Waddesdon Manor is a country house built on a hilltop overlooking Waddesdon village, Buckinghamshire. The house was built in the Neo-Renaissance style of many French chateaux between 1874 and 1889 for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839–1898), who was a member of the Rothschild banking dynasty.
Above: Waddesdon Manor by Photographer David Henderson
It was designed by Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur. The last member of the Rothschild family to own Waddesdon was James de Rothschild. He bequeathed the house and its contents to The National Trust in 1957. In 2007–08 Waddesdon was the National Trust's second most visited paid-entry property, with 386,544 visitors. Today, following an extensive restoration, it is administered by the Rothschild Charitable Trust that is overseen by Jacob de Rothschild (The 4th Baron Rothschild).
The 1st Baron wanted a house in the style of the great Renaissance Chateaux of the Loire Valley. Destailleur was already experienced in working in this style, having overseen the restoration of many châteaux in that region, in particular that of Chateau de Mouchy. Through Destailleur's vision, Waddesdon embodied an eclectic style based on the châteaux so admired by his patron.
The towers at Waddesdon were based on those of Chateau de Maintenon, and the twin staircase towers, on the north facade, were inspired by the staircase tower at Chateau de Chambord (However, following the theme of unparalleled luxury at Waddesdon, the windows of the towers at Waddesdon were glazed, unlike those of the staircase at Chambord. They are also far more ornate).
Above and below: The Famous Staircases
The structural design of Waddesdon, however, was not all retrospective. Hidden from view were the most modern innovations of the late 19th century including a steel frame, which took the strain of walls on the upper floors, which consequently permitted the layout of these floors to differ completely from the lower floors. The house also had hot and cold running water in its bathrooms, central heating, and an electric bell system to summon the numerous servants.
Once his château was complete, Baron Ferdinand installed his extensive collections of French 18th-century tapestries, boiseries, furniture, china, paintings and renaissance object d'art. Extensive landscaping was carried out and the gardens enhanced with statuary, pavillions and an aviary. The beautiful Proserpina fountain (below) was brought to the manor at the end of 1800 from the Palace of the Dukes of Parma in northern Italy.
The grounds were laid out by the French landscape architect Laine. An attempt was made to transplant fully-grown trees by chloroforming their roots, to limit the shock. While this novel idea was unsuccessful, many very large trees were successfully transplanted, causing the grounds to be such a wonder of their day that, in 1890, Queen Victoria invited herself to view them. The Queen was, however, more impressed by the electric lighting in the house than the wonders of the park. Fascinated by the invention she had not seen before, she is reported to have spent ten minutes switching a newly electrified 18th-century chandelier on and off.
When Baron Ferdinand died in 1898, the house passed to his sister, Alice de Rothschild, who further developed the collections. Baron Ferdinand's collection of Renaissance works and a collection of arms were both bequeathed to the British museum as "The Waddesdon Bequest".
Waddesdon, as with many of the country houses during WWII, was used to house evacuee children from London.
Following Alice de Rothschild's death in 1922, the property and collections passed to her great-nephew, James de Rothschild of the French branch of the family, who further enriched it with objects from the collections of his late father Baron Edmond James de Rothschild.
When James de Rothschild died in 1957, he bequeathed Waddesdon Manor, 200 acres of grounds, and its contents to the National Trust, to be preserved for posterity. The Trust also received their largest ever endowment from him: £750,000 (£13,012,710 as of 2010).
Jacob Rothschild, 4th Lord Rothschild, has recently been a major benefactor of Waddesdon Manor through The Alice Trust, headed by the Rothschild family. In an unprecedented arrangement, he was given authority by the National Trust in 1993 to run Waddesdon Manor as a semi-independent operation. The Trust has overseen a major restoration, and enhanced the visitor attractions. The Alice Trust has also acquired works of art to complement the existing collections at Waddesdon, such as Le Faiseur de Châteaux de Cartes by Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, added in 2007.
In a burglary on 10 June 2003 by The Johnson Gang, approximately 100 priceless French gold snuff boxes and bejewelled trifles were stolen from the collection. None of them were recovered intact, though fragments of a few were found amid melted gold in the burnt wreckage of a motor vehicle close to the Manor. These irreplaceable artefacts, many encrusted with diamonds, had belonged to, among others, Marie Antoinette and Madame de Pompadour.
Here are a few of my favourite boxes, which sadly are no longer extent. For a full catalog of the missing boxes click here.
Above: A plan of Waddesdon's ground floor.
1:Vestibule; 2:Entrance Hall, 3 Red Drawing room; 4:Grey Drawing Room; 5:Library; 6:Baron's Sitting room; 7:Morning Room; 8:West Hall; 9:West Gallery; 10:East Gallery; 11:Dining Room; 12:Conservatory; 13:Breakfast Room; 14:Kitchen; 15:Servant's Hall; 16:Housekeeper's Rooms; 17:Site of further servants quarters (not illustrated); 18:Terrace and parterre; 19 North Drive; St:Staircases.
A parterre is a formal garden constructed on a level surface consisting of garden beds, edged in stone or tightly clipped hedging, and gravel paths arranged to form a pleasing, usually symmetrical pattern. Parterres don't need to have flower beds, although many do.
This art form reached a climax at the Chateau de Versailles and its many European followers, such as Kensington Palace (below).
Among the bird species that are successfully bred there, are the Pekin Robin, Silver-Eared Mesia, Grosbeak Starling, Snowy-Crowned Robin Chat and Bearded Barbet. In addition, the White Bellied Go-Away bird and Sumatran White Crested Laughing Thrush are thought to be the first breedings in the UK.
Here are a few paintings which use them as their subjects...