A Brief History of the Bradenham Estate

Bradenham village green

The Bradenham Estate is centred on the seventeenth century manor house (not open to the public). The 18th-century cluster of brick and flint cottages is focused on the village green. In the 1956, the Bradenham Estate was acquired by philanthropist Ernest Edward Cook, who donated it the National Trust.

Early Origins

The earliest known settlers in Bradenham were Anglo-Saxon, and the village name originates from this time. The name means 'broad enclosure', referring to the fact that the village sits in a broad valley. Bradenham was mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086 when it had just two households.

The Parish Church of St Botolph
The Parish Church of St Botolph

The Parish Church of St Botolph is the oldest remaining building in the village. The nave dates from 1100 and the southern doorway is of the same date and may be the oldest church doorway in Buckinghamshire.  It is now protected by a modern porch. Most of the church dates from the 14th century onwards. The north chapel was added in 1542 and a new chancel was built in 1863 as part of a restoration by G E Street. The walls of the church are built of dressed flint and blocks of a locally extracted hard sandstone called 'Denner Hill' stone. This is a sarsen stone, a silica-cemented sandstone, which was quarried nearby in Prestwood.

The church contains a tablet memorial to Isaac D’Israeli and his wife Maria, both of whom lie at rest here.

Bradenham Manor

The mid-17th century manor house stands immediately south of the Church. The present building is of red brick with tall sash windows, steep tiled roofs with small dormer windows, and a row of slender brick chimneys. The current house is thought to include elements of an original building of 1540. The rebuilding was undertaken around 1670 by Sir Edmund Pye and his wife Catherine, whose coat of arms appears inside the house.

Bradenham Manor
Bradenham Manor

In 1505 the Bradenham estate was acquired by Andrew Windsor who was knighted at Henry VIII's coronation in 1509. Andrew was created Lord Windsor in 1529, but died in 1543, being succeeded by his son William, the second Lord Windsor. William built the original manor house and when he died in 1558, the house passed to his son Edward.

The Royal Visitor

Edward entertained Queen Elizabeth ‘in great splendour’ at Bradenham in 1566, on her return from visiting the University of Oxford. A contemporary report records the Queen staying overnight at Great Hampden, progressing next day to Bradenham.

Queen Elizabeth I visited Bradenham in 1566
Elizabeth I

The Manor remained in the Windsor family until 1642, when it was acquired by Sir Edmund Pye, who commissioned the rebuilding of the house. For well over a century the property continued in the Pye family until it was finally sold in 1787 to John Hicks of Bath. On the death of John Hicks in 1825, the ownership was contested and remained for a long time in chancery.

The D’Israelis

Whilst the estate was in chancery the Manor was leased to various tenants. The best known of these tenants was Isaac D’Israeli, a literary scholar and the author of a number of notable works including ‘Curiosities of Literature’. D’Israeli was concerned about the deteriorating health of his son Benjamin and his wife Maria, so in 1829 he decided ‘to quit London with all its hourly seductions’ and to rent Bradenham House in the Buckinghamshire countryside.

Benjamin Disraeli

A young Benjamin Disraeli
Benjamin Disraeli

As a young man, the future author and statesman spent much time at Bradenham with his father Isaac. Benjamin was very fond of Bradenham, which became for him a temporary escape from London and a place of rest after his exhausting travels as a young man in the 1830s. It was the pleasant countryside around the village that fostered Benjamin’s life-long love of Buckinghamshire and the Chiltern Hills. Whilst there, he wrote there parts of some of his novels, including Sybil and Coningsby.  In Endymion, he describes the village and house under the name of ‘Hurstley’. He mentioning 'once stately' grounds and 'glade-like terraces of yew trees, which give an air of dignity to a neglected scene'.

Isaac D’Israel died at Bradenham in 1848 and is buried in the church. In the same year his son Benjamin acquired Hughenden Manor, a few miles to the east of Bradenham.

The Village

Most of the remaining buildings in the village date from the eighteenth century. The area around the village green has been designated a conservation area, containing no less than eighteen listed buildings.

Bradenham Village
Bradenham Village

On the opposite side of the road to the church is the Old School House, which was purpose built as a school in 1866. The school closed in 1903 when it became the village hall. From 1965, the building was partially used as a Youth Hostel. This became its sole use in 1979 until it closed in 2005. It is now a private house.

