House of Claret

WE HAD INTENDED to drive along the A1 directly from London to Stamford in Lincolnshire. The A1 follows the route of the old Great North Road, but tends to bypass the small towns through which the older road ran. After driving northwards for about 1 hour and 40 minutes, I spotted a brown and white direction sign pointing towards a tourist attraction, the historic town of Buckden. We left the A1 and soon found ourselves in the village of Buckden. With its three old coaching inns, it was once a stopping place for travellers on the old Great North Road. As soon as we entered the place, we spotted some impressive, mainly brick, Tudor buildings behind crenelated boundary walls. A sign by an entrance to the grounds bore the words “Claret Centre”. We entered to discover that a sale of garden plants was being set up. We were invited to wanderin around the remains of a Tudor Palace and the knot garden next to it.

The Claret Centre is housed in the extensive remains of Buckden Palace – once a property owned by the Bishops of Lincoln. In the Domesday Book of 1086, the manor of Buckden belonged to the Bishop of Lincoln. By the time that St Hugh was Bishop of Lincoln (he had that position from 1186 to 1200), there was already a Bishop’s house in Buckden. St Hugh was by all accounts a remarkable man. Amongst his many virtues, he protected some of the Jewish people of the city of Lincoln from massacre in the 1190s. Albert Hyamson wrote in his “A History of the Jews in England”:
“At Lincoln, the Jews saved themselves by taking refuge in the castle. They were befriended by the Bishop Saint Hugh, whose death ten years later was very sincerely mourned by the local community.”

The bishop’s residence at Buckden was rebuilt several times before that which can seen today was constructed in the late 15th century. With two brief interludes, the bishop’s home and grounds remained as church property until 1870, when the property was bought by James Marshall of the firm Marshall and Snelgrove. In 1919, Dr Robert Holmes Edleston bought the by then dilapidated Buckden Palace. Keenly interested in history, Edleston extensively restored the Tudor buildings. He was an admirer of Napoleon III, and wrote two books about him. He planned to open a museum of the Frenchman’s relics at Buckden Palace and in anticipation of this project, which was never realised, inserted a commemorative plaque to Napoleon III in a wall facing the palace’s courtyard. Thanks to Edleston, there are substantial remains of the Tudor structures including an impressive square tower. This overlooks a beautifully restored knot garden, now named Queen Katherine’s Garden.

After the marriage of Katherine of Aragon (1485-1536) and King Henry VIII was annulled in May 1533, Katherine was housed in various places around England. One of these was Buckden Palace, where she was held/housed between July 1533 until 1534, when she was transferred to nearby Kimbolton Castle, where she spent the rest of her life. In December 1533, when Henry VIII sent the Duke of Suffolk to move Katherine to a more secure place, the men of Buckden resisted this and the duke had to abandon the attempt. Katherine was not the only noteworthy person to have stayed at Buckden. After her death, Henry VIII stayed there with his fifth wife, Catherine Howard in 1541. Other celebrities who visited included Thomas Wolsely, James I, Samuel Pepys, and the Prince Regent (later King George IV).

During WW2, Buckden Palace was home to refugees from the London Blitz. In 1956, Bishop Leo Parker (1887-1975), Roman Catholic Bishop of Northampton, arranged for Buckden Palace to come into possession of the Claretian Missionaries. Hence, its current name – The Claret Centre. The Claretians were founded by St Anthony Mary Claret (1807-1870) in Vich (Spain) in 1849. His followers grew widely in the Spanish-speaking world, and the movement came to Britain in 1912. After founding the first Claretian community in Hayes (Middlesex), others were established at Gorseinon (Wales), Langley Park (Durham), and Buckden.

Had it not been for the sign on the A1, I am not sure that we would have ever visited, or even known about, Buckden Palace. We were lucky to find the grounds accessible because of the flower market that was being arranged when we turned up. I am not sure that it is always possible to wander about the place as freely as we did on other days. Buckden has an attractive parish church as well as the three inns already mentioned. There is a high-end boutique hotel in the George Inn. Nearby, there is also an excellent hairdresser.  Even if the palace is not open, Buckden is a charming place to rest a while on a journey along the frequently busy A1.

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