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Chewton Priory (Mr Jenkins’ House)

Chewton Priory- Mr Jenkins' houseThe Hampshire archive contains an undated picture of what is undeniably the building  shown on the left.   A  description attributed to the Rev John Collinson’s describes it as “…Mr Jenkins very neat seat in Chewton Mendip on an eminence near the road, built in a very elegant gothick  style of architecture…”.This picture and the map are courtesy of the current Earl Waldegrave.
 The 1794 map only shows two buildings in detail. One is the church and the other is  Mr Jenkins house. The church tower can be seen in the far right hand corner of this picture which means that the building was in a completely different position of the Victorian Chewton Priory  that was standing until living memory.
Jenkins SiteThe extract of the 1794 map shows more of the site that contained Mr Jenkins house. A footpath can be seen as a faint dotted line running from the right of the house dissecting the letter ‘T’. Evidence of this path can still be seen although there is no physical evidence remaining of a building where the house is shown.
This could also be dismissed as artistic licence, especially as the slope of the hill is exaggerated in the painting. It is possible that the artist  made sketches on site and then painted the rest from memory using the 1794 map as reference. It should be noted that the ‘sun’ in the image was not painted by the original artist but is the reflection from a modern camera’s flash.
The other possibility is that both the 1794 map and this picture are accurate in which case the original Priory was in the middle of what is now a field. The 1794 map has been proven to be reliable regarding the location of  all buildings except Chewton Priory and there is other documentary evidence which places the Priory in the middle of the field.
There is no doubt that Mr Jenkins house was built in the 18th century and was not a genuine priory. Horace Walpole (1717 -1797) built a house at Strawberry Hill near Twickenham in the mid 18th century and he is credited with starting the Gothick movement. The ‘k’ on the end is not a mistake, it is the name of the style of architecture. It is believed that Strawberry Hill was the inspiration for Mr Jenkins’ house.
This does not mean there was not older buildings on the site. There was probably a Priory Farm and some form of prestigious accommodation owned by the various priories that owned part of Chewton Mendip before the dissolution of the monasteries. Other records suggest that a mediaeval Church House  or hospital may have been on the site and there are references to a Court House which may have been on the priory site.
The Adam’s family were responsible for several properties in the 17th century but the York(e) family were probably responsible for some of the land according to the churchwarden accounts and which start in 1699 and the poor book  which started 1730. The Adams and Yorke families cannot be ruled out as previous occupants of what ever stood in the grounds of Chewton Priory but they were more likely to have been living in what is now Chewton House.
The road running from left to right is now the modern main road but it was a relatively newly built turnpike road at the time. The Kingsmills had owned most of the land in this map before the turnpike road was built which may have been part of a continuous estate containing most of the significant building s in the village connected by parkland until it was separated by the turnpike road.
The new road may have been the reason why the Adam’s estate in the Town had been abandoned. ‘ A roofless tenement called Addams’ is listed in several records. The faint building on the cross roads may have been the roofless tenement but other records suggest it was occupied by the Fillis family.
 Hampshire archive record 19M61/914 provides details of when Richard Jenkins  bought the property from the Kingsmills. Letters between Robert Kingsmill and Richard Jenkins (19M61/973) make reference to ruins near to ‘Fillis house’ which match the property shown in the bottom left hand corner of the plot containing the Priory.
The letters specify the stable block, part of which is still standing, was built in 1781 but the ruins were getting in the way. The ruins may have been agricultural or domestic but they may have been the ruins of the genuine priory buildings and are unlikely to have been only the building shown in the map which were in the corner far away from the stables.
 Chewton Priory is not mentioned by Edmund Rack who did the ‘leg work’ for the Rev Collinson and it is believed that Edmund Rack conducted his survey in 1781. However, Mr Jenkin’s house is described as a ‘neat seat’  in Collinson’s history of Somerset which was published in 1791 so it is possible that Chewton Priory was built between those dates and the letters refer to the cottage or lodge which probably still stand.
 The Jenkins were the last in a long line of prebends of Wells Cathedral and some of them may have lived in Chewton Mendip before Mr Jenkins built himself a house. The letters describe a ‘Gothick Cottage’ but ‘cottage’ did nor have the same meaning it does today. Other substantial houses were called ‘cottages’ at one time such as The Old Vicarage which was called Navestock Cottage at one time.
 Gothick WindowThe Gothic Cottage could have referred to  Sages Farm  or Priory Cottage which may have been built at the time.  These are both still standing and most of them contain the diagnostic pointed arched windows shown on the left with suitably Gothick plant additions.  These may look medieval but closer inspection identifies them as being much ‘younger’.  These windows appear in other buildings. Coles Farm has at least one and Hill Grove contains similar windows. The stable block of Priory Farm, which is now converted to offices, is an exception but the Waldegraves believe that it was rebuilt in Victorian times. Some of the stone  in the stable block and Chewton Priory Cottage looks like it has been reused.
Chewton Priory CottageThis is the cottage that stands behind the stable block and includes a combination of the pointed Gothic arch windows and the more traditional Georgian ‘eight over eight’ square sash windows.
This mix of window styles is consistent both with it being built by Mr Jenkins in the late 18th century and it being a Victorian building. There are no obvious medieval features visible from the outside. The stable block is immediately to the right and that shows signs of being extended and the only pointed windows in that building are the dormer windows in the roof.
The general view is that Countess Waldegrave  embellished  Mr Jenkins house but the 1839 map also shows the Chewton Priory in the middle of the field and the proportions of the windows in Mr Jenkins house suggest it was much smaller that the Victorian edifice.
The Goldfinch family were living in Chewton Priory in the early 19th century and it was described was sold with 12 acres of pasture and plantations when they offered a 10 year lease in 1830,
Chewton Priory Lodge. This is Chewton Priory Lodge and is probably an original building built by Mr Jenkins. This may also be referred to as Chewton Priory Cottage but it was built by what was intended to be the front gate.
Its location is consistent with Mr Jenkins House  being on the site of the Victorian house or the middle of the field because the driveway leads to both locations.
There are remains of several Gothic follies in the woods. There are walls of a small building that was built in a deliberately rough style to give the impression of age which is referred to a s the folly cottage. The Fillis house site is barely visible about thirty meters behind the Lodge but quite close to the folly cottage walls. There is also a false grotto or ice house behind Chewton Priory Cottage that lead to rumours of secret tunnels. These follies should not be confused with ‘The Folly’ nearby.
 Mr Jenkins house may have only stood for about 70 years but it outlasted Fonthill Abbey built in Wiltshire by William Beckford at about the same time but collapsed in 1825 due to poor construction. Similar structural defects may account for the lack of evidence for Mr Jenkins house.
The Victorian Chewton Priory shows many significant changes from Mr Jenkins house. The most significant are the windows in the tower which are set on three floors and the windows in Sages Farm are far to small to have come from the tower in Mr Jenkins house. The consensus of opinion is that there was a succession of building constructed in  roughly the same place which is now covered by the cheese dairy building and a conifer plantation. However it is possible that Mr Jenkins built his house in the position shown in the 1794 map and Countess Waldegrave specified a similar styled building but facing in the opposite direction and perhaps much larger.
Chewton Priory Rear GardenThis is a picture of what was probably the garden in the rear of the Victorian house. The chimneys in the distance may have been on the Priory Cottage.This picture is courtesy of Pat and Dave Hellard.
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