Waddesdon Manor

Waddesdon Manor is a country house in the village of Waddesdon, in Buckinghamshire, England. It is located in the Aylesbury Vale, 6.6 miles (10.6 km) west of Aylesbury. The Grade I listed house was built in the Neo-Renaissance style of a French château between 1874 and 1889 for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839–1898) as a weekend residence for grand entertaining and as a setting for his collection. The last member of the Rothschild family to own Waddesdon was James de Rothschild (1878–1957). He bequeathed the house and its contents to the National Trust. It is now managed by the Rothschild Foundation chaired by Jacob Rothschild, 4th Baron Rothschild. It is one of the National Trust's most visited properties, with over 466,000 visitors in 2018,[1] Waddesdon Manor won Visit England's Large Visitor Attraction of the Year category in 2017.[2]



In 1874, Baron Ferdinand bought a farming estate from the Duke of Marlborough with money inherited from his father Anselm. He was familiar with the estate as he had seen it while hunting in the area. There was no existing house, park or garden, only a bare hill that had been stripped of its timber.[3] The foundation stone was laid on 18 August 1877, and the site was quickly transformed.

The first house party was held in May 1880 with seven of Ferdinand's close male friends enjoying a grand fireworks display. When the main house was ready in 1883, Ferdinand invited 20 guests to stay. Before his premature death in 1898, on weekends between May and September Baron Ferdinand played host to many important guests including the future king Edward VII, politicians and members of The Souls group. House parties usually involved 14 to 20 people coming to stay.[4]

Guests commented on the level of luxury service provided by the 24 house staff.[5] In 1890, Queen Victoria unusually requested to pay a visit. She was impressed with the beauty of the house and grounds as well as Ferdinand's ability to quietly manage the day's events. She was struck by the newly installed electric lights, especially designed to look like candles in the chandeliers, and it is reported that she asked for the room to be darkened to fully witness the effect.[6]


When Baron Ferdinand died in 1898, the house passed to his sister Alice de Rothschild. She saw Waddesdon as a memorial for her brother and was committed to preserving it. She did add significant items to the collection, particularly furniture and carpets with French royal provenances, Meissen porcelain, textiles and armor.[7]

Following Alice de Rothschild's death in 1922, the property and collections passed to her French great-nephew James A. "Jimmy" de Rothschild, who was married to an English woman, Dorothy Pinto. James further enriched the Manor with objects from the collections of his late father Baron Edmond James de Rothschild of Paris.[8]

James and Dorothy hosted a Liberal Party rally at Waddesdon in 1928, where David Lloyd George addressed the crowd.[9] During World War II, children under the age of five were evacuated from Croydon and lived at Waddesdon Manor, the only time children lived in the house. James and Dorothy also provided asylum for a group of Jewish boys from Frankfurt at Waddesdon.[10]


When James de Rothschild died in 1957, he bequeathed Waddesdon Manor, 120 acres (0.49 km2) of grounds and its contents to the National Trust, to be preserved for posterity. Dorothy moved to Eythrope and the Manor was never again used as a residence. It opened to the public in 1959 with around 27,000 visitors in the first year.[11] Dorothy chaired the new management committee in close collaboration with the National Trust and took a very keen interest in Waddesdon for the remainder of her long life.[12]

At Dorothy's death in 1989, her nephew Jacob Rothschild inherited her position and responsibilities. At his initiative, the Manor underwent a major restoration from 1990 to 1997, and the visitor attractions were enhanced, including the creation of the Waddesdon Wine Cellars.


Jacob Rothschild chairs the family charity handling Waddesdon’s management, the Rothschild Foundation.[13] Waddesdon Manor operates as an independent organization within the National Trust.

