Georgian Cliveden

Detail of one of the three Orkney tapestries that hang at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire

Lord George Hamilton bought Cliveden in 1696, shortly after he was created Earl of Orkney. The recently married Earl needed a country home, close to London and Windsor that befitted his situation and Cliveden fitted it perfectly.

Anxiety and indecision

Lord Orkney’s letters reveal his deliberations over the design of the house.  Although plans were made, indecision and concern over the cost meant little alterations were made to Cliveden for ten years. He felt Buckingham’s house was too tall and eventually, in 1706, he removed the top storey; reducing it in height by almost 20-foot. Lord Orkney also instructed his architect, Thomas Archer, to design two service wings connected to the main house via open colonnades.

The ‘quaker’ parterre

Lord Orkney spent much time and effort on the gardens and the plan as it exists today owes much to his vision. He first turned his attention to the great platform below the terrace, seeking multiple designs. In the end, he chose a simple solution and in the winter of 1723-4 a plain grass lawn was laid with raised walks on either side. Orkney called this his ‘quaker parter’.

The Upper Gardens

Working with designer Charles Bridgman, Orkney laid out paths running through a ‘formal wilderness’ that stretched across the cliff tops and built an amphitheatre at the northern end of the gardens. Orkney commissioned garden buildings from the Venetian designer Giocomo Leoni including the Blenheim Pavilion around 1727 to commemorate the great battle and the Octagon Temple in 1735.

The Blenheim Pavilion, Cliveden
The Blenheim Pavilion at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire
The Blenheim Pavilion, Cliveden

Fire at Cliveden

Lord Orkney died in 1737 and his estates passed to his daughter who became the Countess of Orkney in her own right. Cliveden passed through three generations via the female line and for much of this time was leased; including to Frederick, Prince of Wales from 1737 to 1751. In 1795, whilst the 4th Countess of Orkney was in residence, Cliveden caught fire and the central block burnt to the ground. The Countess continued to live in the wings and it was not until Cliveden was purchased in 1824 by George Warrender that serious plans for rebuilding were made.

The Orkney family tree (PDF / 0.0390625MB) download

The Prince of Wales and his sisters
A painting showing the Prince of Wales and his sisters making music
The Prince of Wales and his sisters