel Stephens fell ill and died. At his funeral, as the story goes, a stagecoach driven by a headless horseman wearing the star and garter of Charles I drew up at the door. Colonel Stephens was seen by all assembled for the funeral to rise from his coffin, float across the courtyard, and enter the stagecoach to be driven away by the ghost of King Charles I.
As my Dad and I strolled towards the manor, he recounted this story. As one would expect with any twelve year old, I laughed it off as ridiculous and showed no signs of outward fear nor a lack of desire to draw nearer to the grounds, although I remember being secretly very spooked by my Dad’s rendition of this tale. Being dusk, I was certainly glad my Dad was there with me.
Just as my Dad finished the story, and I was inwardly feeling at my most jumpy, there was a sudden screech in the night and a talon sliced into my head. Realizing I was not dinner, the talon’s cheeky owner disappeared into the darkness of the woodland. I had been attacked by an owl, and what timing!
Upon realising what had happened, coupled with my scream and clear indignation, my Dad laughed as hard a laugh as I could remember previous to that evening, and indeed, since. In fact, he continued enjoying himself at my expense thirty minutes later as we returned to his jeep. I, however, was bleeding badly and anything but enjoying his amusement, as one might expect from a scared and bloody twelve-year-old boy.
As I write this little recount of that evening, of course I can only laugh at my memory of the timing of it all and how wonderful it was to be raised in such a timeless corner of the world.
Would you like to see Chavenage House in person? Check out our Cotswolds hiking tour with Rogan O’Herlihy. Rogan will lead our guests to Chavenage House en route to Tebury recounting history (and ghost stories!) along the way.
Chavenage House in Popular Culture
Chavenage House has been featured in a number of films and television programs over the years. More recently, Chavenage served as Candleford Manor in the popular BBC series Lark Rise to Candleford. Chavenage also serves as Trenwith House in the critically acclaimed 2015 hit TV series Poldark, starring Aidan Turner.
You can stream Poldark and other great shows at pbs.org/masterpiece
Chavenage House is historic, but it’s not a museum. It’s a fully functioning home, inhabited by the very warm, welcoming and friendly Lowsley-Williams family. Check out the Chavenage website for more info about the family, history of the house, photos, video and more.
Chavenage House, South Front | Courtesy of Chavenage House/James Kerr Photography
Chavenage House, East Front | Courtesy of Chavenage House/James Kerr Photography
Captain Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner), coming through the front gates at Chavenage | Courtesy of Chavenage House/Mammoth Screen