From 2004 to 2006, the Baron's Room and Green Boudoir were restored to reflect Baron Ferdinand's original arrangements.[14] In 2003 a burglary was committed involving the Johnson Gang, when approximately 100 gold snuff boxes and other items were stolen from the collection prompting the installation of new security measures.[15]

Since 2004 there has been an exhibitions programme. Notable exhibitions include the Lod Mosaic in 2014.[16] Waddesdon was one venue celebrating the work of Henry Moore in 2015[17] and Eliot Hodgkin in 2019.[18]

New works of art have been acquired by the Rothschild Foundation to complement the existing collections at Waddesdon, such as Le Faiseur de Châteaux de Cartes by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, added in 2007.

There has also been a programme of engagement with contemporary artists, beginning with Angus Fairhurst represented by Arnolfini in 2009. Works have been sited near the Manor and on the wider estate including by Richard Long, Sarah Lucas and Angus Fairhurst.[19] In 2012, Christie's chose the Manor to exhibit sculptures by leading contemporary artists.[20]

Between 2013 and 2017, Bruce Munro had a residency at Waddesdon Manor, beginning with the musical and light piece Cantus Arcticus in the Coach House Gallery in 2013. Winter Light (2013), with its distinctive wigwam type structures sited in the gardens of the Manor, was Munro’s first solo exhibition of his large-scale pieces; Winter Light returned in 2016–2017. In 2014, Munro developed his pod-like structures, adding elements of language in Snow Code, shown in the Manor. In ...---…SOS, Munro’s winter exhibition of 2015–2016, tents were lit up in tune with sound, in response to images of disaster relief.[21]

In 2012, Edmund de Waal exhibited work in the Manor, creating a dialogue between his work and the historical interiors.[22] In 2015, artist Joana Vasconcelos was commissioned to install two sculptures entitled Lafite in front of the Manor.[23] In 2016, Kate Malone exhibited a collection of new work inspired by the people, gardens, collections and archive.[24] Two portrait pots of Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild and Alice de Rothschild by Malone remain on display at the Manor.[25]


Prior to the construction of Waddesdon Manor, no house existed on the site. Ferdinand de Rothschild wanted a house in the style of the great Renaissance châteaux of the Loire Valley.[26] Ferdinand chose as his architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur.[27] Destailleur was already experienced in working in this style, having overseen the restoration of many châteaux in that region, in particular that of the Château de Mouchy.

Through Destailleur's vision, Waddesdon embodied an eclectic style based on the châteaux so admired by his patron, Baron Ferdinand. The towers at Waddesdon were based on those of the Château de Maintenon, and the twin staircase towers, on the north facade, were inspired by the staircase tower at the Château de Chambord.[28] However, following the theme of unparalleled luxury at Waddesdon, the windows of the towers at Waddesdon were glazed, unlike those of the staircase at Chambord. They are also far more ornate.

The structural design of Waddesdon was not all retrospective. Hidden from view were the most modern innovations of the late 19th century including a steel frame, which took the strain of walls on the upper floors, which consequently permitted the layout of these floors to differ completely from the lower floors.[29] The house also had hot and cold running water in its bathrooms, central heating, and an electric bell system to summon the numerous servants. The building contractor was Edward Conder & Son.[29]

After the Manor was completed in 1883, Ferdinand quickly decided it was too small. The Bachelors' Wing to the east was extended after 1885 and the Morning Room, built in late-Gothic style, was added to the west after 1888.[30] The stables to the west of the Manor were built in 1884. Ferdinand and his stud groom devised the plan, working with Conder. Destailleur designed the façades in a French 17th-century style.[31]

Wine Cellars

The Wine Cellars in the Manor were created during the Centenary Restoration and opened in 1994. They are modeled on the private cellars at Château Lafite Rothschild. More than 15,000 bottles are stored in the Cellars, some 150 years old, the majority from the Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Mouton Rothschild estates. It is the largest private collection of Rothschild wines in the world. There are also wine labels designed by artists such as Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol.[32]


Once his château was complete, Baron Ferdinand installed his extensive collections of English 18th-century portraits by artists like Gainsborough and Reynolds, as well as French 18th-century boiseries, Savonnerie carpets, Gobelins and Beauvais tapestries, furniture, Sèvres ceramics, books, Dutch paintings and Renaissance treasures.

