Where Is Chequers? And 7 Other Facts About Theresa May's Private Country Retreat

It contains an actual prison cell.

31/08/2016 12:56

Wednesday saw the British political system grind back into motion after the summer recess as Theresa May hosted a Brexit brainstorm.

The location for this gathering of Tory ministers was Chequers (Chequers Court to give it its full name), the private country getaway of the Prime Minister.

If you ever wanted to have a look around the grand manor all you have to do is become an MP, join a winning party and hope for an invite.

Or aim even higher and become PM. Easy.

For those of us for whom this is unlikely to ever become reality, here is a rough guide to the residence.

1) It’s Old

Suzanne Plunkett/PA Archive
The front entrance

A house of some description has occupied the site since the 12th century but the building that stands there today dates from the 16th century.

It was built or remodelled - no one is exactly sure which - in 1565 by William Hawtrey, a rich landowner and MP.

Chequers is located around 41 miles from Downing Street to the south of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire.

The origin of its name is still up for debate. One theory is it’s named after the chequer trees which grow on the 1,500 acres of land surrounding the property.

Another suggests an owner in the 12th century called Elias Ostiarius gave it its name as Ostiarius used to mean an usher of the Court of the Exchequer.

2) It Contains A Prison 

Lady Catherine Grey was imprisoned at Chequers in 1565

This is Lady Catherine Grey, great granddaughter of King Henry VII.

In 1565 she was imprisoned at Chequers and guarded by Hawtrey for two years after she married without her family’s consent.

This was to ensure she could not produce any children that could challenge for the throne, occupied at the time by Queen Elizabeth.

The room/cell in which she slept has been preserved in its original condition ever since.

She died of tuberculosis in 1568 at the age of 27. Tudor living was rough.

3) It Was Once A Hospital

Buckinghamshire Museum Military Trust
During World War I Chequers was used as a hospital

During World War I Chequers was used as a hospital an convalescent home for injured British soldiers.

In the post-war world, the position of prime minister began to change as a new breed of working class politician rose to prominence alongside the traditional upper-class leaders.

This shift prompted the owners of the time, Arthur and Ruth Lee, to turn Chequers into what it is today...

4) It’s A Gift To England

Topical Press Agency via Getty Images
Coalition Prime Minister David Lloyd George (centre) with French soldier Ferdinand Foch (right) at Chequers in 1921

The Lees handed Chequers to the nation so future prime minister’s would have a place to retreat to and relax regardless of their personal wealth.

In the picture above from 1921, prime minister David Lloyd George (centre), the first PM to benefit, is pictured with World War 1 French soldier Ferdinand Foch.

The Lees commissioned a stained glass window for the long gallery which bears the following inscription.

This house of peace and ancient memories was given to England as a thank-offering for her deliverance in the great war of 1914–1918 as a place of rest and recreation for her Prime Ministers for ever.

5) It Houses A Huge Art Collection

The Chequers Trust

Chequers is home to around 190 pieces of art dating from this piece painted around 1520...

The Chequers Trust
Lady Mary Grey (1545–1578) Hans Eworth (c.1520–after 1578) (attributed to) Chequers Court.

To this from 1937, the work of none other than Winston Churchill...

The Chequers Trust
View of Lake Geneva, Switzerland (C.1937) Winston Spencer Churchill (1874–1965) Chequers Court.

6) Charlie Chaplin Was Once A Guest 

Charlie Chaplin and Premier Ramsay MacDonald out for a walk on the road to Chequers

Chequers has hosted multitudes of VIPs and dignitaries over the years but one of the more surprising was the legendary comedy actor Charlie Chaplin.

He and PM Ramsay MacDonald are pictured above out for a walk on the road to the house on March 3, 1931, after the Comedian’s arrival in his native country after an absence of 10 years.

7) It Costs You A Little Bit Of Money Each Year

Heritage Images via Getty Images
Aerial view of the Tudor mansion

All that land, staff and maintenance don’t come cheap.

While the general running of the property is the responsibility of The Chequers Trust, the office of the Prime Minister pays an annual grant-in-aid of £702,972 (2015/16 figure).

So there you go - you’re paying a small yearly subscription for a place you can never visit.

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