If you dream of escaping to a French chateau, but couldn’t be bothered crossing the channel, fear not. England’s Buckinghamshire has the answer: Waddesdon is the place for you.
We stumbled across it previously (2018 Day 15) but too late in the day to book a timed visit of the Manor, settling instead for a tour of the grounds. Not that there was a shortage of things to do – the estate is enormous.
But it’s the Manor we’re here to see today.
Himself promised he’d take me back, and he’s good to his word. Given how far we travel to arrive, I suspect it’s a bit of a pre birthday treat (I find out later that I’m right 🥰). I do love a good birthday lead up.
Waddesdon was built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the 1870s, as his summer and weekend retreat. Flouting the architectural conventions of the day Rothschild built his heart’s desire: a Neo Renaissance 15th century French Chateau in the heart of the English countryside, taking his inspiration from the royal chateau of the Loire.
It’s utterly magnificent, a truly “wow” moment as we round the corner.
Inside, it’s no less impressive. The Baron spared no expense in creating his dream.
15th century replica fabrics and wallpapers were printed especially for the Manor and the Baron’s passion for fine art and furniture ensured it became a showpiece, attracting no less than royalty.
Queen Victoria broke her own rule (that everyone should come to her) inviting herself to lunch, to marvel over Waddesdon, especially a new fangled thing called electricity. Delighted, she was said to have asked for for the lights to be turn on and off repeatedly. Her son Bertie was a frequent houseguest too. A hundred years later, Queen Elizabeth dined at Waddesdon as well.
In the 21st century, Waddesdon is a shrine to Ferdinand’s passion.
A true collector, he had a fine eye and virtually unlimited budget, collecting only the best, including pieces from Versailles
and European royalty. This interesting clock desk was originally made for a Polish King.
The Baron acquired it from an English family for a fantastic sum, on the proviso that he made them an exact replica. Clearly, he did.
For all luxury that surrounded him, the Baron lived a relatively lonely life, losing his wife and a stillborn soon on the same day, less than a year into the marriage. Ferdinand never remarried. He filled Waddesdon with paintings of great beauties through time and took pleasure in entertaining and collecting.
On his death in 1898, on his 59th birthday, Ferdinand left the estate to his unmarried sister Alice, who went on to extend and preserve his collection. She was years ahead of her time – the rules Alice set down for the Manor and its collections are the same rules by which it still runs today: “Miss Alice’s Rules”. She sounds like my kind of girl. Her rules are largely credited for the collection’s excellent state of preservation. Although I must say, the dim lighting is a challenge for photography.
There’s a modern layer to Waddesdon’s history too. It offered refuge to 100 London children during the war, evacuees moved to the country for their protection.
It takes hours to tour the house – there’s so much to see and take in, and despite taking hundreds of photos, I think it might need a third and perhaps a fourth trip to do it justice.
Grand on an unprecedented level, it’s utterly glorious. And that’s not even considering the grounds, which by all accounts, were a mammoth undertaking. The property was reclaimed farmland, denuded of trees: the magnificent trees we see today were brought in, many fully grown at the time.
Having completed our tour of the Manor, we use what’s left of the day to revisit a few highlights of the grounds: the stunning parterre garden,
the rose garden,
the exotic bird aviary,
spectacular 3D plantings,
a still life art exhibition
and the powerhouse.
There’s no time left to tour the wine cellars or take one of the many woodland walks. Looks like a third visit it is.