This weekend is The Mother's birthday weekend. Basically this means that the actual event isn't until Monday but she is using it as an excuse to have an event nearly every day up until then, and has been since Thursday. Yesterday she wanted to go to Waddesdon Manor, a place we had passed coming back from holiday last year, but never made it past the car park as you have to have timed tickets into the house and there is a coach from the car park to the main buildings- the estate is gigantinormous!!! This time we had planned ahead so it was an early start for the two hour drive to Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire.
From the car park, there are two coach stops. The first is the main house and the second is a little further down the road to the stables which house restaurants, cafes, an ice cream/waffle parlour and an animal arts exhibition. You can get a glimpse of how grand the big house is going to be from the stables, which in themselves are enormous and ornate, with intricate carvings and lots of windows. There aren't any horses there now though, and little trace that we could see of there ever being horses living there, other than the wide arched doors and water trough at one end.
After having a quick wander around and a cup of coffee, we made the (quite steep) journey up to the big house just in time for the rain to come pouring down and us to enter the hall for our timed tickets. They are quite strict about the way you enter the Manor; you cannot take any drinks in with you unless they are buried at the bottom of your bag and you promise faithfully not to retrieve them, you cannot wear any heeled shoes (with heels narrower than a postage stamp), you can only take in small bags and they must be held in front of you- but you can take photos- without flash. Which is brilliant for a blogger like me!
As is my custom when visiting interesting places, let me give you a little bit of history about the estate. Waddesdon was built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild between 1874 and 1885 as a stage setting for his lavish parties and as a background to display his enormous and varied collection of arts and possessions. The building is in the style of a French Renaissance chateau, right down to the detailing of rooms decorated with wall panels taken from Parisian houses of the 1700s.
As the house was built and furnished almost in one go, there aren't so many pieces that have been handed down through the generations; each item has been carefully selected as the best of the best, the highest quality. There are numerous paintings of beautiful women, many of them actresses, throughout the rooms, along with chandeliers dripping thousands of glass pieces hanging from nearly every ceiling; and flowers, clocks, vases, carvings, decorative screens, amusing statues and engraved glass everywhere you look.
The Rothschild's hosted many parties for royalty, celebrities and high status families, and as such needed a lot of china sets! Several of them are on display on one of the upper floors (which you reach by going up fantastic swirling spiral staircases), from the smallest egg cup to the largest soup tureen. All parts of the vast collections have been preserved very well, and this is a continuing theme at Waddesdon- started by Alice de Rotheschild, the youngest sister of Baron Ferdinand. As the Baron died childless (his wife, Evelina, died in childbirth a year after they were married), he left the estate to Alice who had often acted as his hostess and regarded herself as the protector of Ferdinand's inheritance. She established ''Miss Alice's Rules' which are guidelines for the care and preservation of the collections which even today form the foundation for those of the National Trust.'
The Mother and I were particularly interested in these beautiful embroidered panels which must have been at least a couple of metres tall. They appeared to have been created almost entirely from different coloured bugle beads, all hand stitched with thin strands of thread couched around them for the outlines. To preserve the pieces from little sticky hands, there is a thin layer of netting across the fronts of them, but you can still get close enough to view the finer details. Such fine, intricate needlework! I couldn't even begin to think how long one panel must have taken to make, let alone the five in the room!
It had just about stopped raining for a few minutes by the time we exited the Manor (by way of the gift shop- love a good postcard!) and we wandered back down towards the stables for some lunch before returning to meander through the gardens and to see the aviary.
The aviary was build by Baron Ferdinand in 1889, in a similar style to that of trelliswork pavillions designed for gardens in Versailles, and is an absolute 'must-see' in the gardens (as it was during his time at Waddesdon). They still carry out important conservation breeding projects here as all of their birds are on the endangered species list in some way or another. Walking up around the corner to the aviary, you can hear the birds before you can see them! Lots of twittering and chirping and singing going on from nearly all of the different species hiding within the beautifully ornate cages. There are about 10 different sections in total, but it has been presented almost as one continuous line, with a beautiful covered section in the middle with a fern encrusted water feature as its centrepiece. One of the birds, the Rothschild's Mynah, is named after the second Lord Rothschild, Walter (1868-1937) 'a famous zoologist who formed the largest collection of animal and bird specimens in private hands. He displayed these in a purpose-built museum on his estate at Tring (still open today). The Rothschild mynah (Leucopsar rothershildi), a snowy white bird with a startling blue eye mask native to Bali, was named for him. Waddesdon's mascot for family activities is Mini the Mynah.'
I just about managed to catch a photo of one of these special birds, which is on the top row, second in from the right in the above montage.
Also at Waddesdon (I'm starting to sound like a tourist brochure now), you can visit the wine cellars and have a go at tasting some of the wine as the Manor represents the sole UK distribution for all Rothschild family wineries- of which there are many. I'm not a fantastic wine buff, but perhaps some of you may recognise Chateau Mouton Rothschild, or Chateau Lafite Rothschild? Essentially it boils down to lots of different types of wines being made in various Rothschild-owned vineyards, and there are around 136 different ones you can buy at Waddesdon. That's a lot of wine! The cellars are also still used by the current Lord Rothschild, who can send down for as much as he likes from his collection which houses about 13,700 bottles!
There aren't extensive formal gardens here, unlike some of the more English style country houses which have various different types of garden, some formal, some less so, some completely wild. There is one big arranged flower bed and water feature at the back of the house, stepping down onto a patio overlooking a lovely grassy area with trees and a view. This particular garden is called the Parterre, and all of the reception rooms and main bedrooms look out over it as the highlight of the formal garden, more recently restored in 1994 by Beth Rothschild (hurrah for the Beth's!).
It is breathtaking to look at- the colours are insanely bright and bold in their swirling cross pattern. The tiered beds hold a fabulous display of different coloured plants which are re-planted twice a year, with a new design each time, and using around 110,000 individual plants!! I particularly like the hot pink colour against the cool marble of the statues dotted around- it reminds me very much of my holiday to Rome where the lighter stone buildings would often have pots of hot pink flowers on the walls, or the Spanish Steps leading up from the Piazza di Spagna which usually house a pot of bright Azaleas on each step.
You could probably visit this place over and over and still find artifacts of interest that you missed the visit before, there is just so much to look at and absorb. I would love to live closer to be able to see how the formal garden changes over the seasons and to observe the songbirds- without the pouring rain. Still, this is why I like to take so many photographs during my visits to places. You can spend a long time looking around a room, and think you have seen everything, but when you come home and put the photographs on a computer, it is like you are re-seeing everything, and notice little details you missed the first time around. And, the best part about being a blogger, is that you create a visual, online diary that you can return to over and over again!