Theobalds House

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Theobalds House


Cheshunt, Theobalds - - 552741.jpg
Ruins of walls of Theobalds Palace
Grid reference: TL422009
Location: 51°41’20"N, 0°3’22"E
Village: Cheshunt
Condition: Only ruins remain

Theobalds House, also known as Theobalds Palace, stood in south-eastern Hertfordshire, close to the Middlesex border. It was once one of the greatest houses of the Elizabethan and Jacobean Ages, but only ruins now remain, which are to be found in what is now Cedars Park on the outskirts of Cheshunt. The legacy of Theobalds though is spread across the landscape in this part of the county, in the name of estates, houses, farms and even the local railway station.[1]

The house was a significant stately home and (later) royal palace of the 16th and early 17th centuries. Set in extensive parkland, it was a residence of statesmen William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley| and his son, Robert Cecil (later Earl of Salisbury) who served in succession as the chief advisers to Queen Elizabeth I, and later, in Robert's case, to King James I. King James enjoyed the estate so much he acquired it from Cecil in exchange for Hatfield House (which remains the seat of Cecil's descendant, the Marquess of Salisbury). The King further extended the house and park.

Theobalds was a notable example of the Elizabethan prodigy house, but was demolished as a result of the Civil War.

Theobalds-palace-1836.jpg|right|thumb|200px|The Palace of Theobalds in the 17th century: artist's impression (although possibly depicting Nonsuch Palace}]]

A new mansion was built in the Georgian era farther to the West: house and park were then acquired and the house extended by millionaire brewers the Meux family.

For a time, London's Temple Bar gatehouse stood in the park. In 2001 it was removed, refurbished and installed again in the City of London near St Paul's Cathedral. They are now a hotel and conference venue known as Theobalds Park; the house is a Grade II* listed building.[2][3]

Early history

The manor was originally called Cullynges, and later Tongs (after William de Tongge), then from 1440 it was named Thebaudes, Tibbolds, and finally Theobalds. The original manor house was surrounded by a moat.[4]

In 1563, the estate was bought by William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, senior councillor of Queen Elizabeth I.

Lord Burghley commissioned a grand new house, which was built between 1564 and 1585. Burghley's intention in building the mansion was partly to demonstrate his increasingly dominant status at Court, and also to provide a palace fine enough to accommodate the Queen on her visits.[5] The formal gardens of the house were modelled after the Château de Fontainebleau in France, the English botanist, John Gerard, acting as their superintendent. The Queen visited eight times, between 1572 and 1596. The location was ideal in that it lay just off the main road north from London to Ware, two and a half hours by trotting horse from London, and thus an ideal stop at the end of the first day of a royal tour.

Lord Burghley's younger son, Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, inherited the house, and after the Queen's death in 1603, he arranged for the new king, James I, to stay on his way from Edinburgh to London, and there to receive homage from the Privy Council of England.[6] In 1606, Cecil again entertained King James and his brother-in-law, King Christian IV of Denmark, at Theobalds. Both monarchs were notoriously heavy drinkers, and according to some of those present, the occasion was simply an orgy of drunkenness, as few English or Danish courtiers had their rulers' capacity to hold their drink: an attempt to put on a masque of Solomon and Sheba descended into a farce, as most of the players were too inebriated to remember their lines, or even to stand up.

In 1607, King James I acquired Theobalds in exchange for Hatfield Palace, also in Hertfordshire. It quickly became the King's favourite country residence. In September 1618 James gave orders for the demolition of two new buildings nearby that housed tobacco shops patronised by his courtiers.[7] He died there on 27 March 1625. James had made few changes to the main suites, installing panelling in the Great Gallery to which his son King Charles I added a number of carved and painted stag's heads.[8] Later, after the execution of Charles I, Theobalds was listed, amongst other royal properties, for demolition and disposal by the Commonwealth. This was achieved speedily, and by the end of 1650, the house was largely demolished.

After the Restoration, the estate was granted to George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle, but reverted to the Crown after the death of the 2nd Duke of Albemarle, who left no heir.

Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: the new house

Temple Bar in Theobalds Park before 2001

King William III granted the estate to William Bentinck, 1st Earl of Portland and descended in that family until sold in 1762 by 3rd Duke of Portland to George Prescott, a merchant and Member of Parliament. Prescott built a Georgian style mansion known as The Cedars about a mile to the west of the original palace.

The new house passed from the Prescott family to the Meux family of Meux's Brewery in about 1820, and they made extensive alterations and added extensions during the nineteenth century. These included a remodelled entrance based on Sir Christopher Wren's Temple Bar, which had been dismantled and stored in a yard at Farringdon Road. In 1888, it caught the eye of the beautiful and eccentric Lady Meux; the gateway was purchased from the City of London and the 400 tons of stone were transported by horse-drawn carts to the park, where it was carefully rebuilt at a cost of £10,000.[9] Lady Meux often entertained in the gateway's upper chamber; guests included King Edward VII and Winston Churchill.[10]

Later history

ATS women in the Gun Operations Room of AA Command
Theobalds Park Hotel

When Sir Hedworth Lambton, the commander of the Naval Brigade at Ladysmith, returned to England, he called on Lady Meux at Theobalds to recount his adventures. She was so taken with him that she made him the chief beneficiary of her will, on condition that he change his surname to Meux (she was without direct heirs, and had been snubbed by her husband's family due to her low-born origins). When she died on 20 December 1910, he willingly changed his name by Royal Warrant,[11] and inherited the Hertfordshire estate and a substantial interest in the Meux Brewery.[12]

In 1921 part of the park, the site of the demolished Elizabethan mansion, was given to the town of Cheshunt by Meux it was made into a public park, known as Cedars Park.

After Meux's death in 1929, The Cedars, was a hotel for some years. During the Second World War, the house was used by the Royal Artillery and then by the Metropolitan Police as a riding school. Renamed to Theobalds House, in 1955 it became a secondary school and after 1969, an adult education centre. In the 1990s it was refurbished for use as a commercial conference centre and later converted to its current (2015) status as the Theobalds Park Hotel in the De Vere Venues chain.[13]

The Temple Bar had remained in the hands of the trustees of the Meux family estate and despite its status as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, had lapsed into decay. After a long campaign, it was decided to return it to the City in 2001. The arch was again dismantled, and was reconstructed on a site next to St Paul's Cathedral. The project was completed in November 2004,[14] and a commemorative plaque was placed in Theobalds Park.

Outside links


  • Emily Cole, 'Theobalds, Hertfordshire: The Plan and Interiors of an Elizabethan Country House', Architectural History, vol. 60 (2017), pp. 71-117.
  1. 'Herts Embraced : Shadows of the Great Estates' on WildþingUK
  2. "Hotels in Hertfordshire | Meeting Rooms | Theobalds Estate Cheshunt". Retrieved 2016-10-29. 
  3. National Heritage List 1348341: Theobalds Park College
  4. "'Theobalds', The Environs of London: volume 4: Counties of Herts, Essex & Kent (1796), pp. 29-39.". 
  5. Loades, D., The Cecils: Privilege and Power behind the throne, The National Archives, 2007. p124-5.
  6. "'Theobalds', The Environs of London: volume 4: Counties of Herts, Essex & Kent.". 
  7. G. Dyfnallt Owen & Sonia P. Anderson, HMC 75 Downshire, vol. 6 (London, 1995), p. 521 no. 1123.
  8. Cole, 'Theobalds' (2017), p. 106.
  9. National Heritage List 1393844: Temple Bar
  10. "History of Temple Bar | Temple Bar Gateway". 2004-11-10. Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  11. "- Person Page 2748". Retrieved 20 December 2014. 
  12. "History In Portsmouth". Retrieved 20 December 2014. 
  13. "Theobalds Park | Temple Bar Gateway". Archived from the original on 2011-01-14. Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  14. "The Project | Temple Bar Gateway". Archived from the original on 2010-08-03. Retrieved 2013-08-10.