Life at Cliveden during the First World War

The war memorial plaque commemorates 15 members of Cliveden staff © National Trust/Meghan Doran

The war memorial plaque commemorates 15 members of Cliveden staff

Latest update 14.11.2013 13:47

The First World War had an impact on life at Cliveden, not just for the residents but staff and guests too. The effect the war had here can still be seen today.

Pre-war hub

After being given Cliveden as a wedding present in 1906, the 2nd Viscount Astor and his wife Nancy turned Cliveden into a glittering hub of political and literary society. Guests included Rudyard Kipling, Lord Curzon, Winston Churchill and even King George V who dined at Cliveden in 1907. Staff numbers increased considerably at this time to help accommodate the famous visitors, with 20 house workers, 12 stablemen and 50 gardeners employed at one time.

Impact of war

When war broke out in 1914, the impact it would have on life at Cliveden was apparent from the start. Parts of the grounds was given to the Canadian Red Cross for use as a hospital and male staff working for the Astors went away to fight at war, rapidly decreasing staff numbers and leaving only women servants to help run the estate.

Living standards

Throughout the war, Cliveden ran along ‘wartime economy lines’ with poultry and sheep kept on the lawns and flowers beds replaced with essential crops of cabbages and potatoes. The Astors and their guests, who would have been used to a more lavish lifestyle, certainly felt the effects of the war. Willie Bridgeman wrote to his wife in December 1915 whilst staying at Cliveden, saying, ‘the food was no war-fare, but was limited in quantity, and we had no alcohol- and only women servants!’

In memory

Sadly not all the male staff that left for war came home. A memorial plaque was placed on the outside of the Octagon Temple (also now the final resting place of members of the Astor family), to commemorate the staff who ‘gave their lives in the Great War’. 15 names were engraved on the plaque consisting of 13 soldiers from the Royal Berkshire Regiment, one soldier from the Devonshire Regiment and one solider from the Wireless Signal Royal Engineers. The words written across the top of the plaque read, ‘God is light and in him is no darkness at all’. (1 John 1:5).

The plaque is still in place on the Temple and can be visited today when the gardens are open.