History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
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!
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.
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.
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 awe-struck 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.
About Waddesdon Manor
Address: Waddesdon, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England, HP18 OJH
Attraction Type: Historic House
Location: 6 m NW Aylesbury, on A41
Website: Waddesdon Manor
Phone: 01296 653 226
National Trust - see also: National Trust memberships (official website link)
OS: SP740 169
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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