Works were acquired for their exquisite quality and fine provenance, particularly those belonging to French royalty of the Ancien Régime. One of the highlights of the collection is the extraordinary musical automaton elephant, dating from 1774 and made by the French clockmaker H Martinet.[33]

Of the ten surviving examples of the Sèvres pot-pourri vase in the shape of a ship from the 1760s, three are at Waddesdon, including one with a very rare scene of a battle connected to the Seven Years' War.[34]

In the 1890s, Baron Ferdinand focused on the Renaissance collection for his small museum in the New Smoking Room.[35] This collection was bequeathed to the British Museum and is now known as the Waddesdon Bequest.[36]

The interior of Waddesdon Manor was photographed in 1897 for Baron Ferdinand's privately published The Red Book.[37]

Subsequent members of the family added noted collections of paintings, Limoges enamel, arms and armour, maiolica, manuscripts, prints and drawings.

Waddesdon’s internationally famous collection has thus been formed principally by four members of the Rothschild family: Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839–1898), his sister Alice de Rothschild (1847–1922), their cousin Edmond James de Rothschild (1845–1934) and the present Lord Jacob Rothschild (b. 1936).[38]


Baron Ferdinand wanted a garden to entertain his guests during his weekend house parties. To make the gardens, extensive landscaping of the hill was carried out, including leveling the top of the hill. The gardens and landscape park were laid out by the French landscape architect Elie Lainé. An attempt was made to transplant full-grown trees by chloroforming their roots, to limit the shock. While this novel idea was unsuccessful, many very large trees were successfully transplanted. Elaborate flower beds were planted, centred on the south Parterre. Several artificial rock formations were created by James Pulham, including to house mountain goats and llamas, part of Ferdinand's zoo.[39]

After her brother's death Alice brought the care she had taken with her garden at Eythrope to Waddesdon. Alice was a keen gardener with a good understanding of flowers and plants; she would often walk around and weed the paths. With her head gardener, George Frederick Johnson who worked at Waddesdon from 1905 to 1954, Alice grew flowers for competition.[40] Alice was responsible for introducing three-dimensional bedding in the shape of a bird, recreated in the gardens today.[41]

Under James, the gardens were less impressive. The South Parterre was grassed over in the 1930s. It was replanted with flowers for the opening of the house under the National Trust in 1959.[42]

As part of the 1990s restoration, Beth Rothschild led a team re-introducing Ferdinand's colour scheme of trees, shrubs and bedding plants. The carpet bedding is now designed on computer allowing the schemes to be quickly installed. The patterns change each year to reflect different themes.[43]

The gardens are listed Grade I on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.[44]

Garden trees

Though the trees are not of a great age there are many specimens of deciduous and coniferous trees that have now reached maturity creating the desired effect in the Waddesdon landscape. Some of these trees were planted in the 1870s and responsibility for this fell to William Barron whose job it was to transplant trees from the surrounding countryside to give the grounds of Waddesdon a sense of maturity, creating vistas and focal points under the instructions from Elie Lainé.[45]

Deciduous trees were selected on their form, flowering and array of autumnal color. Conifers were selected for their evergreen nature, cones and berries. Today many species such as chestnuts, limes and maples as well as yew, cedars and redwoods can be seen.

From Baron Ferdinand's time to today, distinguished visitors have been invited to plant memorial trees. Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, King George V and Queen Mary were early royal visitors.[46] More recently, The Prince of Wales and Prime Ministers Sir John Major and Tony Blair have also planted trees.

Garden sculptures

Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild acquired many fine statues and fountains to add interest to the gardens. A notable feature is his love of 18th-century Italian pieces. The fountains to the north and south of the house include sculptures of Pluto, Proserpina, tritons and nereids originally made by Giuliano Mozani around 1720 for the Ducal Palace of Colorno.[47] A bust of the muse Erato has been recently attributed to Filippo Parodi.[48]

A fine example of French early 18th-century sculpture is sited near the Aviary: Apollo by Jean Raon, 1699, associated with a commission at Versailles. There are also Dutch vases in the style of Albert Jansz Vinckenbrinck and sculptures by Jan van Logteren, the latter were originally displayed at Aston Clinton House.[49]

In 2001, Stephen Cox's tomb-like sculpture Interior Space: Terra degli Etruschi was installed at the end of the Baron's Walk. Inscribed on a nearby marble slab are the names of the Rothschilds who built and have cared for Waddesdon.


Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild also created a cast-iron aviary, inspired by 18th-century pavilions at the Palace of Versailles and Château de Chantilly, as well as his childhood home at Grüneburg. It was completed in 1889. Like other members of his family, such as Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild, Ferdinand was also keen animal lover. He stocked the aviary with exotic birds and enjoyed feeding them for his guests.[50]

The aviary's paint and gilding were restored in 2003 and it now houses endangered species with a focus on breeding programs. It is a registered zoo.[51]


In Ferdinand's time, there was a large kitchen garden and extensive glass houses growing fruit and flowers, including Ferdinand's beloved orchids. They were near the Dairy Water garden which has elaborate rock formations by James Pulham. As part of the day's entertainments, Ferdinand's guests were taken to the ornamental Dairy to taste milk from cows who wore Meissen porcelain name tags.[52]

In recent years, commissions to contemporary architects have occurred on the wider estate. Windmill Hill Archive (2011) was designed by Stephen Marshall.[53] Flint House (2015) was designed by Skene Catling de la Peña.[54] It won RIBA House of the Year in 2015.[55]

In 2012, it was announced that Waddesdon Manor would be one of the sites for Jubilee Woodlands, designated by the Woodland Trust to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee.[56]

Film and television

Multiple films have been shot at Waddesdon Manor, including the Carry On film Don't Lose Your Head (1966); Never Say Never Again (1983); An Ideal Husband (1999); Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... (2001), Ladies in Lavender (2004); The Queen (2006), in which interiors and the gardens doubled for Buckingham Palace; The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008); Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011); A Little Chaos (2014); Victor Frankenstein (2015), Our Kind of Traitor (2016); and The Infiltrator (2016).[57]

Waddesdon Manor has also been used in many television series. These include Howards' Way (1985) as a chateau in France belonging to Charles Freere. The house more recently stood in for the exterior of the fictional Haxby Park in the second series of Downton Abbey (2011) (the interior was filmed at Halton House, another country home once owned by the Rothschilds). Estate roads featured in And Then There Were None (BBC One, 26–28 December 2015). Exteriors also feature in The Crown, 2016, in particular series two, episode one, in which the parterre and the ivy covered tower were used as French locations.[57] The Breakfast Room was also captured during the same episode. Waddesdon was also used in Endeavour series three, episode one “Ride” as the residence of Joss Bixby and is the setting for the Jonas Brother's new music video.

2017 mid-air collision

On 17 November 2017, a mid-air collision occurred between an aeroplane and a helicopter near Waddesdon Manor,[58] resulting in four deaths, two on each aircraft.[59] The crash happened just outside the Manor grounds, close to the village of Upper Winchendon.[60] The wreckage landed in dense woodland.[59] Emergency services were called at 12:06 GMT.[59] Seven fire vehicles, the Thames Valley air ambulance, two ambulances, and a rapid response vehicle attended.[59]

The crash involved a Cessna 152, registration G-WACG,[61] and a Guimbal Cabri G2 registration G-JAMM, each with two people on board.[62][59] Both aircraft had come from Wycombe Air Park,[63] 23 miles (37 km) from the crash site.[64] The Cessna had previously been involved in an incident in 1993.[62]

The pilot of the helicopter was Mike Green, an instructor who was training a student pilot at the time.[65] The student pilot was later announced as being a captain in the Vietnamese Army, who was training to become a military flight instructor.[66] The bodies of all four victims were removed from the site on 19 November.[66]

Thames Valley Police stated that the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) had been informed.[63] Military support was provided to assist with recovery of the wreckage of the two aircraft, which was dispatched to the AAIB's headquarters at Farnborough Airport, Hampshire.[66]


