Taking care of manor’s colourful past

Chilton House residental care home - Pictured are Lady Sara Aubrey Fletcher (in green) and Victoria Andrews - general manager
Chilton House residental care home - Pictured are Lady Sara Aubrey Fletcher (in green) and Victoria Andrews - general manager

Beautiful Chilton House has had an extremely chequered history that belies its current use as a tranquil care home.

It has been threatened with demolition more than once, had all of its furniture sold off in the 1800s and was requisitioned in the Second World War. One of its residents even ended up dying a pauper in prison.

Standing on the ridge separating the Thame and Ray valleys in the tiny western Vale village of Chilton, the newer parts of the property are believed by many to be modelled on Buckingham House (which later became Buckingham Palace).

Today it looks and feels more like a grand hotel than an institutionalised medical facility.

Its owner, Buckinghamshire’s Lord Lieutenant Sir Henry Aubrey Fletcher recently engaged Victoria Andrews, a lady with a background in hotels rather than residental care, to oversee the premises.

His wife Lady Sara said: “We brought Victoria in with the focus that once our guests are up and running we want them to have the best of a country house service, good dining, fresh flowers, to be treated as a hotel guest, but still have the care that they need.

“Because no matter how good the care is, if your toast arrives cold or someone has lost your knickers your stay has not been successful.”

Despite the beauty and setting of Chilton, looking out across the verdant Vale of Aylesbury, it has rarely been lived in for long by the families who have owned it, as various circumstances have led them to live eslewhere.

The original manor house was built by John Croke in the 16th century, but by 1667 one of his descendants, another Sir John, was crippled with debt and died in Fleet Prison whereafter Chilton passed to the families of Limbrey and Hervey.

During the Civil War Chilton was briefly threatened with demolition by Prince Rupert who feared it may be useful to the enemy, but the house mananged to survive and in the 1740s it was largely rebuilt by Judge Richard Carter the son of an Oxford brewer.

And the Chilton which exists today is largely what he constructed. His daughter Martha later married neighbouring landowner Sir Thomas Aubrey.

In 1901 Sir Henry Fletcher, a cousin of the Aubreys, succeeded to the family’s estates and took the name Aubrey-Fletcher by royal licence. For a decade the family chose to live at Chilton until they moved to a converted 17th century farmhouse. During the Second World War Chilton was requisitioned to be used as a school, and afterwards was rented to the county council and run as a nursing home but it was ultimately deemed too remote and they withdrew in 1965.

The house was once more threatened with demoliltion then let as a prviately run nursing home when a functional two-storey extension was added to the south.

In 1987 the current Sir Henry and Lady Aubrey-Fletcher bought out the lease and began a programme of restoration which saw them strip out the lino and tear down the ward dividers to return the rooms to their former glory.

The entrance hall now has a chequered floor, crystal chandelier, oil paintings, a baby grand piano and sumptious sofas. The extensive gardens are beautifully mown and have terraces and walkways. Guests enjoy waiter service and breakfast in bed, and can invite family and friends to join them for meals.

General manager Mrs Andrews says she feels privileged to work in such a beautiful building.

Lady Sara said: “I follow the principal of treating others as you wish to be treated yourself. I will undoubtedly live here at some stage in the future and in a way that’s what I am working towards. It’s a good incentive to make it as good as we can, because Henry and I will end up here.”