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I first visited Waddesdon Manor when I'd just joined the National Trust & was exploring the various properties near to where I live. If you visit a lot of National Trust properties, I think it is fair to say that certain ones stand out far more than others, & this is one of the most impressive properties I've visited.
When you first arrive, you drive past some lovely little buildings in the village of Waddesdon which I believe were originally built for the staff of the estate. The architectural style is very pretty & unusual.
You have to drive up a very long, winding drive to get to the parking area near to the manor itself, but there are nice views of the estate's parkland & you can look out for wildlife such as pheasants.
If you are a member of the National Trust, then you get to park & visit the gardens & the house for free, however I do think the entry fee for non-members is a little over-priced (currently £10 to visit the house & garden on weekdays, £15 at weekends & £13.20 for peak season weekdays. If you just want to visit the grounds it's £5.50 or £7 depending on which day you go).
Although it can be expensive, there is a lot to see. The house is beautiful to look around & one of the best ones I have visited. However, if you don't want to pay to go in the house then the grounds are just as good if not better. The gardens are immaculate with lovely flowers & some very clever flower sculptures. If you have ever visited any French chateaux then it is clear that these had a very strong influence on the style of the house & gardens.
One of my favourite areas is the aviary, which is involved in the breeding & conservation of many endangered birds. My favourite bird to look out for is the sweet little Roul-Roul crested partridge, & also the Fairy Bluebird.
There is a lovely shop to visit, which sells a lot more than the average National Trust shop, including foods, wine, cards & gift-wrap, books & all sorts of interesting gift items. There's also a nice children's shop down in the stables area, along with a nice but slightly over-priced cafe. I've never been in the main restaurant but it looks very posh!
Please note the property is closed on Mondays & Tuesdays, but open on all other days until 1st November. See the property's website for special Christmas opening times & events. The website doesn't currently list the 2010 opening times but I think it only has limited opening times January-March.
Waddesdon Manor is a national trust property set in the beautiful Buckinghamshire countryside. The land was owned by the Duke of Marlboro and was sold to the famous banking dynasty the Rothschild family. It was built by the famous banking family Rothschild's in the latter part of the 1800s and has been lived in ever since by the Rothschild family. it was such a massive project that required the whole of the top of the hill to be flattened for the house to be built and the grand open area at the front of the house and its majestic avenue.
It was left to the National trust in 1958 on the death of James Rothschild and opened to the public in 1959. The currant Lord, Jacob Rothschild inherited the collection in 1988 from Dorothy Rothschild and he is heavily involved in its preservation.
The vast estate has a lot of things to see and do and I shall highlight the best features of the Estate.
Waddesdon house is built in the style of a 16th century French Chateau with large patio windows on the ground floor and towers with typical slated roof. There is a grand drive up to the house and it appears to be a magnificent way of entering the house. You can imagine arriving there as a guest and being chauffer driven past the grand wrought iron gates driving around the massive water feature at the end of the north drive and driving up the tree lined drive towards the house. You could easily imagine that you are in the Loire valley.
The house is full of rare and valuable art collections and antiques collected over the years by Baron Ferdinand De Rothschild and most of which is on show today. There are paintings by Gainsborough and Reynolds and works of arts by Dutch and Flemish master painters from the 17th Century. There are collections of fine porcelain and richly decorated carpets and furniture. There is even a writing desk that belonged to Marie Antoinette from the palace of Versailles. All the items were looked after meticulously and the collection has been described as a bizarre collection of rare and unusual pieces. There was a collection of rare boxes which according to Waddesdons own web site have been stolen. It is unbelievable that someone could break in to such a magnificent house containing such wealthy and priceless treasures.
You can tour part of the house but not all the rooms are open to the public but what rooms are open there is an immense collection of personal items and looks like a well lived in and loved home albeit a lonely house for Baron as his wife had died in childbirth. He lived there alone with his sister Alice and devoted his time to collecting fine art and entertaining his friends at the famous parties he held there every weekend.
