A place to escape the corridors of power

The Duke of Newcastle frequently entertained guests at Claremont © National Portrait Gallery

The Duke of Newcastle frequently entertained guests at Claremont

Thomas Pelham-Holles, the Duke of Newcastle (1693-1768) was Prime Minister twice and Secretary of State for nearly 30 years. Claremont, which he bought aged just 21 in 1714, was an important retreat from this intense public and political life.

For the Duke and Duchess, Claremont provided many simple pleasures like fishing, boating on the lake or enjoying the view from the top of the Amphitheatre. He loved the house and garden, using them to impress his family and friends, his political cronies and his enemies.

The Belvedere was a focal point in the garden, a place to write letters, have supper parties and play cards. It was built on the top of a hill as a symbol of his wealth and power for all to see. A telescope on the roof allowed the Duke to indulge his interest in star gazing or sometimes to inspect the houses and estates of his neighbours.

The Duke and Duchess were childless but their continued development and care of the garden over the years became like a substitute family. Even when he reached his mid-70s the Duke would walk around Claremont each day on the advice of his doctor and his love of the grounds shone through when he wrote letters to his wife:

'Dear Claremont was never in greater beauty. Every thing green, the trees charmingly come out, the wood delightful. The cuckoo and nightingale have made their appearance and Mr. Hurdis has seen two swallows. I wanted nothing but my dearest here.' - 28 April 1765.

Sadly by the time Thomas Pelham-Holles died in 1768 his extravagant lifestyle had amassed a tremendous amount of debt and his widow had little choice but to sell the estate of which she was so fond.