  1. "ALVA - Association of Leading Visitor Attractions". www.alva.org.uk. Retrieved 10 May 2019.
  2. Visit England 2017 winners Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  3. Hall, pp. 37–41
  4. The Rothschild Archive Retrieved 28 September 2015; Hall, pp. 153,162
  5. Hall, pp. 156, 160
  6. Hall, p. 172
  7. Hall, pp. 180–91
  8. Girouard, p. 55
  9. Selection of pamphlets & leaflets, (Liberal Publication Dept., 1928), p. 213; see also Waddesdon Manor, acc. no. 894, Retrieved 11 January 2016
  10. The Cedar Boys, Waddesdon Manor, 1944 Retrieved 17 May 2017
  11. Hall, p. 268
  12. Rothschild, 1979
  13. The Rothschild Foundation Retrieved 29 September 2015; Charity Commission. THE ROTHSCHILD FOUNDATION, registered charity no. 1138145. previously Charity Commission. "The Alice Trust", registered charity no. 290859. Retrieved 28 September 2015
  14. Hall, p. 299
  15. Gold box theft of 2003, Waddesdon Manor website; "Police arrest gang", The Guardian, Retrieved 28 September 2015
  16. Cristina Odone (21 June 2014). "Lord Rothschild interview". The Spectator. Retrieved 28 September 2015
  17. Exhibition review: Henry Moore at YSP, Waddesdon and Leeds Art Gallery Retrieved 28 September 2015
  18. Exhibition review of Brought to Life: Eliot Hodgkin Rediscovered Retrieved 07 August 2019
  19. Rachel Spence (12 May 2012). "Art, chez Rothschild". Financial Times.Retrieved 28 September 2015
  20. Christie's at Waddesdon Manor Retrieved 28 September 2015
  21. Winter Light Retrieved 28 September 2015; List of exhibitions by Bruce Munro Retrieved 18 May 2017
  22. Mark Brown (20 April 2012). "Edmund de Waal turns Amber Eyes towards Waddesdon". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 April 2017
  23. Joana Vasconcelos in conversation with Jacob Rothschild about the Lafite sculpture at Waddesdon Retrieved 28 September 2015
  24. 'From the Manor drawn', "Ceramic Review", July/Aug 2016
  25. Kate Malone: Inspired by Waddesdon Retrieved 18 May 2017
  26. Girouard, p. 22
  27. Girouard, p. 23
  28. Girouard, p. 24
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  30. Bruno Pons, Waddesdon Manor Architecture and Panelling: The James A. de Rothschild Bequest at Waddesdon Manor (London, 1996), pp. 77–95
  31. Hall, p. 66
  32. Schwartz, pp. 118–120
  33. A Marvellous Elephant Retrieved 28 September 2015
  34. Pot-pourri vase, 1761, Waddesdon Manor, acc. no. 2315 Retrieved 11 January 2016
  35. Katy Barrett (15 May 2015). "In praise of the Waddesdon Bequest". Apollo. Retrieved 28 September 2015
  36. The Waddesdon Bequest A Rothschild Renaissance Retrieved 28 September 2015
  37. Waddesdon Manor blog entry, with link to the whole book online.
  38. Art Collections at Waddesdon Manor Retrieved 21 June 2016
  39. Hall, pp. 64–66, 127
  40. Hall, pp. 194–206
  41. Schwartz, p. 127
  42. Hall, pp. 267–68
  43. Hall, pp. 286–91
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  45. Graham Stuart Thomas, Great gardens of Britain, (Mayflower: 1979), p. 236
  46. D. de Rothschild, pp. 54–55
  47. T. Hodgkinson, Sculpture: The James A de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor (1970)
  48. Maichol Clemente, 'Un busto di Filippo Parodi a Waddesdon Manor', Arte Veneta, 68 (2012), pp. 258–259
  49. Michael Hall, 'An acquisitive gene: Lord Rothschild's collecting for Waddesdon', "Apollo" (July-Aug, 2007), pp. 44–49
  50. Hall, pp. 66, 125
  51. The Aviary at Waddesdon Manor Retrieved 20 June 2016
  52. Schwartz, pp. 132–133
  53. "Whistle down the windmill". World Architecture News. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  54. Wainwright, Oliver. "Flint House". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  55. "Flint House wins". Royal Institute of British Architects. 25 November 2015. Retrieved 4 January 2016
