The house at Basildon Park
This 18th-century Bath-stone house was inspired by Italian Palladian architecture. It was saved and lovingly restored by Lord and Lady Iliffe in the 1950s, who brought Basildon Park back to life, acquiring a collection of fine furnishings and carefully selected Old Masters. Explore the richly decorated Neo-classical hall, a spectacular staircase with cantilevered stairs and arched first-floor gallery and an octagonal drawing room with heavily gilded ceilings.
Visiting the house
The showrooms on the first floor of the house are open. On busier days, such as weekends, we may use timed tickets which will be first come, first served and can be picked up from Visitor Reception. We cannot guarantee everyone will be able to go inside the house on their visit.
The entrance to the showrooms on the first floor is up a 22-step stone staircase.
The Garden Room and Octagon Drawing Room
On the East Front a distinctive bay in the middle of the house conceals an octagonal room across all three floors.
In the architect’s original plans, the second-floor Octagon Bedroom, now a conservation studio, sits above the Octagon Drawing Room on the first floor, with an octagonal Breakfast Room on the ground floor leading straight out onto the terraced lawn.
The summer Breakfast Room was converted into a billiard room in the 19th century and today it is the Garden Room. This hidden gem is a cool space for quiet reflection, with views out over the parkland where cattle graze among the historic tree clumps.
Octagon Room walls
The walls here were covered in red felt in 1954 where it was put directly over the existing wallpaper. It was put up by Lady Iliffe and her cook and was used instead of more traditional materials like silk damask because of the constraints of rationing. The colour was chosen as it was popular in the 18th century as a background for paintings, and it blends well with the ceiling, providing a richness to the room.
The panoramic wallpaper in the Garden Room is made by the French firm Zuber, which has been hand-printing decorative wallpapers since 1797 and is still making them, using traditional techniques that have changed very little in the last 250 years.
Green Drawing Room
In the 1980s the National Trust bought the Edwardian damask silk curtains that now hang on the wall in the Green Drawing Room from the Benyons, who own Englefield House in Theale. You can tell that they are curtains because there are vertical stripes running down the fabric where the sunlight has discoloured the folds. The curtains were taken apart, stretched and attached to battens to form panels which were then padded and nailed to the walls. They were then trimmed with the original curtain braid.
Alec Cobbe’s paintings
In 1991–2, artist Alec Cobbe was employed to install the painted roundels in the ceiling and he painted the lunettes in the Dining Room. The content of the original 18th-century roundels was not precisely known so he based the new ones on the roundels in the Music Room at Harewood House, which had been designed by John Carr, the same architect who designed Basildon Park. They feature three of the nine Muses, Erato (poetry), Melpomene (tragedy) and Thalia (comedy) which reflect Lord Iliffe’s literary tastes. Much of the gilding was carried out by Papworth in the 19th century and has only been cleaned and retouched since.
At nearly three metres tall and covering six panels, the Coromandel Screen is an impressive example of Chinese lacquerware. Julie Chang, PhD candidate from UCL, had concluded that the screen was once much larger, potentially up to as many as 12 panels, and that the image on the front depicted the popular legend of An Elegant Gathering in the Western Gardens. Oral archives suggested that the missing six panels had never been at Basildon Park and that the screen had been bought ‘as was’, most likely from one of the London auction houses or property sales in the 1950s or 1960s.
The Angkor Wat murals
This room, now part of the tea-room, was originally the Servants’ Hall.
Michael Dillon, Lady Iliffe’s nephew, decorated this room in 1999. He painted murals on the walls that were inspired by the ruined city of Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Lord and Lady Iliffe visited Angkor Wat on their journey around the world.
‘Because it is a tearoom the idea is to give the impression you are having a picnic within the ruins of an ancient temple, and you can also see the jungle and even the odd leopard. It is great fun to do it and Angkor Wat is very inspiring’
– Michael Dillon, painter
Modernisation of the house
The Iliffes modernised the house, installing central heating, bathrooms and a kitchen. Basildon Park has several bathrooms on the second floor of the house installed by the Iliffes, the Red Bathroom, Lady Iliffe’s Bathroom and the White Bathroom. The Iliffes repurposed small rooms, such as closets, as there was previously only one bathroom for the whole house.
Historically the 1950s kitchen was used as a bedroom by both the Sykes and Morrison families. Originally this room would have been the women’s bedroom. Later, during the Morrisons’ tenure at Basildon, James Morrison and Charles Morrison used this room as their bedroom. Architect JB Papworth would have also improved the ceiling while it was a bedroom, meaning that the ceiling as it stands is quite magnificent for a kitchen.
Lord and Lady Iliffe transformed the room into a kitchen with 1950s fitted storage and an area to prep for the lavish parties the Iliffes held. Ruth Mott, a television cook and personality, worked as a full-time cook at Basildon Park from 1970 to 1987, before becoming famous in her 70s for a TV series where she demonstrated the skills she had developed working in Victorian and wartime kitchens such as Basildon Park. The National Trust re-opened the kitchen to the public in June 2010.
Summer of Art
Immerse all the family in the rich tapestry of art and heritage at Basildon Park this summer!
Discover the captivating Summer of Art exhibition in the House at Basildon Park! Join us from 27 June to 28 August as we embark on a journey of history, culture, and creativity through the art collection.
Pictures were the main problem, and gradually we found ourselves exchanging early purchases, such as small French canvases, for larger Italian ones; they seemed to suit the house.
– Lady Iliffe, 1979
As part of their efforts to revitalise Basildon Park, the Iliffes purchased furniture, curtains and carpets to furnish their house. They were also dedicated art collectors with a wide range of styles displayed at their different homes.
At Basildon, they focussed on larger paintings to fit the proportions of the house’s rooms. Many of these paintings are of scenes from Classical mythology or religious subjects. But the collection also contains modern paintings of Lord and Lady Iliffe, as well as a large number of sketches for Graham Sutherland’s tapestry for Coventry Cathedral.
To celebrate the National Trust’s purchase of a painting, formerly owned by Lord and Lady Iliffe, 'David and Bathsheba' by Michele Rocca we are spotlighting Basildon’s impressive art collection. National Trust staff and volunteers have selected their favourite paintings from the collection and explained the reasons for their choice.
We invite visitors to start collecting artwork themselves throughout this exhibition, by taking away their favourite postcards on display around the house.
The exhibition will run from 27 June to 28 August 2023.
Summer of Art Evening Tours
To celebrate the Summer of Art exhibition at Basildon Park we are opening the house up for evening art tours throughout August with a glass of bubbly to finish.
Evening dates include Tuesday 15th August, Thursday 17th August, Tuesday 22nd August, and Thursday 24th August.
Follow the rise and fall of Basildon Park from aspirational 18th-century beginnings to its decline after the Second World War and how its fortunes recovered in the 1950s.
Discover the beautifully laid out, restored grounds that surround the house at Basildon Park. Take in the views from the terrace and pause awhile under the thatched Umbrello seat.
Enjoy food and drink and buy a reminder of your day out on your visit to Basildon Park. Pick up a tasty treat in the tea-room or grab a gardening must-have in the shop.
Historic buildings are a treasure trove of stories, art and collections. Learn more about what makes these places so special and plan your visit.
Discover some of the finest country houses and buildings in the country, with fascinating stories to tell of love and money, political intrigue and scandal.