King Charles 1 and Rudolf Hess may have been reluctant guests, but Michael Edwards relishes his stay at De Vere Latimer Estate
King Charles 1, defeated and dejected after the English Civil War, was held on the Latimer Estate awaiting his trial and subsequent execution. Rudolf Hess was another reluctant inmate when the house became a prisoner of war camp during the Second World War.
Today’s guests very eager to stay at the De Vere Latimer Estate. After a £7m refurbishment, the house and 30 acres of grounds have never looked better. Things have moved on since the days of the POWs with the provision of a gym, sauna, and swimming pool.
Although there has been a house on this pretty patch of the Chilterns since 1194, Edward 1’s daughters happily resided here, the current house grandly rose from the ashes of fire to re-open in 1838. That explains why the name of the bar and restaurant celebrate that particular year.
Solid red brick contrasting with creamy sandstone has Gothic overtones, looking back to what was thought to be a golden age of Merrie Olde England. As with all such nostalgia, the details were a little hazy.
Within the mansion house there are 31 loftily spacious rooms and suites, most looking out across a green swathe of rural Buckinghamshire. De Vere’s designers have been challenged by a desire to preserve a sense of history whilst meeting contemporary expectations of comfort. They have opted for a palette of quiet soothing colours, the occasional discrete touch of a subtle tartan and leather-look gentleman’s club furnishings.
A grand double staircase, backlit by a tall window of stained glass, has been restored to pristine condition. William Morris wallpaper enhances the Victoriana theme. Displays of retro phones and typewriters recall the Latimer Estate’s role as a “Spy House” in the Second World War.
Back then, Sir Winston Churchill was a frequent visitor. Colonel Tom Kendrick, the camp’s commander, bugged the prisoners’ accommodation and then treated the prisoners kindly, hoping that they would relax and talk. Churchill agreed with the plan. Kendrick’s unlimited budget enabled him to take German officers for lunch on The Strand.
It was such a successful strategy that at one point 90 translators, often German Jewish refugees, were busy with transcripts. Some historians argue that if the prisoners had not inadvertently revealed the location of the V1 rocket factory D -Day may have been seriously delayed.
Reprieved from the horrors of war, some German officers sent “wish you were here” letters home. By the banks of the chalk stream River Chess, they were imprisoned in the most idyllic of spots. Today, the 10-mile River Chess walk – giving the opportunity to spot kingfishers, brown trout, dragonfly and orchid – runs adjacent to the Latimer Estate.
A more relaxing option for an afternoon is to head for the library with a tome borrowed from The Book Club: a service jointly provided with Bloomsbury who make the title recommendations.
After an afternoon of walking, reading, or visiting the nearby Roald Dahl Museum it is time for drinks and dinner. The Huntley Bar, with a bar menu, is conveniently close to the library balcony with views across the estate.
Alternatively, there is the 1838 Bar and Restaurant. With its light-filled conservatory design it is more contemporary than it sounds. It offers a menu that ranges from Sirloin steak through sea bream fillets to marinated and grilled halloumi. On warmer evenings it offers a sheltered courtyard for al fresco dining.
If parts of the Latimer Estate seem familiar, you may have read a John le Carrie novel. The spy novelist developed the rumours that post-war the Estate became a base for MI6. Adding fuel to the whispers was a clause in the sale contract stating that the tunnels beneath the house were not to be opened for half a century. The full history of the Latimer Estate is yet to be written …
Tell me more about De Vere Latimer Estate
De Vere Latimer Estate, Church Lane, Latimer, Chesham, HP5 1UG.
T: 01494 412312
A night in a deluxe room at De Vere Latimer Estate, with breakfast, begins from £165.