The history of Waddesdon

China collection at Waddesdon Manor

The Manor's history started as one man's vision, and became something that's enjoyed by thousands of visitors today. Created as a place to entertain Baron Ferdinand's famous Saturday to Monday house parties.

The Manor

In 1874 Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898) purchased the Waddesdon estate which was originally nothing but farmland. He wanted a country retreat built in the style of a Loire chateaux and soon engaged a French architect called Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur.

The foundation stone was laid in 1877, the completion of the Bachelors' Wing in 1880 and the main part of the house in 1883, which was celebrated with house parties of twenty guests.

After a few years, Ferdinand discovered that the house was too small for the number of guests he was inviting and added another wing on the west end.

The large Morning room on the ground floor and two bedroom suites above were finished in 1891.

Miss Alice de Rothschild

Ferdinand's sister, Alice (1847-1922), inherited Waddesdon when her brother died. She saw her role as protector of his creation and is best remembered for her strict rules. These rules ensured the preservation of the collection that you see today.

She was also a passionate gardener and was responsible for the 3D bedding still seen at Waddesdon in the summer.

When Alice died she passed the estate to her Parisian great-nephew, James de Rothschild (1878-1957) and his English wife, Dorothy (1895-1988). They made changes on the estate which reflected their particular interests with the construction of a gof course and a stud for racehorses.

World War II

During the Second World War, James and Dorothy moved into the Bachelor's Wing, leaving the main house to children evacuated from London. There were 100 children all under five, the first and last time there were children at the Manor. All but three rooms in the main house were emptied for their use, with James and Dorothy continuing to live in the Bachelors' wing once the war was over.

James's ultimate legacy was to preserve Waddesdon for future generations. Like his predecessors, he died childless.

Bequeathed to the National Trust

After the war, James was increasingly unwell and be began to consider Waddesdon's fate after his death. Having no descendants, and with the end of the era of grand country house entertaining, he decided to leave the Manor, its collections of national importance and 165 acres of of garden and park to the National Trust.

To maintain the bequest, James set up the largest endowment the National Trust has ever received and ensured the family's continued involvement by naming his wife as the chairwoman of the management committee.

Dorothy de Rothschild oversaw the complicated arrangements for opening the ground floor to the public in 1959, with additional areas added over the next 30 years. In 1984 she began the Centenary restoration with essential repairs to the Manor.

Waddesdon's restoration

The present Lord Rothschild took over the management of Waddesdon after Dorothy's death and greatly expanded the restoration programme. It closed from 1990 to 1994 for an extensive interior and exterior restoration, which updated the services and created exhibition and entertainment spaces on the first and second floors, and the Wine cellars.

The garden also received some attention. The Parterre was restored and other 19th century features were recreated. In 2003 both the aviary structure and aviary garden underwent a 2 year restoration project. With the redecoration of the Aviary in blue and gold, reference to the French and German 18th-century garden pavilions like those at Versailles and Potsdam that probably inspired its design.

Watch a day in the life of Waddesdon Manor