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The history of Basildon Park

The house seen from the parkland at Basildon Park, Berkshire
The house seen from the parkland at Basildon Park | © National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

From fortunes made in the East India Company, to 1950s glitz and glamour, the history of Basildon Park is a rich and interesting one. Delve into Basildon Park’s owners, treasures and wartime past to find out more about this captivating place.

The estate's beginnings

Basildon Park estate was bought by Francis Sykes in 1771. Sykes had made his fortune in the East India Company and required a home befitting his status. He demolished the old house and employed architect John Carr to build the Bath-stone mansion you see today.

Carr was heavily influenced by the revival of the Classical style and Palladianism, which took its inspiration from the Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. Given its proximity to London, a manor like Basildon was ideal for a wealthy and ambitious man such as Sykes. The Sykes family owned the house until 1838.

Nearly a century of ownership

The Morrison family owned Basildon Park from 1838 to 1928. It was originally bought by Liberal MP James Morrison who passed it to his eldest son Charles. On his death it was inherited by his sister Ellen who died just seven months later, leaving it to her nephew Major James Archibald Morrison.

Although Major Morrison did not live at Basildon, he was very involved with the estate and local area, following his passion for country pursuits, in particular shooting and fishing. Morrison played an active part in the war; he re-joined the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards on 19 August 1914.

Revival and modernisation in the 1950s

In 1952 Lord and Lady Iliffe bought Basildon Park, which had been badly damaged during the war. The couple set about restoring the house sensitively to its former glory, with the addition of modern-day comforts such as central heating, a contemporary kitchen and bathrooms.

They filled the mansion with antiques found in auctions and from other derelict estates, including Panton Hall, which was also designed by John Carr.

They enjoyed many parties with friends during their 25 years in the mansion house, before moving into the South Pavilion on gifting the property to the National Trust in 1978.

Red walls hung with pictures, a rounded mirror above a fireplace, and a desk, in the library at Basildon Park, Berkshire
The library at Basildon Park, Berkshire | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Wartime at Basildon Park

During the First World War Basildon Park was used as a 50-bed convalescent home for officers and soldiers of the Berkshire regiments. In the first 13 months that the home was open, upwards of 500 cases were dealt with. The house and estate were used by local soldiers as a place to recuperate and learn new skills, as well as providing food and materials for the local community.

A training centre was established for disabled soldiers and sailors to learn a variety of trades, including basket making. As a result of this initiative, Basildon had a small basket-making business for several years after the war.

With all the able-bodied men serving in the forces, the Basildon estate was run by the Women’s Land Army (WLA). Sixty women of the WLA worked on the estate undertaking a broad range of roles such as caring for livestock, making cheese, charcoal burning, and brick making.

Country Life magazine in 1918 reported that two women on the estate turned out an average of 3,000 bricks weekly.

During the Second World War the estate was requisitioned. It served several purposes including being used by the 101st Airborne Division of the American Army for D-Day training, and later as a prisoner of war camp for German and Italian soldiers. This was all vital to the war effort but inevitably resulted in damage to the house and estate.

History of the garden and pleasure ground

The garden at Basildon Park was designed by architect JB Papworth around 1839, for the then owner James Morrison. He laid out a pleasure ground to the north, which included stunning views out into the park and countryside framed by trees and evergreen shrubbery beds.

Between 1900 and 1952 Basildon Park fell into a period of decline, with its occupancy passing between various owners, tenants and the military.

By the time Lord and Lady Iliffe rescued Basildon Park in 1952 the original pleasure ground was derelict and unkempt. They set about clearing and reviving the gardens to a presentable state.

Creating the Rose Garden

In the 1960s Lady Iliffe created the Rose Garden with advice from Lanning Roper, a well-known American garden consultant. It contained a mix of old roses, peonies and spring bulbs when it was originally created.

Sadly by 2011 perennial weeds had begun to take their toll on the mature rose garden. It was decided to clear the garden, rest and refresh the soil, and replant the garden with old roses replicating Lady Iliffe’s original design.

Gifted to the National Trust

Since Lord and Lady Iliffe gifted the house and 400-acre parkland to the National Trust in 1978, we have continued their work in restoring the pleasure grounds.

Two visitors on a garden tour with the head gardener, standing on a lawn with pink roses in the foreground and the house in the background, at Basildon Park, Berkshire

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