There are two spiral stair cases leading up to the other floors and it can be seen from the outside of the house. It is in keeping with the rest of the building. You go up one staircase and down the other. He was not a happy man and was said to eat just bread and water in a side room whilst his guests dined on magnificent feasts. He claimed just prior to his death that although he lived in a beautiful house he was a very lonely man. The tour of the house covers the ground floor and the first floor. You can accompany your tour with a hand held audio tour which is quite useful as you are able to get a full explanation of various art works and important pieces of furniture.
The house is quite dark inside as a means of protecting the rare pieces of art. I think that it has always been a dark house but there are also special blinds at the windows to stop the harmful sun rays causing irreversible damage to the contents.
It was said that Queen Victoria invited herself to Waddesdon manor so she could see for herself electricity which Buckingham Palace did not have at that time. I believe she found it most intriguing to see electricity at work for the first time and she is reported to have kept turning the lights on and off as she found it such a novelty. She had heard about Waddesdons electricity from the Prince of Wales who often frequented the weekend party's with one of his mistresses.
Guided tours are available or self tours with the aid of an audio tour.
On the south side of the house there is a beautifully laid out parterre which looks beautiful very clean and well cared for. Small privet hedges help maintain the order around the parterre with various plants growing inside the growing area. There are a couple of ornamental fountains on the parterre as well. The grounds have been landscaped and there are some beautiful shaded walks with various trees shrubs and other lovely plants and flowers.
There is a beautiful cast iron aviary which is fashioned on those at Versailles and there are a variety of endangered birds which are bred in captivity and then released into the wilds. It is very picturesque in the gardens and in front of the aviary. There are fountains and various statues dotted around the gardens which are very nice. There are some beautiful topiary around the grounds, privet hedges cut into shapes of birds and bears. There is a rose garden, daffodil, tulip and water garden and a small lake within the grounds.
There are seven miles of roads throughout the estate which will give you some indication of how large the estate is.
There are stables down below the mansion house reached by either driving down there or walking through a wooded garden pathway. The stables have been converted into a small restaurant and tea room and a shop. There are two beautiful bronze cast horses in the courtyard of the stables. As would be expected the prices of things to buy in the restaurant and the shop are quite expensive.
Sandwiches between £4-5
Jacket potatoes £5.50 - 6.
Starters £4.50 - 6.
Cream tea £5.50
All prices include VAT plus 10% service charge.
There is a summer house selling light refreshments sandwiches coffee tea and soft drinks.
The wine cellar.
The wine cellar contains a magnificent collection of fine wines some dating back to the 1886 and you can tour the wine cellars every Wednesday at 3pm.
The power house.
There is a power house towards the back of the house which supplies the power needs to the house and grounds.
There are special events throughout the year and towards Christmas the house is decorated with a tree and various Christmas decorations. It looks very pretty when decorated. There is wine tasting and various talks on certain dates for example about art or furniture or how the servants lived at the manor and what it was like to be one. There are Christmas sales autumn sales and free days for the emergency service personel. You can get the full dates from their own web site.
Where is it.
Waddesdon manor is about 6 miles from Aylesbury and about an hour from London and Oxford. It is just off the A41.
Admission prices vary throughout the year and are available for the gardens only or for the house as well.
£5 for the garden and £7 at the weekends.
£10 -£12 winter combined house and garden ticket
£13.20 -£15 Summer combined house and garden ticket
National trust members are admitted free and all admissions are given a timed ticket to ensure that there are not too many people in the house at the same time giving you the opportunity to enjoy your visit.
It really is a beautiful property and well worth a visit a wonderful collection of fine art in stunning surroundings. I would highly recommend a visit here if you get the opportunity.
You can find out more from the two following web sites one is Waddesdons own web site and the other is from the National trust.
The very word "Rothschild" will bring to mind wealth in any circle. As it happens, before visiting Waddesdon, a place that, until spotting it in the National Trust Handbook in 2006, we had not heard of, I knew very little indeed about the Rothschild family, only that they possessed almost unbelievable wealth. The overall experience gained from a visit to this, or any of their other many houses, can only reinforce that opinion. In fact this is the ONLY Rothschild house now open to the public - at the turn of the last century the family had 42 such houses spread all over Europe. Not bad going considering that this rags to riches story had started less than one hundred years previously in the Jewish ghetto in Frankfurt.
