The Rise & Decline of 'Rothschildshire'
Waddesdon Manor North Front.
Waddesdon Manor lies some seven miles north of Aylesbury.  Once the seat of Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898) it is, arguably, the most magnificent of Rothschildshire‘s country houses. Furthermore, its contents remain substantially intact and available for the public to see.
Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-98).
Born in Paris, Ferdinand was a member of the Austrian branch of the Rothschild banking family [now extinct in its male line] and a great grandson of Mayer Amschel.  He showed little interest in the family bank, but from early in life he discovered a love for works of art.  This became an abiding passion and he was to become one of the great art collectors of his age.

Ferdinand’s relationship with his father, Baron Anselm von Rothschild, was distant, but he adored his English mother Charlotte and her death in 1859 was to him a tragedy.  Shortly afterwards – perhaps because of her English connection – he travelled to London where he decided to stay, later becoming a British subject.

A further tragedy soon followed.  In 1865 Ferdinand married his second cousin, Evelina de Rothschild, the daughter of Lionel.  In the following year his wife of eighteen months was injured in a railway accident, following which she died while giving birth to a stillborn son.  Ferdinand never remarried.  He died at the comparatively early age of 59.

Ferdinand’s father died in 1874 leaving to him a very considerable inheritance.  It was while hunting that Ferdinand first saw the magnificent views to be had from the top of Lodge Hill where Waddesdon Manor now stands.  In 1874 he bought land in Waddesdon Village from the Duke of Marlborough, later saying of the site “it had bracing and salubrious air, pleasant scenery, excellent hunting, and was untainted by factories and villadom.”  In her book REMINISENCES (pub.1922), his cousin Constance leaves an interesting account of her first encounter with Waddesdon’s “bracing and salubrious air”:

On one cold dark day, in the December of 1874, my cousins, Ferdinand and Alice, son and daughter of Anselm de Rothschild of Vienna, invited me to drive with them to Lodge Hill, six miles beyond Aylesbury, a steep eminence about 600 feet above the level of the sea – really at that time a bare wilderness, where a farmhouse, a few miserable cottages, and some hedgerow trees were standing.  The place under that grey wintry sky did not look attractive, and the roads were certainly not adapted for wheel travelling, excepting for that of farm carts.

“As we began to mount the hill our horse felt what would be required of him and sagaciously slackened speed, at last refusing to go any further; and this was not astonishing, as the wheels of the carriage were sticking fast in the mud.  So we dismounted, and, youth being on our side, we managed to struggle on for a while, gaining some idea of the view to be obtained from the top of the hill, without actually arriving at its summit.  Tired and somewhat disappointed, I exclaimed at last, ‘And is it here, Ferdie, that you intend building your palace?  Is this to be the site of your future park?’  For it was to show me the ground that he had purchased from the Duke of Marlborough that I had been invited by my cousin to take that drive on that memorable winter’s day.  And it was actually there on that bare hilltop that in 1880 the palace stood, in its park and grounds of over 3,000 acres, dominating a wide stretch of country, overlooking vast pasture-land and wooded heights.  What labour, ingenuity, patience, long-suffering on the parts of owner, architect, builder, landscape gardener, that creation demanded it is not in my province here to relate . . . . Suffice it to say that the services of a very distinguished French architect, Déstailleur, were retained, who at my cousin's request drew the plans for a château of the Renaissance period, whilst the very ornate and carefully considered garden was designed by Lainé, who also hailed from the land of France

Between 1874 and 1889 architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur [7] designed and built Waddesdon Manor based on the 16th-century French Château de Chambord. Running water and central heating were provided from the start, and electricity was introduced in 1889.  In the following year a small passenger lift was installed for Queen Victoria’s visit, but she declined to use it, not trusting in the magic of electricity.
Waddesdon Manor South Front.
Ferdinand intended the manor to house his collection of arts and antiques, and to use as a weekend retreat for holding what he described as “brilliant gatherings”, entertainments at which he and his sister Alice [8], acting as his hostess, could entertain the great and the good of the day, among them politicians [9], artists and royalty:
Bucks Herald, 17th May 1890
“. . . . Some fifteen years ago the site of the house and park was purely pastoral land, but man’s brain and work have completely changed the scene.  Cornfields have been turned into flower gardens, trees have been planted and transplanted with the most satisfactory results, and by dint of determined cultivation there has arisen a park and estate of great beauty.  The farm buildings and cottages bear witness to the fact that the welfare of those employed on the estate has not been neglected, and the army of gardeners required to keep the paths and the lawns, terraces and pleasances order, may well take a pride in the faultless landscapes to which their care is given.

Special features of the Manor are the deer enclosures and the aviary, in the latter of which are numerous rare specimens, while the area of glass is probably one of the most extensive in any country residence in England.  The elaborate system of landscape gardening has been tastefully carried out in the most artistic manner, the massing of the various shrubs being a conspicuous success, and although the period of the year is scarcely favourable to a full appreciation of some of its beauties . . . . The Queen made a thorough tour of the grounds and the orchid houses, and in the mansion itself inspected the paintings, curios, &c.  We understand that she was especially pleased with the new system of electric lighting, and had the room specially darkened that she might better witness the effect

Following Ferdinand’s death, Alice inherited both the Manor and his London House, although in later life for reasons of health she spent much of her time in the south of France.  On Alice’s death the house passed to her nephew James, who, in 1957, bequeathed the house to the National Trust together with a large part of the collections, an area of garden, and the largest endowment the Trust has ever received for its continued upkeep.  In an unusual arrangement for a Grade-I listed building, the house is managed on the Trust’s behalf by the charitable Rothschild Foundation, who continues to invest in it.
Waddesdon Manor, an interior view.
Parts of the house and grounds are now open to the public.  The contents on view include French baroque and rococo furniture, textiles and porcelain together with 18th-century English paintings by Reynolds, Gainsborough and Romney.  Genre and landscape paintings by 17th-century Dutch masters also form a significant part of Waddesdon’s splendid collection of over 300 paintings.