  56. Queen's Jubilee wood at Waddeson Manor needs volunteers Retrieved 28 September 2015
  57. "IMDb, Waddesdon Manor Location". Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  58. "Aircraft and helicopter in mid-air crash in Waddesdon". BBC News Online. 17 November 2017. Retrieved 17 November 2017. Emergency services were called to the site, near Waddesdon Manor, near Aylesbury, at 12:06 GMT
  59. "Four die as aircraft and helicopter crash in mid-air near Waddesdon". BBC News Online. 17 November 2017. Retrieved 17 November 2017. Four people have died … Two people were killed in each aircraft, Thames Valley Police said. … cannot see the crash site as the woodland is so dense.
  60. "Aircraft and helicopter involved in mid-air crash in Buckinghamshire". The Guardian. 17 November 2017. Retrieved 17 November 2017. A spokesman for the nearby Wycombe Air Park confirmed both aircraft had come from there. A representative of Waddesdon Manor, a large estate near Aylesbury, said the crash happened near the village of Upper Winchendon, a little beyond the manor’s grounds.
  61. "Bliegtuig en Helikopter Botsen boven Engeland" [Plane and Helicopter Crash over England]. 17 November 2017. Retrieved 17 November 2017. Op basis van een foto van een wrakstuk op de site van de BBC lijkt het verongelukte vliegtuig een Cessna 152 met de registratie G-WACG te zijn.
  62. Sawer, Patrick; Boyle, Danny (17 November 2017). "Aylesbury mid-air crash: Three feared dead as plane and helicopter wreckage lands near Rothschild manor house". Retrieved 17 November 2017. the helicopter was carrying two people, while only the pilot was on board the light aircraft, reported to be a two-seat Cessna 152. … a Cessna 152 which had suffered substantial damage to its landing gear, propeller and engine cowling during a previous crash as it was taking off at Bodmin airfield, in Cornwall, in July 1993.
  63. O'Keeffe, Hayley (17 November 2017). "Breaking News: Emergency services at scene of crash involving aircraft and helicopter near Aylesbury". Bucks Herald. Retrieved 17 November 2017. Both aircraft involved in today's mid-air collision near Waddesdon are understood to have come from Wycombe Air Park, according to the Press Association.
  64. Sawer, Patrick; Harley, Nicola (17 November 2017). "Aylesbury mid-air crash: Four dead as plane and helicopter wreckage lands near Rothschild manor house". The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  65. "Helicopter instructor among crash victims". BBC News. 18 November 2017. Retrieved 18 November 2017.
  66. "Vietnamese pilot killed in mid-air crash". BBC News. 20 November 2017. Retrieved 20 November 2017.


  • Girouard, Mark, A Hundred Years at Waddesdon, published by Rothschild Waddesdon, 1998, ISBN 0-9527809-2-5
  • Hall, Michael and John Bigelow Taylor, Waddesdon Manor: The Heritage of a Rothschild House (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2002) ISBN 0-8109-0507-8
  • Rothschild, Dorothy de, The Rothschilds at Waddesdon Manor (Collins, 1979) ISBN 0-00-216671-2
  • Schwartz, Selma, "The Waddesdon Companion Guide", 3rd revised ed., (The Alice Trust, Waddesdon Manor, 2008) ISBN

Further reading

  • Carr, Norman; Gurney, Ivor (1996). Waddesdon's Golden Years: 1874–1925. Waddesdon Manor: The Alice Trust. ISBN 978-0-9527809-1-5.
  • Thornton, Dora (2015). A Rothschild Renaissance: The Waddesdon Bequest. London: British Museum Publications. ISBN 978-0714123455

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