WHERE TO FIND ALL THESE RICHES?
Well the "smart" answer is that you will find it on page 161 of the 2008 National Trust Handbook. Indeed initially that is exactly what we did, except that was in 2006, last summer we returned to take my Polish in-laws to Waddesdon, so impressed had we been with our first visit.
The geographical answer to the question above is that Waddesdon Manor is located in the village of Waddesdon six miles North West of Aylesbury on the A41 in Buckinhamshire. Follow the familiar brown sign posts travelling in either direction on the A41 and you cannot miss it.
HOW MUCH POORER WILL WE BE IN ORDER TO SEE IT?
As you will have gathered, Waddesdon is a National Trust property, my wife and I, as members, therefore have free access. The admission charges for non-members are actually fiendishly complicated according to which day of the week you wish to visit, and just what you want to see when you get there. The charges are also likely to rise next season. The best advice is probably to view the National Trust website for clarification - www.nationaltrust.org.
In order to give you a "worst case scenario" idea here (in 2007) the total charge for house / gardens and "Bachelor's Wing" - all separately ticketed - was £16.50. A useful tip to remember is that throughout August children get in free, saving £9.35 each.
Opening times also vary according to season and again I would point you in the direction of the above site for this information.
You enter the Waddesdon Estate via a traditional gated entrance and climb up through a wood on the fairly steep and twisting two and a half mile long driveway. If arriving on foot, there is a short cut across the lawns to the house, in the car you continue up the drive parking where directed by the parking attendants.
Both of our visits have been on a Saturday, arriving at around midday, after the grounds have been open for two hours. The house opens at 12.00 noon, the car park fills quickly and, on both occasions, we have found ourselves parked well down the drive, at least half a mile from the house. The parking attendants will wave through disabled badge holders, parking them around the fountain facing the house.
This, undoubtedly one of the National Trusts "flagship" properties, is obviously very popular judging by the number of cars parked on both sides of the drive. Following the drive to the top, past the car park proper, you emerge from the trees into a large circular clearing. Standing in front of the very impressive circular North Fountain, is when most visitors gain their first sight of the magnificence that is Waddesdon Manor.
You may well be forgiven for thinking that you have landed in the French Loire countryside upon that first sighting. This was entirely the impression that its first owner wanted to achieve. Ferdinand De Rothschild (1839-1898) was a truly cosmopolitan character. Born in Paris, educated in Frankfurt and Vienna and settling in England to marry his English cousin Evelina in 1865, he brought with him not only vast family wealth, but also the best of European taste.
Waddesdon certainly looks like no other English country house, or stately home. It has the style and proportions of a French chateaux, hardly surprising really as Ferdinand employed renowned French architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur to create his mansion. The site, formerly known as Lodge Hill, was farmland belonging to the Duke of Marlborough, who, very conveniently, needed to liquidate some assets at the time!
Everything that you see here today was created by Ferdinand, starting with the formation of the driveway. The foundation stone for the house was laid in August 1877. The construction works were truly massive and included the flattening of the top of Lodge Hill, foundations thirty feet deep and the no small matter of the laying on of eleven miles of water pipes from Aylesbury. In order to create the parkland landscape, mature trees were transported and planted here; Ferdinand obviously lacked the patience to watch saplings grow!
......are probably of the long queue for house tickets at the admission kiosk!
Admission to the house is by timed ticket only, a sensible way of controlling the number of visitors in the house at any one time, making it a more comfortable experience for all. On both occasions we waited approximately ten minutes in order to obtain out tickets, on neither occasion did we have to wait longer than twenty minutes to gain access to the house.
With tickets in hand you have a chance to admire the north front of the house, through the front door of which you gain entry.
This was a house built very much to impress, as a base for entertaining guests. Indeed it was not a prime residence of the Rothschild family, only being open between May and August for weekend house parties.
