There is something amazingly magical in old buildings guarding their own history and the past of the people who lived there. You might feel like an intruder disturbing its peaceful state trying to steal some of the charm closed in old rooms packed with beautiful furniture and curiously looking at you distinguish faces of previous owners, living only in the fading memory of people taking care of the place. Every time I visit such a place, I am most grateful for a chance of finding myself, even if it is for a moment only, in the distance past.
The Waddesdon Manor is not the oldest building we have visited when we were holding our National Trust membership card, but it was a building which witnessed a changing approach toward itself and its role. Its history which tells you how the richest and the most noble people of XIX century England lead their lives, was not rich, perhaps because in comparison with other buildings, Waddesdon was not as old.
Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898) was the one to blame for creating this charming and quite big house. It all started in 1874 when he bought a chunk of a farmland and within few years created a country retreat built in the style of a Loire châteaux.
Ferdinand employed French architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur to build it and within few years Waddesdon Manor with completed Bachelors’ Wing (in 1880) and the main house (in 1883) monopolized neighbourhood. And then the fun began, starting with parties for twenty guests!
The idea behind the manor was rather simple – Baron Ferdinand created a place to entertain his guests, he invented famous “Saturday to Monday” house parties – the chosen few were able to party hard and take advantage of all the latest inventions like running water, central heating and electricity. But that was not enough. Ferdinand decided one day that the house was too small for all his guests. So he added another wing to the west side.
Seven years later the best host in the area left for ever. The manor was inherited by Alice – Ferdinand’s sister. If anyone expected for things to be carried out the way Ferdinand did, they were in for a surprise – Alice decided that her role was to protect her brother’s creation and implemented quite strict housekeeping rules. No parties allowed any more.
When we were visiting Waldessdon Manor I was very grateful towards Alice for preserving her brother’s amazing collection and for creating beautiful gardens. She was a women with a passion not only for gardening but for art as well. She respected and loved the amazing work of Ferdinand and wanted his heritage preserved.
Alice died in 1922 leaving beautiful house and even more stunning gardens. The manor changed its owner to her Parisian great-nephew – James de Rothschild (1878-1957) and his English wife, Dorothy (1895-1988). They created a golf course and a stud for racehorses.
During the Second World War the manor became a refuge centre for children evacuated from London. James and Dorothy were people with big and open hearts, respecting their family inheritance and opening their home to many in need.
James and his wife have never had any children and with fading health of Alice’s nephew and end of the era of country houses being a centre for entertaining, he needed to make his decision about the future of the manor. He did a beautiful and rather wise thing by donating the estates to National Trust. Furthermore he set a trust – the biggest ever received by National Trust – to make sure that the manor will be kept in the best shape possible. He wanted the family to be involved too so his wife became the chairwoman of the management committee.
Dorothy did an amazing job during the years – she oversaw opening of the ground floor in 1959 and was actively involved with opening of each new area. In 1984 she began the Centenary restoration with essential repairs to the fabric of the Manor. This program allowed to open more rooms in manor and make the Wine Cellars available to the public too.
The gardens created by Alice were well looked after as well – the Parterre was restored and other 19th century garden features were recreated. More recently the Aviary has been renovated and the Coach House and the Stables converted into a gallery for the exhibition of contemporary art.
Ferdinand’s family took a very good care of his creation and because of that we can visit this amazing place and simply be delighted.