A French Chateau in the Middle of Buckinghamshire

Since we started our adventures visiting castles and stately homes, we have explored the homes of some of the greatest families in English history. We have visited the ancestral homes of the Percys, the Nevilles, the Berkeleys, the Howards, the Churchills and many more besides. Although no one can argue that these families are unimportant, they have mostly been of significance here in the UK. Waddesdon Manor is home to a different family. They emerged at the end of the 18th century and they did so in five countries at the same time, becoming famous worldwide within two-to-three generations. In addition to this, unlike the rest of the families I have previously mentioned, they were Jewish ( like me). My subject, of course, is the Rothschild family.

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Originally from the town of Frankfurt in Germany, the first Rothschild to arrive to the UK was Nathan Rothschild. This was in 1797 and he settled in Manchester at first because the family business back then was in textiles. What made the Rothschilds so unique was the fact that each of the five sons of Meir Rothschild, the founder of the dynasty, started the family business in a different country and became a partner in the business. The Rothschild females who married outside of the family received a proper dowry, but their husbands were not allowed to join the family business. The family also promoted inter-family marriages between the various branches and that is actually the story behind Waddesdon manor.

The manor was built by Ferdinand de Rothschild who was part of the Viennese branch of the family and he arrived to the UK to marry Evelina who was the granddaughter of Nathan, the founder of the UK branch. She was also the daughter of Lionel Rothschild who was the first unconverted Jew to sit in Parliament. Unfortunately, the marriage ended within a year when Evelina died during childbirth. Ferdinand did not marry again, but he continued to live and work in the British branch of the family. In 1874, he bought the land to built Waddesdon from the Duke of Marlborough. His plan was to build a house which he could use for weekends and summer retreats. This was during an era when the Neo-Gothic style was popular in Britain, however he did not follow the trend and employed a French architect named Dastailleur who was asked to design a French Renaissance Chateau. Thus a glimpse of the Loire valley was created in the middle of Buckinghamshire.

In order to create an authentic French atmosphere, many fixtures and fittings were imported from France, including most of the art collection that is still on display. The formal gardens around the house were designed in an Italian style and also included an aviary. The house was completed in 1883 and its grand opening was celebrated with a lavish party. In 1889, electricity was introduced in to the house. Rothschild even build a special lift as part of his preparations for a royal visit from Queen Victoria, but the old monarch did not trust these “new things” and she preferred to use the stairs.

Ferdinand died childless in 1898 and the house went to his cousin, James, who was a Liberal MP. He died childless as well and upon his death, he arranged for the house to move to the hands of the National Trust. Funnily enough, the only time children lived in this house was during World War 2 when 100 evacuees from London came to stay in the manor. Today, Waddesdon Manor is the second most popular National Trust property.

 

For more information: Waddedon Manor official website

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So Pretty, So Big…

Chasing Castles Review

We visited Waddesdon Manor on a hot summer weekend in July. We arrived immediately after the gardens were open and we picked the earliest time slot to enter the house ( the house opens an hour after the gardens). Knowing that Waddesdon is located an hours drive from north-west London, arriving later could mean we would end up stuck in traffic, so the earlier the better!

Waddesdon Manor is a huge estate so to get from the carpark to the house, you can either walk about 15-20 minutes or you can enjoy a courtesy shuttle; a combination of heat and having children with us made this decision clear. As always, I was looking for a guided tour, but there was only one available tour that did not coincide my time slot visit, so instead, I purchased an audio guide to explore the house independently. Usually, I would not look favourably upon places that ask you to purchase an audio guide, as you can tell from my reviews of Ludlow or Bamburgh Castle. This was different, however, to the usual way the National Trust works and there were plenty of volunteers who were located in the house itself to compliment the audio content. It offered three hours of audio and video features, which I felt was good value.

By now, we have visited so many historic houses around the country and yet it is still hard for me to review this house, mainly because the visit felt a bit different to a regular house and more like visiting a museum. When the house reached the Trust thanks to a death duties tax bill after World War II ( 99% of the tax bill was raised from the sale of the house), it arrived packed with all of its treasures, so you can expect to see a lot of artwork and unique furniture in every room. However, since the house itself is actually quite new and was built in 1870,  it did not feel like a true historical house.

Putting this aside, Waddesdon Manor is huge, and so many rooms and exhibitions are available to explore, that it is easy to get overwhelmed on your first visit here. In addition, people should be aware that it is very hard to explore the house with young children or with children at all. The place is huge and not particularly child-friendly. I bumped into more than one family with over-tired and grumpy children, and so perhaps if you are passionate about history or art, you should do what my wife and I sometimes do and explore the house in turns while the kids enjoy the extensive climbing frames in the gardens.

Once we had finished exploring the house (or we thought we had finished it!), we started to explore the gardens. As you can tell from the fact that you need to take a shuttle from the parking area to the house, the gardens are huge and even if you focus on the immediate formal gardens near the house, the aviary and the woodland playground, it is still a very large area to explore and not possible on a hot July day. After three hours of exploration, including an ice cream break in the coach house, it was clear that Waddesdon Manor would require a second visit, ideally during the autumn time, mid-week and without kids.

In summary, Waddesdon Manor is definitely one of the most important properties of the National Trust. Its location not far away from Milton Keynes ( and north London) make it a place that millions of people can easily reach and they should probably do so. It is one of the best properties we have ever visited (even if it doesn’t have real historical importance) and it really gives you the feeling of a short French break.

If you compare great houses and castles to restaurants and adopt the ranking system of the Michelin guide, you can easily say that this place deserves two stars, making it one of the top ten best houses and castles we have visited so far.

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