By visiting here on a sunny summer weekend, we are following in the footsteps of the rich, the famous and the royal. They did not require a timed entry ticket - but then, there were far fewer of "them"!
A VERY WARM WELCOME FOR RICHADA AND PARTY
My wife is particularly sensitive to "attitude"; it probably stems from being Polish and brought up in a very different (communist) non-class system. On several visits to other properties, she has commented that the general public are made to feel unwelcome by the staff, who seem to regard themselves as being a cut above the ticket paying guests. This can make you feel like an intruder, certainly we never return to such properties.
At Waddesdon I am delighted to report that this is very much NOT the case. During our two visits we have met with nothing but polite, well informed and charming staff, - which undoubtedly enhanced our overall experience. This starts from the moment that you arrive through the gates, but more particularly when you enter the house.
With the house containing such valuable treasures, one is not surprised to be asked to deposit large bags, rucksacks etc with the staff for safe keeping. On our first visit last year I was also asked to hand in my camera bag - this time they let me keep it and I regretted not letting them take care of it. You are not allowed to take photographs inside the house anyway and it is surprising how tiring it becomes lugging even a fairly light camera bag around on a hot day.
On our second visit I actually parted with £2.00 at the door for an audio guide - money well spent I thought, even having purchased a lavishly illustrated "Companion Guide" book for £5.00 on our previous visit.
WHAT IS REVEALED BEHIND THE FRONT DOOR?
Your initial impression is that it is rather dark and gloomy inside, airless too as my thirteen year old sister-in-law was to discover to her cost. Unfortunately, the best atmosphere for us is not one that will ensure the preservation of this wonderful house and its contents. Light levels are kept at very subdued levels in order to preserve priceless wall and floor coverings, whilst the temperature is kept relatively high in order to keep everything dry.
On our second visit, an unfortunately hot and humid day, the central heating was running inside the house in order to combat the high humidity level. I am sure that, historically, my sister-in-law was not the first young lady to pass out in Waddesdon Manor; she was not however fully attired in Victorian costume! Both the general staff and first-aider could not have been more helpful and once out into the fresh air of the garden, Klaudia made a rapid recovery.
Assuming that you visit on a rather more comfortable day, you are in for a real treat. I am not going to bore you all to death with a room by room, blow by blow description of this house - there is simply far too much of it to see for that. I also have to confess that we have not been able to visit Waddesdon on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday when the Batchelor's wing has been open. This is a separate suite of, largely accommodation, apartments used by Ferdinand's single male guests. It also houses the kitchens and servants quarters.
I would warn you that this is not a house that can be rushed around in half an hour; on both occasions we spent well over an hour and a half in the house and were surprised, during the second visit, by just how much we had missed the first time round.
THE INTERIOR HIGHLIGHTS
As with the exterior, the interior has a totally "money no object" flavour to it. What really strikes you about this place though is how beautifully tastefully it has all been carried out. Maybe we just happen to share Rothschild's taste, but extravagant as it is, nothing contained here in Waddesdon, did we feel to be out of place, or indeed that we could not actually enjoy living with. There is nothing here that looks at all vulgar or shouts "flash cash".
The tour of the house takes you around it in a clockwise direction, those of you familiar with such grand houses will not be surprised at the layout or indeed proportions of the state rooms downstairs. What will actually surprise you is that, having seen it from the outside, this house is not as large as you would expect it to be inside; it is broad, but only two rooms deep and therefore surprisingly shallow. Rothschild's architect disapproved of the scaling down of his original, much larger plan, having warned his employer that it was always better to "build big". To my mind however, anything that Waddesdon lacks in size, it more than makes up for in terms of quality and character.
Whilst this is all far too grand to actually call "homely", neither does the interior have the feel of a museum which, again, has been our experience in other such properties. You will find an eclectic, yet harmonious mixture of colours, textiles and furniture here, all of the very best quality. Ferdinand Rothschild was a man who knew what he liked and went to some considerable lengths to obtain it. He was less influenced by "current fashions" than many - after all the family fortune had been made from banking, a conservative business if ever there was, even in Victorian times.
