He was born to unimaginable privilege, but gossip suggests in the romantic department, Edward VIII was not so generously endowed.
Yet modestly formed though his tailor might have found him, Edward put about whatever amorous facilities nature had bestowed upon him. And when His Highness was bestowing his charms, he was often doing so at Wenbans, near Wadhurst.
It was here in the 1920s and early 30s the future king’s friend Lord Colmondeley lent him what the tabloids like to call a “love nest” to entertain lady friends, who included, but were not confined to, Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee whom he would go on to marry at the cost of his crown.
Now, for a marginally more modest £2.7 million, you can buy the substantially extended Tudor farmhouse as it has come up for sale. This includes the royal flat hidden behind the great hall, where the then Prince of Wales socialised without the merest whiff of scandal. Until, that is, one foggy night when he crashed his car nearby and called on locals to help him from a ditch.
If the legacy of what went on at Wenbans was the Abdication Crisis, a trace of the 20th century’s most poignant – or notorious – love story can still be found in the garden. The playboy Prince created a tiny heart-shaped garden – which some think was his horticultural tribute to his illicit lover – bordered with row of red bricks and planted with roses, rhododendrons and azaleas. At its centre, the gardening-loving prince erected an ancient millstone – but whether the crown or Mrs Simpson was his millstone, we can only speculate.
This is a genuinely beautiful house, dating back in part 700 years, though hardly stately. Its charm lies in its homeliness, the mellow bricks and Sussex peg tiles looking out over lawns being the epitome of a Wealden Hall House. The Prince’s flat is decidedly modest, more a nook where the squire might have stuffed a servant rather than housed a Prince. It makes one rather warm to Edward, for one might have imagined he would have conducted his assignations in some Art Deco gin palace, all extravagant murals, cocktail shakers and matey Nazis.
Wenbans, in contrast, is so unashamedly non-flashy it is no wonder that the press did not suspect anything risqué was going on behind its high hedges until the Prince asked for help that foggy night, and the gossip drums started beating all the way to Fleet Street.
Lionel Gadd, who worked at the house, has been quoted as saying: “The secret was out. After that, people kept a look-out for the Prince and his dolly birds.” These “dolly birds” were usually wealthy, well connected married sorts, often wives of the prince’s friends.
As well as the usual tennis court and swimming pool, this is a delightful beamed house which hasn’t been buggered about with. A fine dining room sits under a cat slide roof with original brick floor; while a billiard table resides under an even more impressive hammer-beam roof, with the vaulted ceiling of the hall house reaching right up into the eves – unusual to find
these days. It has five acres and is 50 miles from town.
We say it is no palace, but it does still hide nine bedrooms – so plenty of scope for energetic bed-hopping. The kitchen is charming with the inevitable Aga, handy on winter mornings for the toasting of chilly regal toes. Oh, and one suggestion is that it was originally built as a hunting lodge for King John, another royal of uneven judgement.
In the great hall there is a heraldic symbol of a griffin holding aloft a knight’s helmet atop the motto: Cassis tutissima virtus – “Virtue is the greatest protector of all”. Perhaps the Prince of Wales was too busy laughing, smoking, listening to jazz records and learning American slang to read it.
For sale: savills.co.uk
An extended Tudor farmhouse, near Wadhurst, which was once Edward VIII’s “love nest” has gone on the market for a modest £2.7m