The Rise & Decline of 'Rothschildshire'
The account that follows contains brief histories of the Rothschild family’s grand country houses that populated the Tring Salient of Hertfordshire and the area of Buckinghamshire around Aylesbury.  There were six of them, [1] five of which remain.   Aston Clinton House fell victim to the destruction of English country houses that occurred during the 20th century, a phenomenon brought about mainly by changes in social conditions.  Whether this once beautiful Victorian house would have fallen to the wrecker’s ball in the present age is difficult to say, but it’s a question that will inevitably re-emerge when the fates of the former Rothschild country houses at Mentmore and Halton – both of which are currently included in the ‘Heritage At Risk Register’ – are decided. [2]

The term ‘English country house’ describes a large house or mansion built in the English countryside; with it usually came an estate of agricultural land that was let out to tenant farmers to provide a source of revenue for the estate’s owner(s).  For reasons that will be explained, the age of the country house is now well past.  What few remain are often maintained for public viewing by the National Trust and other charitable bodies.

Country houses, such as those that form the subject of this paper, were often owned by individuals who were sufficiently affluent to possess an additional ‘town house’.  Staying in one or the other residence allowed them to follow country pursuits, such as hunting, shooting and fishing during the summer, and social functions in London during ‘The Season’ (which began with the opening of the new session of Parliament in late October and ended in June with the summer recess).  This lifestyle was not to last.

The decline of the country house began in the late 19th century when the importation of cheap foodstuffs - wheat, flour, butter, cheeses and meat - from the USA and what is now The Commonwealth began to increase significantly with the emergence of fast refrigerated steamships.  The outcome was that prices for domestic agricultural produce fell and with it the rental income from estate farms.  The nadir of this agricultural depression came in 1894-95 when prices reached their lowest level for 150 years.  By 1900 wheat-growing land had reduced to a little over 50% of the total of 1872, and this acreage continued to shrink until The First World War.  The position was made worse by death duties on landed wealth, introduced in 1894, followed by other taxes on the landed classes.  Unable to pay their tax bills, owners were forced to sell off parts of their estates.  Once the land and its rental income were lost, maintenance of the country house became less and less viable.  A further problem faced by country estates - but not a new one - was the position that arose when the owner died without a male heir, or where the male heir showed little or no interest in maintaining the place.

The final nails in the coffin were the two world wars.  Over and above the slaughter of many young men who would eventually have inherited country houses and their estates, the conflicts sometimes led to country houses and their grounds being requisitioned by the military for use in training and as various types of accommodation, such as headquarters and military hospitals.  While put to these uses they were damaged.  When eventually returned to their owners, the families no longer had the wherewithal to repair them and with no legal protection in place to ensure compensation, demolition was high on the list of options.

And so for one or more of these reasons it was not unusual for a country house (often including valuable artworks) and its estate to end its days being split up into lots and sold at public auction.  This process, which began in earnest in the early 1900s, reached its peak in the 1950s.

All these factors had played their part in the demolition of the Rothschild country house at Aston Clinton House.  All that now remains of this a splendid Victorian mansion is a substantial brick-built gateway (its former main entrance), some adjacent stable buildings, and the balustrade that once surrounded the garden at the front of the house.  At the time of writing its remaining parkland is being considered for housing development by Buckinghamshire County Council.  As for the former Rothschild country houses at Halton and Mentmore, their future is uncertain.