Europe was entering a more austere period; the extravagances of the French and Russian Royal families for instance were increasingly frowned upon. Ferdinand was quick to snap up many pieces of "royal" furniture, and in the case of the superb wooden panelling in the Breakfast Room, entire room panels. The eagle eyed among you may actually notice that this panelling does not reach to the ceiling from the floor. Rather than reducing the overall height of the room, craftsmen were employed to make extra panels to bridge the gap.
HOW TO DINE IN STYLE - THE ROTHSCHILD WAY
Probably most impressive of all the State Rooms downstairs, is the dining room - after all, this was a pivotal part of the experience for the honoured house party guests at Waddesdon.
The early nineteenth century table centrepiece is an absolute feast for the eyes on its own. It has the lot, a mirrored base, gold candelabras, flower stands and is even lit by fairy lights from below.....
.....I can hear you thinking right now; 'surely didn't he said that this was all in the best possible taste?' Really, it is!
The five guilt mirror frames in the dining room were designed by famous rococo style artist Nicolas Pineau, originally part of a set of fourteen installed in the Paris home of the duc de Villars, the other nine went to another member of the Rothschild family.
Oddly enough, whilst his guests feasted on the most lavish dishes of the age - prepared by an ex-chef to the Russian Tsar, Ferdinand was a poorly figure. Wine was "as poison" to him, he dined on dry toast and water and lived on a cocktail of pills and potions. On one occasion over lunch at Waddesdon in 1890, Queen Victoria commented to Rothschild that the food served was so much better than in her royal palaces that she wished to despatch her chef to the kitchens at Waddesdon in order to improve the quality of the dishes offered to her own guests!
Not only were famous guests frequenting Ferdinand's house parties, but when they did so, knowingly or not, they were surrounded by tangible reminders of famous historic personages too. An example of this are the wall lamps hanging in "The Baron's Room" - Ferdinand's private study, they were commissioned by none other than Marie-Antoinette in 1787 for her apartment in the Chateaux of Compiegne!
WITH THE ARCHITECTS WORDS HAUNTING HIM "ALWAYS BUILD BIG" FERDINAND EXTENDS HIS MANSION
Whilst the architecture outside is quite homogenous, you cannot spot the join, inside you are aware of passing into a different part of the house. Downstairs the very large Morning Room was created as a space where guests could read the newspapers and catch up on their correspondence. To this end it was furnished with seven writing desks, the largest of which is the huge drop front desk, which he purchased in 1890 from the Fitzwilliam family, part of the deal was that he had to have an exact replica made as the transaction was to be carried out in strict secrecy. However it was not easy to hide the appearance of such an enormous, and frankly, to my eye at least, rather grotesque piece of furniture, rumours circulated in the press upon his death that £40,000 had been paid for it!
Apart from acquiring great wealth, the Rothschilds were also well known as collectors in many different fields. This was another good reason for extending Waddesdon in 1889, Ferdinand was simply running out of wall and floor space on which to hang and place his priceless art and furniture collection. This is very evident in the Morning Room where you will find a fine collection of "Old Master" (mostly Dutch) paintings, hung exactly where Ferdinand ordered them to be.
SPIRAL STAIRCASES ON A GRAND SCALE
Staircases? Oh yes, no "up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire" here! Two grand spiral stone staircases - a prominent feature from outside - a stunning one from within, take you up to the two floors above. Very sensibly the tour of the house takes you up one staircase, bringing you back down its' twin - no pushing and shoving on the stairs here!
Ferdinand, presumably in view of his frailty also had Mr Otis install one of the very first electric lifts in the country. Mr Otis may well regret that we did not get to ride in it!
The upper two floors are undoubtedly less palatial, but none the less interesting, than the grand state rooms below. Here you will find displays of many of the Rothschild family members' various, and surprisingly eclectic, collections; more priceless art, china and some fascinating other collections such as that contained in the "fan room".
Not of particular interest to me, but undoubtedly to many of you, will be the enormous collection of Sevres porcelain, all Rothschild family dinner services. These are housed in what was originally Ferdinand's bedroom suite of rooms, re-opened for the purpose of displaying them in 1995 by our current Queen.
