Waddesdon Manor, front entrance
Waddesdon Manor, front entrance

Waddesdon was begun by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in 1874. The Rothschild banking clan seemed drawn to the Vale of Aylesbury in the 19th century (witness Ascott House), yet for their house designs they turned to their European heritage. Waddesdon looks like nothing so much as a French chateau dropped down in the middle of an English landscape.

French architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur was employed to design a huge hilltop house looking out over a pastoral landscape to the Chilterns. The house of Bath stone is a mixture of French traditional chateau design elements, with round turreted towers soaring high above a mansard roof. A broad avenue leads up the hill to the house, and formal terraced gardens behind the house open out into parkland.

The building of Waddesdon was a massive project, taking 15 years to complete. Water had to be brought in from 14 miles away, and a special steam-powered tramway was built to haul building materials up the hill.

The exterior of the house is impressive enough, but it is ably matched by the opulent interior. Built in the style of 18th century France, even the panelling was imported from Parisian houses. Richly decorated rooms are augmented by plastered and painted ceilings. The ornate rooms act as a setting for a remarkable collection of fine art, furniture, ceramics, and carpets.

To pick out only one of numerous prize furniture pieces, there is an inlaid writing table crafted for Marie Antoinette. Look for the carpet commissioned by Louis XIV for the Louvre; it is nearly 1/4 mile in length!

The entrance hallway
The entrance hallway
Gilded decor, ground floor stateroom
Gilded decor, ground floor
Ornate Marie Antoinette writing desk
Marie Antoinette writing desk

Surprisingly, amidst all this French opulence, there is an excellent collection of 18th century English portraits, including Gainsborough's Pink Boy, and 10 works by Reynolds. There are also a variety of Dutch paintings, including The Garden of Love, by Rubens.

Frances Browne by Gainsborough
Frances Browne,
by Gainsborough
Emma Assheton-Smith by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Emma Assheton-Smith,
by Renolds
The Pink Boy by Gainsborough
The Pink Boy
by Gainsborough
Louis XVI portrait
by Callet
Louis XVI portrait
by Callet
16th century Deruta plate
16th century Deruta plate

Waddesdon is one of the great stately homes in the south of England, though little about the house speaks of "Englishness". The house hosts a variety of special events throughout the year, including wine-tasting evenings and outdoor concerts.

Visiting Waddesdon

This is one of the most popular stately homes in the south of England, so be prepared for crowds, especially on a sunny weekend in summer! We've visited on at least 3 occasions, and each time I come away awestruck at the amazing art collection and dazzling interior of the house. The word 'opulent' does not begin to express just how incredible the interiors are.

Throughout most of the house you never really get the sense of Waddesdon as a family home, but rather it is a setting for the quite amazing collection of paintings, furniture, and decorative arts.

Many times I've come face to face with a painting I've seen hundreds of times in various publications over the years and think, 'Oh, that's a Waddeson piece, too!'.

The grounds are enjoyable, with lots of space to explore, and the house is quite extraordinary; a slice of France set down in a perfectly English setting, but for me, it is the astonishing collection of art and the gilded interiors that I will remember.

Waddeson is one of those places that you simply must see, at least once, though I suspect that if you enjoy historic art and furniture you will want to return again and again.

The formal parterre gardens
The formal parterre gardens
The rear garden terrace
The rear garden terrace
Classical fountain in the rear garden
Classical fountain in the rear garden
The rear facade
The rear facade
Classical statues abound!
Classical statues abound!

About Waddesdon Manor
Address: Waddesdon, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England, HP18 OJH
Attraction Type: Historic House
Location: 6 m NW Aylesbury, on A41
Website: Waddesdon Manor
Email: waddesdonmanor@nationaltrust.org.uk
National Trust - see also: National Trust memberships (official website link)
Location map
OS: SP740 169
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


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