The Grade I listed house was built in the Neo-Renaissance
style of a French château
between 1874 and 1889 for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild
(1839–1898) as a weekend residence for entertaining and to house his collection of arts and antiquities. As the manor and estate have passed through generations of Rothschilds, the collection contained inside has grown and is among the most rare and valuable in the world.
In 1957, James de Rothschild
bequeathed the house and its contents to the National Trust, opening the house and gardens for the benefit of the general public. Unusually for Grade I listed residences, the family who donated it still manages it. The Rothschild Foundation, chaired by Jacob Rothschild, 4th Baron Rothschild
, acts as custodian and continues to invest in the property making it, to some extent, a living residence.
Aerial view of Waddesdon from the north
The Red Drawing Room
In 1874, Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild bought the Waddesdon agricultural estate from the Duke of Marlborough
with money inherited from his father Anselm
. Rothschild was familiar with the estate from fox hunting in the locality. At the time of purchase, the estate had no house, park or garden. The site of the future Manor House was a bare hill. Known as Lodge Hill, it had been stripped of its timber by the impoverished Duke of Marlborough prior to the sale.
Over the following three years, the summit of the hill was levelled; eventually, on 18 August 1877, the foundation stone was laid.
The first house party was held in May 1880 with seven of Rothschild's close male friends enjoying a fireworks
display. When, finally, the main house was ready in 1883, Rothschild invited 20 guests to stay. Before his premature death in 1898, on weekends between May and September Rothschild was host to many important guests including the future king Edward VII
, politicians and members of The Souls
group. House parties usually involved 14 to 20 guests.
Guests commented on the level of luxury service provided by the 24 house staff.
In 1890, Queen Victoria
unusually requested to pay a visit. She was impressed with the beauty of the house and grounds as well as Rothschild's ability to quietly manage the day's events. She was struck by the newly installed electric lights designed to look like candles in the chandeliers, and it is reported that she asked for the room to be darkened to fully witness the effect.
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.
When Baron Ferdinand died in 1898, the house passed to his sister Alice de Rothschild
. She saw Waddesdon as a memorial for her brother and was committed to preserving it. She did add significant items to the collection, particularly furniture and carpets with French royal provenances, Meissen porcelain
, textiles and armor
James and Dorothy hosted a Liberal Party
rally at Waddesdon in 1928, where David Lloyd George
addressed the crowd.
During World War II, children under the age of five were evacuated from Croydon
and lived at Waddesdon Manor, the only time children lived in the house. James and Dorothy also provided asylum for a group of Jewish boys from Frankfurt at Waddesdon.
When James de Rothschild died in 1957, he bequeathed Waddesdon Manor, 120 acres (0.49 km2
) of grounds and its contents to the National Trust
, to be preserved for posterity. Dorothy moved to Eythrope
and the Manor was never again used as a residence. It opened to the public in 1959 with around 27,000 visitors in the first year.
Dorothy chaired the new management committee in close collaboration with the National Trust
and took a very keen interest in Waddesdon for the remainder of her long life.
Dutch and English paintings in the Morning Room
At Dorothy's death in 1989, her nephew Jacob Rothschild
inherited her position and responsibilities. At his initiative, the Manor underwent a major restoration from 1990 to 1997, and the visitor attractions were enhanced, including the creation of the Waddesdon Wine Cellars.
Jacob Rothschild chairs the family charity handling Waddesdon's management, the Rothschild Foundation.
Waddesdon Manor operates as an independent organization within the National Trust
From 2004 to 2006, the Baron's Room and Green Boudoir were restored to reflect Baron Ferdinand's original arrangements.
In 2003 a burglary was committed involving the Johnson Gang
, when approximately 100 gold snuff boxes and other items were stolen from the collection prompting the installation of new security measures.
New works of art have been acquired by the Rothschild Foundation to complement the existing collections at Waddesdon, such as Le Faiseur de Châteaux de Cartes
by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin
, added in 2007.
Between 2013 and 2017, Bruce Munro
had a residency at Waddesdon Manor, beginning with the musical and light piece Cantus Arcticus
in the Coach House Gallery in 2013. Winter Light
(2013), with its distinctive wigwam type structures sited in the gardens of the Manor, was Munro's first solo exhibition of his large-scale pieces; Winter Light
returned in 2016–2017. In 2014, Munro developed his pod-like structures, adding elements of language in Snow Code
, shown in the Manor. In ...---…SOS
, Munro's winter exhibition of 2015–2016, tents
were lit up in tune with sound, in response to images of disaster relief
The terrace and parterre
garden at Waddesdon Manor, overlooked by the building's south face
Through Destailleur's vision, Waddesdon embodied an eclectic
style based on the châteaux so admired by his patron, Baron Ferdinand. The towers at Waddesdon were based on those of the Château de Maintenon
, and the twin staircase towers
, on the north facade, were inspired by the staircase tower at the Château 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.
The structural design of Waddesdon 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. The building contractor was Edward Conder & Son.
After the Manor was completed in 1883, Ferdinand quickly decided it was too small, as his architect had prophesied. The Bachelors' Wing to the east was extended after 1885 and the Morning Room, built in late-Gothic style
, was added to the west after 1888.
The stables to the west of the Manor were built in 1884. Ferdinand and his stud groom devised the plan, working with Conder. Destailleur designed the façades in a French 17th-century style.
