After spending the morning in South Buckinghamshire a trip to the North of the county was now on the agenda. Waddesdon Manor would be the destination.
Waddesdon Manor is a Grade I listed house built in the style of a Neo-Renaissance French chateau between 1874 and 1889 by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild. The Manor is located in the village of Waddesdon, 7 miles West of Aylesbury and 50 miles North West of London.
The Rothschild’s were one of the richest and most powerful families of the 19th century and were located all around Europe. Ferdinand Rothschild’s great Grandfather Mayer Amschel originated from Frankfurt in Germany and set up his own banking business, known as N.M Rothschild and Sons, which he ran with his three eldest sons. Two of his sons, Salomon and Nathan, moved to Vienna and London respectively which helped expand the business and within a few years Mayer Amschel’s wealth put him in the highest class of tax payer in the Jewish community.
Ferdinand de Rothschild was born in 1839 in Paris but was raised in Frankfurt and Vienna before settling in England in 1859. Ferdinand bought the Waddesdon estate from the Duke of Malborough (owner of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire) in 1874 and work began later that year. Waddesdon was a farming estate with lodge hill, a 600 foot high misshapen cone, at its centre. At the time that Ferdinand bought the estate there was no house, park or garden so this then encouraged him to use inspiration from the chateaux of the Valois kings for the design of the house.
Waddesdon has welcomed many famous guests over the years including William Gladstone, Arthur Balfour, Winston Churchill and even Queen Victoria who came for lunch in 1890 at her own request.
The house has been under ownership by the National Trust since 1957, opening to the public for the first time in 1959 and welcomes around 300,000 visitors a year! As I am a member of the National Trust this meant that I could visit for free, however entry into the house and gardens if you aren’t a member is £21. It is also worth noting that you have to book tickets online before you visit as you will be given a timed entry into the house.
As soon as we arrived we hopped onto a shuttle bus which dropped us off right outside the house. We had half an hour until we could enter the house itself so we headed for the aviary and gardens.
The aviary was built by Ferdinand before 1889 and is the location of a wide collection of Ferdinand’s exotic birds from all over the world. Ferdinand’s nephew Walter was a famous historian who had the largest collection of animals and birds in private hands, later displayed in a Museum in Tring which can still be visited today. There are a number of endangered species of bird in the aviary including four birds that were sent back to their native Bali to increase the species conservation projects genetic pool and the blue-
crowned Laughingthrush from China which had only 620 individuals in 2017. During World War II the aviary fell into disrepair but luckily a new aviary keeper was appointed in 1977 which led to it returning to its former glory. Surrounding the aviary is the rose garden that was planted in 2000 which looks particularly good at this time of year!
The garden contains Ferdinand’s collection of 17th and 18th century sculptures and was designed to complement the manor. The house and the garden are actually the only remaining examples of a complete 19th century Rothschild experience and since 1989, restoration projects have been taking place to try and recapture the high standards and appearance of the original 19th century garden. Waddesdon Manor won the Europa Nostra diploma in 2000 for the extraordinary re-creation with modern techniques of a major Victorian garden. One observation that I made was that the gardeners do a superb job of maintaining the gardens, with the ‘mushroom’ shaped trees being a personal favourite of mine!
Within the gardens are two large fountains; one at the North Front and the other at the South Terrace. Both fountains are actually from the same ensemble which was made for the ducal Palace at Colorno, near Parma, by Giuliano Mozani around 1700.
The time had then arrived for us to begin exploring the house. We were informed as we entered the house that the reason why the lighting was so low was because the light can damage the wallpaper so therefore flash on cameras are not permitted. The first room that we entered was the dining room which contained a large table that was laid out like what it would’ve been for a house party in the 1890’s. The room also contained a number of mirrors, chandeliers and tapestries. The tapestries were made at the Beauvais manufactory and are from a series of five known as la noble pastorale which were woven in 1755 and throughout the remainder of the 18th century.
We then continued our tour of the house, passing the grey and red drawing rooms, the family room and West Hall before we reached the state room. This happened to be room where Queen Victoria stayed following her one day visit to Waddesdon in 1890. The name therefore refers to the tradition of keeping the most important bedroom for the monarch.
The white drawing room looks out onto glorious views of the parkland to the Vale of Aylesbury and the Chiltern Hills and contains another large table that had been laid out with a number of silver plates and dishes. The dishes were acquired by the French Rothschilds and later disappeared from view, however they were obtained by the Rothschild family trusts in 2002 and were placed on a permanent loan at the manor by the current Lord Rothschild. Waddesdon also happens to be the only place in Britain to display an outstanding, French inspired, silver service.
Next door to the white drawing room is the blue drawing room which contains a chandelier made from broken modern porcelain. The startling chandelier hangs above the round table, which yet again has been laid out like what it would’ve been in the 19th century (also containing a large bottle of wine!).
Continuing the tour of the house, we came to the armoury corridor located along the bachelors wing where a collection of Ferdinand’s arms and armour hang from the walls. As we arrived at the bachelors wing we were curious to see whether women had their own wing within the house, however we were informed that because all the women were married they had no wing for themselves! This wing contains a billiard room (unfortunately the billiard table isn’t open to the public) and a smoking room where the men would socialise and relax with their friends.
It was also interesting to find out about life working at Waddesdon in the late 19th/early 20th century. For example, in 1891 24 indoor staff worked at Waddesdon which included a steward, housekeeper, kitchen staff, housemaids and a porter. 8 more staff worked at the laundry and dairy and 16 staff also worked at the stables. In 1897 the average wage bill for the indoor staff stood at £821, with an annual salary of £34. A kitchenmaid could earn around £15 a year, rising to £100 for senior members of staff, such as the steward. The average wage bill for garden labour was £2,256 which is considerably more, this is because Ferdinand employed around 60 gardeners and 300 estate workers.
After completing our tour of the house we decided to take a walk down to the stables. The stables were built in 1884 in a 17th century French style. They were home to the horse and carriages that were needed to escourt Ferdinand’s guests to and from Aylesbury station (and later Waddesdon station which was built at Ferdinand’s request in 1897). Today the stables are used as restaurants and cafes and also contain accommodation, education space and a conservation workshop.
As we walked back up the hill towards the house the heavens started to open. I went to take one last photo before we got the shuttle bus back to the car park and my camera informed me that my memory card was full (thank god it told me at the end of the trip rather than the start!!!).
I think it is fair to say that Waddesdon Manor is the creme de la creme of stately homes! An absolute must see for any member of the National Trust!
From what i saw today, Buckinghamshire really is a beautiful county! If you are ever passing by then please stop off and take a look around.
Thanks for reading,