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And Built for Pleasure
Waddesdon Manor looks for all the world like 16th century French chateau plonked down in the middle of bosky, English Buckinghamshire. If you didn't know better, you'd swear your were visiting a castle in the Loire.
That's the impression Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild wanted to make when he built his Aylesbury weekend home in 1874. It was a rich man's play house created for showing off his collections of Renaissance, 17th and 18th century furniture and objets d'art, English and Dutch Old Master paintings, and for entertaining his friends and family, politicians, royalty, celebrities and power people of the late Victorian age.
Not Your Typical English Country House
Despite it's Renaissance appearance, Waddesdon was equipped with all the latest mod cons of the Victorian era. Guests enjoyed hot and cold running water, central heating and even electricity. Still, the neighbors were not impressed with this extravagant house and its ornate, European style interiors.... It's hard to believe, but in the 19th century the Rothschilds were considered johnny-come-latelies, the nouveau riche of the era. Even as late as the 1950s, when the house was bequeathed to the National Trust, there was some controversy over whether the trust would take it on, as it was not really an English house.
Nevermind that. They must be glad they did because today Waddesdon, about an hour and a half west of London, is one of their most popular and successful properties.
The Waddesdon Bequest
If you're visiting London and don't have time to travel out to Buckinghamshire, you can still see much of Baron Ferdinand's treasure. When he died in 1898, he left a large part of the Renaissance collection to the British Museum with the proviso that the collection could not be split up and had to be displayed together. It took the museum more than 100 years to find a suitable place to show the collection of more than 300 dazzling objects. In the spring of 2015, the new Waddesdon Bequest Gallery opened in Room 2a of the British Museum. Admission is free.
Next: Highlights and Temporary ExhibitionsContinue to 2 of 3 below.
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Highlights and Temporary Exhibitions
Because of its unusual shared management arrangement, there is always something new to see at Waddesdon. The Rothschild Foundation and the National Trust share responsibility for the estate with the National Trust responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the house and grounds while the Rothschild Foundation looks after the contents, commissions new artwork for the house and programs special exhibitions and events.
The emphasis, as it was when the house was first created, is on art, culture and hospitality. Some of the highlights include:
- Lafite - Before you even enter the house, you will see a recent commission for the house by the Rothschild Foundation. Lafite, a work by Portugese artist Joana Vaconcelos, is a pair of giant candlesticks, 7 meters tall, made of glass wine magnums supplied by Chateau Lafite Rothschild, one of the family's two famous Bordeaux vineyards. At night the candlesticks are lit with LED lights. They are located near the entrance to the wine cellars at... the end of the long drive to the north front of the house.
- The Elephant Automaton - A 240-year-old clockwork musical box in the East Gallery that was a favorite of Ferdinand de Rothschild. Made of oak and bronze, it's decorated with paste jewels and still retains its original, 18th century mechanisms. From 2015, a few lucky visitors who book house tickets for 1pm on the first Thursday of the month will have a chance to see the elephant in action. Watch a video of the Elephant Automaton.
- The Gardens - The Victorian parterre is best seen from the conservatory on the ground floor. Make sure you leave time to explore some of the 165 acres of parkland.
- The Savonnerie Carpet - Originally commissioned by Louis XIV of France for the palace of the Louvre and now in the Red Drawing Room.
- The Baron's Room - Enjoy the Baron's favorite portraits of beautiful women, including a painting of Mrs. Sheridan that Joshua Reynolds considered his best. There's also a secretaire desk from Versailles, made for Louis XVI and a writing desk made for the playwright Beaumarchais who wrote The Marriage of Figaro and the Barber of Seville.
- The Morning Room - Paintings by Gainsboro and Reynolds and an anonymous portrait of Baron Ferdinand, a delicate writing desk made for Louis XVI and an enormous black and ormolu desk/cabinet/clock made in Paris for the King of Poland.