The Elephant Automaton in the East Gallery
Works were acquired for their exquisite quality and fine provenance, particularly those belonging to French royalty of the Ancien Régime
. One of the highlights of the collection is the extraordinary musical automaton
elephant, dating from 1774 and made by the French clockmaker
Grey Drawing Room with fine 18th-century French panelling and a Sèvres
ship-vase in situ
The restored Smoking Room with Renaissance treasures
In the 1890s, Baron Ferdinand focused on the Renaissance collection for his small museum in the New Smoking Room.
This collection was bequeathed to the British Museum
and is now known as the Waddesdon Bequest
The interior of Waddesdon Manor was photographed in 1897 for Baron Ferdinand's privately published The Red Book
Subsequent members of the family added noted collections of paintings, Limoges enamel
, arms and armour, maiolica
, manuscripts, prints and drawings.
wanted a garden to entertain his guests during his weekend house parties. To make the gardens, extensive landscaping
of the hill was carried out, including leveling the top of the hill. The gardens and landscape park were laid out by the French landscape architect Elie Lainé
. An attempt was made to transplant full-grown trees by chloroforming
their roots, to limit the shock. While this novel idea was unsuccessful, many very large trees were successfully transplanted. Elaborate flower beds were planted, centred on the south Parterre. Several artificial rock formations were created by James Pulham
, including to house mountain goats and llamas, part of Ferdinand's zoo
After her brother's death Alice
brought the care she had taken with her garden at Eythrope
to Waddesdon. Alice was a keen gardener with a good understanding of flowers and plants; she would often walk around and weed the paths. With her head gardener, George Frederick Johnson who worked at Waddesdon from 1905 to 1954, Alice grew flowers for competition.
Alice was responsible for introducing three-dimensional bedding in the shape of a bird, recreated in the gardens today.
Three-dimensional bedding in the shape of a bird
, the gardens were less impressive. The South Parterre was grassed over in the 1930s. It was replanted with flowers for the opening of the house under the National Trust
As part of the 1990s restoration, Beth Rothschild led a team re-introducing Ferdinand's colour scheme of trees
and bedding plants
. The carpet bedding
is now designed on computer allowing the schemes to be quickly installed. The patterns change each year to reflect different themes.
Though the trees
are not of a great age there are many specimens of deciduous
trees that have now reached maturity creating the desired effect in the Waddesdon landscape
. Some of these trees were planted in the 1870s and responsibility for this fell to William Barron whose job it was to transplant trees from the surrounding countryside to give the grounds of Waddesdon a sense of maturity, creating vistas and focal points under the instructions from Elie Lainé
In 2001, Stephen Cox
's tomb-like sculpture Interior Space: Terra degli Etruschi
was installed at the end of the Baron's Walk. Inscribed on a nearby marble slab are the names of the Rothschilds who built and have cared for Waddesdon.
Waddesdon Manor aviary
The aviary's paint and gilding were restored in 2003 and it now houses endangered species with a focus on breeding programs. It is a registered zoo
In Ferdinand's time, there was a large kitchen garden and extensive glass houses
growing fruit and flowers, including Ferdinand's beloved orchids
. They were near the Dairy Water garden
which has elaborate rock formations by James Pulham
. As part of the day's entertainments, Ferdinand's guests were taken to the ornamental Dairy to taste milk from cows who wore Meissen porcelain
In recent years, commissions to contemporary architects have occurred on the wider estate. Windmill Hill Archive
(2011) was designed by Stephen Marshall. Flint House
(2015) was designed by Skene Catling de la Peña.
It won RIBA House of the Year in 2015.
Film and television
Waddesdon Manor has also been used in many television series. These include Howards' Way
(1985) as a chateau in France belonging to Charles Freere. The house more recently stood in for the exterior of the fictional Haxby Park in the second series of Downton Abbey
(2011) (the interior was filmed at Halton House
, another country home once owned by the Rothschilds). Estate roads featured in And Then There Were None
, 26–28 December 2015). Exteriors also feature in The Crown
, 2016, in particular series two, episode one, in which the parterre and the ivy covered tower were used as French locations.
The Breakfast Room was also captured during the same episode. Waddesdon was also used in Endeavour
series three, episode one “Ride” as the residence of Joss Bixby and is a setting for the Netflix
2020 version of Rebecca
Architectural detail above main door
The west stair tower, one of two identical towers flanking the entrance.
Tower Drawing Room
Blue Dining Room
Elephant musical automaton by Hubert Martinet, London, 1768–1772, bronze with gilt and patinated bronze, oil paint, paste, mother of pearl, glass
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- Girouard, Mark, A Hundred Years at Waddesdon, published by Rothschild Waddesdon, 1998, ISBN 0-9527809-2-5
- Hall, Michael and John Bigelow Taylor, Waddesdon Manor: The Heritage of a Rothschild House (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2002) ISBN 0-8109-0507-8
- Rothschild, Dorothy de, The Rothschilds at Waddesdon Manor (Collins, 1979) ISBN 0-00-216671-2
- Schwartz, Selma, "The Waddesdon Companion Guide", 3rd revised ed., (The Alice Trust, Waddesdon Manor, 2008) ISBN
- Carr, Norman; Gurney, Ivor (1996). Waddesdon's Golden Years: 1874–1925. Waddesdon Manor: The Alice Trust. ISBN 978-0-9527809-1-5.
- Thornton, Dora (2015). A Rothschild Renaissance: The Waddesdon Bequest. London: British Museum Publications. ISBN 978-0714123455
Last edited on 7 May 2021, at 23:47
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