Waddesdon: To the Manor Born

Waddesdon Manor is an imposing Grade One listed house, meaning it has historical and architectural merit, built in the Loire Valley French chateau style in the county of Buckinghamshire, in the United Kingdom. Historically a weekend destination of the British monarchy from Edward VII, to Queen Victoria, and Prince Charles, it is one of the most visited houses in the UK National Trust portfolio.
Building commenced on the bare hilltop site in 1874, under architect Gabriel Destailleur and 15 years later, Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, of the immensely wealthy family of the same name, first occupied the bold edifice, incredibly, only as a weekend residence, for entertaining family, friends and visitors, and as a home to his extraordinary collection of fine arts and paintings.
Such guests, having entered through the Vestibule and Entrance Hall to the foyer, the ‘Red Drawing Room,’ had three entertainment options, the ‘Formal Dining Room,’ which was of course for dining, the ‘Grey Drawing Room,’ for music, conversation, and relaxation, or through the terrace to the ‘parterre,’ a stunning setting equally appropriate for outdoor dining, picnics or sports. The house is designed in such a manner as to entertain 12-20 ‘day’ visitors at a time, within this area.
The main gardens and the parterre were created by Frenchman Elie Laine, and enhanced further with stonework, ponds, and fountains by James Pulham. Austrian born Alice von Rothschild was herself a keen gardener, and during the early 20th Century, she developed a three-dimensional technique in garden sculpture, and subsequent garden sculptures by notables such as Mozani, Parodi, Raon, Logteren and Cox adorn the grounds. A massive aviary also houses hundreds of rare (in the UK) birds.
Among the artworks which have been displayed, or are currently part of the Waddesdon Collection, are stunning family portraits of Baron Ferdinand and his wife, and their successors, by Gainsborough and Reynolds, which adorn the Red Drawing Room. The nuance, light and color of these extravagantly beautiful portraits is astonishing.
However, the collection is most valued for its diversity, and includes a unique musical automaton elephant. Created by the prominent French clockmaker, Martinet, in 1774, it is a genuine work of art in tableau style. Carpets and furnishings from across Europe, Gobelin and Beauvais tapestries, Sevres ceramics, Meissen porcelain, Limoges enamels, arms, armor, manuscripts, prints, drawings, books, and a significant number of Dutch landscapes in the Renaissance style are all evident and complete a wonderful impression of the 19th century.
The house has also seen several recent artists ‘in residence’ over recent years including contemporary artists Fairhurst, Long, and Lucas. Edward de Waal OBE, author and artist, whose work with large scale porcelain installations has garnered wide acclaim, Bruce Munro, whose avant-garde pieces, music and light shows have featured, and sculptures by Vansconcelos and Malone.
To walk up the massive hill from the carpark far below was something of a challenge, but to finally crest the brow of that hill to be confronted with the manor house, in all its splendid glory, just a few steps away, made it all worthwhile. Waddesdon is a place to visit, admire, and enjoy
The house was bequeathed to the National Trust in the late 1950’s, by the estate of the late James de Rothschild, and is currently managed by the Rothschild Foundation, chaired by the 4th Baron de Rothschild, Jacob. More than half a million visitors each year are testament to the vision of the first Baron de Rothschild.