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The history of Claydon House

The stone facade of the west front of the house at Claydon, Buckinghamshire
The stone façade of the west front of the house at Claydon | © National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

Claydon House has been the seat of the Verney family since 1620. The present house is almost entirely 18th-century, having undergone major redevelopment in 1757 and 1771 to rival the nearby manor house at Stowe. Today, only a fragment of the great house is still standing. Magnificent 18th-century state rooms and much of the interior woodwork and elaborate carvings found throughout the house are unique to Claydon.

The many faces of Claydon

Ornamental front view

The principal ornamental front of the house overlooks the park and the lake. It consists of a seven-bay, grey cut-stone frontage with a terrace that showcases the magnificent location of Claydon House.

North entrance

When you arrive, you’ll first come across the imposing north front of the house. It was rebuilt in around 1791 of grey cut stone to replace the damage caused by the demolition of the original rotunda and second wing.

East wing

The red-brick east wing currently houses staff offices. It overlooks the courtyard to the front and was built on the site of an older Jacobean manor house.

South view

The south view was designed in 1859 by Sir George Gilbert Scott. The large bay windows were inspired by Parthenope Nightingale’s childhood home. You can enjoy the South Lawn as part of your visit.

An ornate curving staircase made of dark wood and decorative metal work set in a grand hallway with ornate plaster details on the wall and a black and white checked floor, Claydon, Buckinghamshire
The ornate Staircase Hall at Claydon | © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Bespoke architecture

Luke Lightfoot was a brilliant and talented stonemason and carver, but not an architect. However, Lord Verney engaged him as such at Claydon, where Lightfoot used his skills to make impressive carvings, most notably in the north hall. He was a very talented carver but not a very trustworthy one and he swindled a lot of Lord Verney’s money before being dismissed.

Most of the work done by Luke Lightfoot survives today, including the painted wooden carvings in the Chinese Room, with their amazing craftsmanship.

Sir Thomas Robinson was a gentleman, architect, politician and collector. He was brought to Claydon in 1768 by Sir Ralph, 2nd Earl Verney, and he soon discovered the discrepancies in Luke Lightfoot’s work. Sir Thomas then instructed plasterer Joseph Rose to continue the decorative works at Claydon.

Joseph Rose was largely involved in the beautiful carvings found in the hall around the main staircase. His work complements the work started by Lightfoot. Rose went on to finish Claydon and work on other great properties around England including Chatsworth in Derbyshire. He was extremely well thought of, and his work was in high demand for the period. One of his descendants volunteers at Claydon today.

Ho Ho birds

You’ll find some very good examples of Georgian mouldings of the Ho Ho bird in the house. The Ho Ho bird is a mythical creature and the Japanese version of the phoenix. It’s a strange creature with a long beak, a curved neck, claws and a flowing tail. It’s said that the bird brings good luck and good fortune.

A black and white photographic print of Florence Nightingale and Sir Harry Verney sitting on a bench at Claydon, Buckinghamshire
Florence Nightingale and Sir Harry Verney at Claydon | © National Trust Images

Florence Nightingale and Claydon House

Discover the connection between ‘the lady with the lamp’ and Claydon House. Florence Nightingale is best known for her part in improving nursing standards and training from her time in the Crimean War (1854-56). In 1858 Sir Harry Verney married Florence’s sister, Parthenope Nightingale.

Sir Harry Verney’s first wife had been a great admirer of Florence. After her death Sir Harry met and married Florence’s sister Parthenope. After their marriage Florence was a regular visitor to Claydon.

After 1861 Florence was asked for advice on the building of hospitals and the training of nurses. Sir Harry gave Florence a number of rooms at Claydon to work on her numerous books on nursing and to meet important people. You can see the suite of rooms where Florence stayed. Imagine what it must have been like to visit Claydon, having lived and worked on the battlefields of the Crimea.

Florence spent many years at Claydon, particularly in the summer and although she never married or had children she was a favourite aunt to the children of Edmund Verney, Sir Harry’s eldest son.

Florence Nightingale’s life

Florence was born in the Italian city of Florence in 1820. Both she and her sister were named after their birthplaces; Parthenope is the Greek name for the city of Naples. Their parents were travelling around Europe on an extended honeymoon, when both children were born. Back in England they owned large estates and a house near London.

Early years

Florence and her sister were able to have lessons at home, as most children didn’t go to school. Mr Nightingale wanted his daughters to learn many things, including languages, geography and history. He taught them many of the lessons himself.

As Florence grew up she went with her mother to visit the sick and the poor who lived near their home in the country. In many letters and her diaries she wrote explaining how she felt she had a duty to help those around her. 

Changing attitudes

Despite disapproval from her parents and society, Florence was determined to become a nurse. Her parents were reluctant to let her go to Germany to do her training, and she was only allowed to gain valuable experience at her local hospital. Nurses in hospitals at that time had no proper training and it was not considered suitable employment for upper-class ladies.

After Florence fell ill and recovered with friends travelling in Italy and Egypt, her mother finally agreed for Florence to go to Kaiserswerth in Germany. This had to be done in secret and she promised to return home after a few months.

Beginning a new career

Friends arranged for Florence to get a position working in a nursing home for gentlewomen. This was unpaid but Florence was ready to accept the challenge.

Her father eventually relented and was eager to make peace with Florence and her chosen career path. He realised he had been hard on her and gave her the sum of £500 every year so that she could have her own home in London close to where she worked.

You can find out more about Florence at the Florence Nightingale Museum.

The haha (a type of sunken fence) and manor at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire

Discover more at Claydon

Find out when Claydon is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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An ornate curving staircase made of dark wood and decorative metal work set in a grand hallway with ornate plaster details on the wall and a black and white checked floor, Claydon, Buckinghamshire

Things to see and do at Claydon 

Discover sumptuous interiors, explore the grounds, step back in time or go on an adventure – there’s so much to see and do on a visit to Claydon.

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See history brought to life at Claydon House: sumptuous craftsmanship in 18th-century interiors, displays of historic costume – and a connection to Florence Nightingale.

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Eating and shopping at Claydon 

Set aside some time on your visit to Claydon to head for this historic courtyard – run by Claydon Estate – to relax, shop, or to enjoy a drink or a bite to eat at the Phoenix Kitchen.

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From landscape gardeners to LGBTQ+ campaigners and suffragettes to famous writers, many people have had their impact on the places we care for. Discover their stories and the lasting legacies they’ve left behind.