Waddesdon Manor

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

Completed in 1889, for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898), in the style of the  French Renaissance chateaux found along the Loire Valley. Having entertained Royalty and Prime Ministers, on the death of Ferdinand's nephew in 1957, he bequeathed the entire estate including its contents (Ferdinand's magnificent collection of antiques) to the National Trust. It has been open to the public since 1959 and is one of the Trust's most popular attractions. Waddesdon also directly inspired George Vanderbilt's Biltmore - the largest privately owned house in the United States....

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Ferdinand de Rothschild

Baron "Ferdy" Ferdinand James Anselm de Rothschild/Freiherr von Rothschild


In 1874, Ferdy Rothschild bought 2,700-acres of farmland from the 8th Duke of Marlborough - the same whose son married Consuelo Vanderbilt. On his newly acquired estate, he wished to build a weekend home resemblant of the chateaux along the Loire Valley, thereby employing French architect Hippolyte Destailleur (1822-1893). The first housewarming party was held in 1883 but the mansion was not fully complete until 1889.

In 1890, Queen Victoria invited herself to stay, curious to see the splendour that could be afforded by England's wealthiest banking family. She was suitably impressed. But, despite her host having had an elevator fitted especially for the ageing monarch's use, she politely declined to use it due to her mistrust of anything electric! Many more parties followed over the years which included many of the English aristocracy's leading intellectuals. Even among this privileged set, Waddesdon gained a reputation for being one of the most luxurious English country houses: there were more staff than there were guests and it had a central heating system, a rarity in England then - as Lady Camoys knew all to well!

Ferdy Rothschild was considered to be one of the most renowned collectors of antiques in his era. He died unmarried and left Waddesdon and his collection to his also unmarried - and rather terrifying by all accounts - sister, Alice Charlotte Rothschild (1847-1922), who was also a passionate collector. Alice divided her time between here and her villa near Grasse in the south of France. On her death, she willed Waddesdon Manor to her nephew Jimmy Rothschild (1878-1957), the popular Liberal Member of Parliament.

During World War Two, Jimmy and his wife, Dorothy Pinto, emptied the house of its contents to accommodate 100 children who'd been evacuated from London, as well as a group of Jewish boys who'd escaped from Frankfurt. When Jimmy died in 1957, he left the house and its contents to the National Trust along with the largest endowment fund for its upkeep that they had ever received. The Rothschild family still have an influence over how the manor is maintained today and it has been open to the public since 1959. 

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 19/07/2019 and last updated on 06/01/2020.


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