On the village green is Bradenham Cricket Club, which is one of the oldest local village cricket clubs; matches were being played here in the 1860s. The present pavilion was built in 1960.

The northern edge of the village green, beside the road, is lined with lumps of Palaeogene puddingstone (23 million years old): a silica-cemented conglomerate composed of rounded flint pebbles and cobbles with a matrix of fine sand and silica cement. Pieces of this naturally occurring rock are to be found dispersed throughout the locality. A large sarsen stone that was unearthed in Great Close Field, was erected by Bradenham Parish Council on the village green to commemorate the dawn of the third Millennium. Sarsens are silica-cemented sandstones of similar age to the puddingstones.

Sarsen stone on Bradenham village green
Sarsen stone at Bradenham

Archaeological Findings

The National Trust has carried out an archaeological survey of the area, the results of which give a fascinating glimpse into Bradenham's past. In arable land to the north of the village are Bronze Age barrows, which show up as seasonal crop markings. There is also evidence of late Iron Age or early Roman field systems, indicated by step-like features in Park Wood called lynchets. Iron slag, a by-product of iron smelting has been found, proving there was industry here in Roman times.

Park Wood, to the north-east, was formerly a Tudor deer park which provided sport and meat. By the eighteenth century this had been abandoned, part of the woodland being used as a field. In the late nineteenth century this once again returned to woodland. Many areas of woodland were converted into beechwoods, to cater for the High Wycombe furniture industry, during the late eighteenth and nineteenth century.

Park Wood, Bradenham
Park Wood, Bradenham

Two sections of the mysterious earthwork, known as Grim’s Ditch, appear in Park Wood and Beamangreen Wood, to the north-east. This curious feature can be traced, at intervals, across the Chiltern Hills for around 16 miles. The purpose of the ditch is unknown, but it is thought probably to be a boundary mark dating to the Iron Age.

Acquisition by the National Trust

In the 1950s, the Bradenham Estate was acquired by philanthropist Ernest Edward Cook, the grandson of Thomas Cook, the travel entrepreneur. The Earnest Cook Trust donated the entire estate to the National Trust in 1956. The donation included the village, the manor house, the Red Lion, and 80 acres of woodland and 450 acres of farmland.

Second World War

In the late 1930s, with war increasingly likely, plans were drawn up for the RAF High Command Headquarters at Walter’s Ash (now RAF High Wycombe). Building started in 1938 and the base was occupied from 1940. The site was selected for its remoteness and for the opportunity to hide and disguise buildings in the dense beech woodland. The buildings were designed to variously look like a town hall, church, haystacks, village houses and a manor house, when viewed from the air, with hidden tunnels between the blocks. The Operations Block was a large concrete block, 17 metres below ground. Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris was commanding officer from 1942. From here, his plans included bombing of Cologne, Dresden and other German cities, as well as the “Dambuster” raid in the Ruhr Valley. King George VI visited the base twice, once with the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, some 400 years since the first Queen Elizabeth visited Bradenham.

Second World War Pill Box at Bradenham
Second World War Pill Box at Bradenham

During the Second World War, Daphne Bristow, who lived in Bradenham in the Old Post Office (later called Daphne's Cottage) recalls rushing past a prisoner of war camp on her way to and from work at the WAAF Officers Mess. She rushed to avoid the prisoners' whistles. The prisoner of war camp was on the left hand side of the road up to Walters Ash and opposite Stony Meadow, but there is little trace of it today. It housed initially Italian, then later German prisoners. Some of them worked in the RAF kitchens. After the war, the RAF site was extended. Bomber and Fighter Commands merged to create Strike Command in 1968.

Former temporary access road used during the construction of the Bunker
Former temporary access road Bradenham

During the Cold War, it was decided that the Second World War command post was vulnerable to nuclear missile attack. A new Strike Command Operations Centre, known locally as The Bunker, was built from 1982 on National Trust land, using temporary access road through Park Wood, to avoid traffic damage to village and following many objections from villagers, Parish Council and CND. It was operational from1989. In the 1990s, the site was the Headquarters for UK’s 1990 Gulf War operations and it was also used during RAF operations over Iraq and Kosovo.