As far as the Roschild family history was concerned, we found the appropriately named "Family Room" highly educational. Knowing a little more about the family and their activities, both commercially and socially really helps you to understand and in a sense feel much more a part of, the Waddesdon experience.
Each year the custodians, one of whom is the current Lord Rothschild, change the collections on display here, so there will always be something different to admire on future visits. Personally I was particularly enchanted with Adelheid Rothschild's (Ferdinand's grandmother) button collection displayed here - so much beauty in such ordinary, every day items.
AND SO TO BED
Putting us back in touch with the Victorian times of the house, as originally built, are the three bedroom suites now on display. Very different in character, but both highly opulent, the main State Bedroom and Portico bedroom are where the most honoured guests were accommodated. Indeed Queen Victoria slept in the State Bedroom, a delightfully airy and comfortable room which had one of only three bathrooms in the house attached. Of totally contrasting style is the adjoining Green Boudoir, the private guests' sitting room.
The third, and most modest of the bedroom suites, is the only one to have an en-suite bathroom on display. This is the aptly named Fountain Bedroom and Bathroom - both rooms having wonderful views of the South Fountain, gardens and parkland beyond.
Off of the bedroom corridor, on the opposite side to the guest bedrooms were a row of much smaller bedrooms - to accommodate the lady dressers and servants, plus the large numbers of clothes that Victorian ladies brought with them for a weekend stay. It was not unusual for Victorians to undergo three or four changes of clothes per day! One of the ladies maids' rooms is on display, under the staircase, although it is thought that when built, these rooms were rather less opulently furnished and decorated than is the case today.
TIME FOR A STROLL AROUNDTHE GROUNDS
Ferdinand's honoured guests were always conducted on a grand tour of the estate. He was equally as proud of his achievements here, as he was of the house itself. For the modern day visitor, many of whom come in on a "Park Only" ticket, enjoying the grounds may well be regarded as a day out in its own right.
As inside the house, there is a lot to see and enjoy here. If you went into the house before exploring the grounds, you will have already admired the superb Parterre from above, with its' magnificent central fountain. Down here on the ground you will appreciate just how grand a centrepiece this is, do not, please, count them, but reputedly there are 50,000 plants here making up this superlative display.
A stroll through the gardens will bring you to another stunningly attractive structure, one of which I actually disapprove. However beautifully contained, I just never enjoy looking at caged birds and find the whole idea quite cruel. The 1889 cast iron Aviary and its surrounding gardens are however beautiful in their own right.
On the way there from the house you cannot fail to miss the enormous topiary bird, quite appropriately entitled "Great Bird" it is a photographic opportunity that few will want to miss. As well as three dimensional plant displays the grounds are littered with statues.
FACILITIES FOR THE MODERN GUESTS
Toilets are to be found in the cellars, close to the admission kiosk and National Trust shop in which you inevitably find yourself at the end of the house tour. This is a very interesting and well stocked shop and has an attached wine shop selling produce from the estate.
Outside the shop is located a snack and coffee bar. The proper restaurant is at the front of the house. The food on offer here looked very expensive to us; this is actually franchised and not run by the National Trust. There is a further restaurant situated in the Stables block towards the bottom of the drive. Beyond the Stables you will find the Plant Centre, selling many of the plants and flowers that you will have undoubtedly admired during your visit here.
UNFORTUNATELY WE MUST END OUR DAY AT WADDESDON
A three day, weekend, stay at Waddesdon, in the Victorian style, would probably have been just enough time to fully appreciate the wonders of the place. There is an awful lot more to see than I have been able to describe, both inside the house and in the grounds surrounding it. It is for this reason that we constantly look forward to returning to Waddesdon. In our experience, of all the stately homes and gardens in the country - and we have visited many of them - only one other draws us back like this time and time again.
Waddesdon Manor is a fantastic attraction and a huge asset to the National Trust. If this sounds like your idea of a good day out then I strongly urge you to go!
Magnificent house and grounds in the style of a 16th-century French château.