Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire, 13th July 2018

23rd July 2018
Written by: Rob Slusar

The summer has rolled around so with RIAT round the corner, the wife and I headed down towards Swindon.

On our way, we decided (as we often do) to stop off at a National Trust site and get the most out of our membership. Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire was our choice.

The History

Set in the village of Waddesdon, the story of the manor begins with Ferdinand de Rothschild.

Born in 1839, Ferdinand came from a powerful banking family, who provided services for monarchs and governments. They were known for providing funding for Wellington’s army in the build-up to the Battle of Waterloo. Mayer Amschel who started the business came from a merchant family, but build his business until it was spread across Europe. Eventually, they changed their name to de Rothschild, after the name of their family home in the 16th century.

Ferdinand himself saw lots of Europe growing up. He was born in Paris, was raised in Frankfurt and Vienna and fell in love with England when he was visiting his family’s English home. After his mother’s death in 1859, he decided to stay in England and married his wife Evalina in 1865. Sadly, Evalina died the following year in childbirth. He would never marry again.

Throughout his life, Ferdinand was known as being a collector of curiosities and would travel to Europe to collect arts and pieces to adorn his and his families homes. He was fortunate that in the 1870s and 1880s, many aristocratic families were suffering from the agricultural depression and as a result were selling off family treasures.

When his father died in 1874, he sold his shares to his business partners and bought the Waddesdon estate. There was no house on the estate, as it was a farming estate so Ferdinand set about building a palatial mansion to house himself and his growing collection. Construction began in 1877, the Bachelors Wing was completed by 1880 and the manor complete by 1883.

Ferdinand died in 1898, and the manor went down the family chain being restored and renovated whenever needed. It was opened to the public in the 1950s after the death of James de Rothschild, who donated it to the National Trust to protect it.

Waddesdon Manor

Now Grade 1 listed, Waddesdon Manor was built in the Neo-Renaissance style of a French château. The building was design and built by Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur. Before starting the project Destailleur had adapted the Château de Mouchy near Beauvais. A turreted 16th-century castle, it was this building that would inspire the design for Waddesdon.

Waddesdon was always kept up to date. It was built with a central heating system, and then fully refitted with electricity in 1889.

The manor now stands as a museum and tribute to the life of Ferdinand, and to that of his sister Alice who lived with him later.

The Pictures

As with a lot of places like this, to protect the collection the lights are low, so I really struggled to get anything “good” on the day. I hope however that what I have got gives you an idea of the place and compels you to go and visit if you are in the area.

Here go.

On the walk down to the manor, it is an imposing building. Beautiful architecture and you can see classic European influences.

This dining room is highly inspired by Louis XIV’s state apartments in Versaille. With 5 mirrors from 1730s France and marble walls, this was designed for Royalty (who did visit from time to time).

The house also has several chandeliers scattered around.

This chandelier is estimated to weigh a tonne. It can’t be lowered so has to be cleaned yearly with scaffold. It takes about a week to clean all the crystal and glass decorations.

Stairs off one of the corridors. You will know if you follow me how much I like stairs. Sadly the light was not with me on this one so I had to be creative in the edit.

This chandelier named “Porca Miseria” or “O, my goodness!” was designed by Ingo Maurer. It is made of broken porcelain and cutlery and was commissioned for the Blue Dining Room in 2003.

The Armoury Corridor is the link between the main house and the Bachelors Wing. This collection is vast, and even though Ferdinand donated large amounts of it to museums, his sister Alice continued to collect more after his death to replace them.

These sculptures have been installed as part of an ongoing programme of contemporary art at the manor. This installation “Lafite” was designed by Joana Vasconcelos in 2015. Made out of wine bottles, they are made to reflect candlesticks.

I had to wonder if she bought them all, or just spent a long time drinking and then storing them.

Among the lavish gardens is another gem. The Aviary. Built by Ferdinand in 1889, it housed a large number of exotic birds. Aviaries were common with the de Rothschild family, and Ferdinand’s nephew Walter was a famous natural historian. Several birds were named after him, and he even had his own zoo, where rather than have horses pull carriages he had zebras. A number of the birds in this aviary are now on the endangered list, so as well as a historical aspect, it plays a role in breeding and preserving these species.

Believe it or not, this is a type of exotic Robin.

Once more, a shot looking along the road to the building. The main house is the one which houses the turrets, there are to the left was the Bachelors Wing. Believe me, it is the ultimate Bachelor Pad.

Final Thoughts

As I noted at the beginning, this wasn’t one of my best outings with the camera. However, this place is stunning. Beautiful architecture packed with art, tapestries, furniture and curiosities from all over Renaissance Europe.

The National Trust are doing a great job of looking after it, and I urge you to go check it out.

As always, Thanks for looking.