- The White Drawing Room - On display in this room is a fabulous silver service made for King George III.
- The Smoking Room - The highlight of the Bachelor Wing is where Ferdinand's Renaissance collection, now at the British Museum, was once displayed. Many of the objects now on show in this room - made of jewels and precious materials - were collected by the Baron's sister Alice. They give a sense of the rooms original, opulent, exotic atmosphere.
When you visit the house:
- Ask about new displays and exhibits as contents are often rotated.
- The Bachelor's Wing is closed on Saturday and Sunday so plan your visit Wednesday to Friday if you want to see the treasures of The Smoking Room.
Temporary Exhibits and Contemporary Art
Waddesdon's Coach House gallery for contemporary art and temporary shows is located in the stable block - where you can also find its shops and café. Don't overlook this gallery because you can count on extraordinary, free exhibitions. The estate shuttlebus makes frequent free trips between the house and the Stables.
A full schedule of special exhibitions is planned between March and October ever year, both inside the house itself, in the grounds and in the stable block.
Next: Plan Your VisitContinue to 3 of 3 below.
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Plan Your Visit
Visitor Essentials for Waddesdon Manor
- Where - Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, about 50 miles northwest of London
- Getting There -
- by train - Trains leave regularly from Marylebone Station for Aylesbury (6.5 miles) and Aylesbury Vale (4 miles) stations. Taxis are usually available at Aylesbury Station but if you are arriving at Aylesbury Vale you should book your taxi in advance. There is a list of currently recommended taxi companies here. Check National Rail Enquiries for train schedules and prices as well as how to book your train. A free shuttlebus to and from Aylesbury Vale station is scheduled to meet arriving and departing trains between March and the end of October.
- by car - The house can be reached from the M40 Junction 7 or the M1 Junction 13. Allow about an hour and a half from London. The entrance is on Silk Street in Waddesdon Village. If you are using SatNav or a GPS device, use postcode HP18 0JH for the entrance.
- Open - Waddesdon is open Wednesday to Sunday from March 25 to... October 25. The hours are somewhat idosyncratic:
- Garden - including wine cellar, stables, exhibitions, aviary and playground 10am to 5pm
- House, Wed - Fri noon to 4pm, Sat-Sun 11am to 4pm, last entry 3:10pm
- The Bachelors' Wing - Wed-Fri noon to 4pm only.
- Admission: Adult, child and family tickets are available. Garden tickets - without entry to the house - can also be purchased. See their website for current ticket prices and to book advanced tickets for the house. If you are planning to visit on a weekend or holiday period, it's wise to book at least 24 hours in advance. There is a ticket kiosk in the free parking area and a shuttlebus that can take you to the Stableyard and the Manor.
- Other Facilities -
- Food There are two restaurants. The Manor Restaurant is a full service restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea; The Stables Cafe is a more informal restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, comfortable for families. Food to go is also available from several outlets on the estate. During Christmas season openings in 2016, the Wigwam Cafe, is a cozy and enormous double wigwam where warm snacks, desserts and hot drinks (including very good mulled wine) are served/
- Shopping The Manor Shop offers a selection of high quality (and expensive) gifts, some National Trust products and other items exclusive to Waddesdon. There is also a Children's Shop with toys and sweets that are pocket money-friendly.
- Wine The Rothschild family own two vineyards in Burgundy. Chateau Lafite and Chateau Mouton. If you want to plunk down £725 for a 2009 bottle of Chateau Mouton 1er Grand Cru Classe Pauillac, in their wine shop, you certainly can. But, happily the shop also offers a carefully picked selection of affordable bottles from a variety of international producers, many at less than £10 a bottle. There are several affordable Rothschild champagnes as well. See the current wine catalog.
- More information - Visit the National Trust website for general information and the Waddesdon Manor website for a more detailed look plus news about exhibitions.
- The nearby Five Arrows Hotel was originally built to house the architects, garden designers and builders of Waddesdon Manor.