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Aston Clinton House awaiting demolition.

“I fear Waddesdon will share the fate of most properties whose owners have no descendants, and fall into decay.  May the day be yet distant when weeds will spread over the gardens, the terraces crumble into dust, the pictures and cabinets cross the Channel or Atlantic, and the melancholy cry of the nightjar sound from the deserted towers!”

Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-98)

It appears that Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, the builder of Waddesdon Manor, foresaw the fate that awaited many great English country houses during the twentieth century.




My thanks to Wendy Austin for access to her extensive private records.

                                                                                                      Ian Petticrew, June 2021.













The Decline of the English Country House

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 (also known as Green Park) fell victim to the destruction of English country houses that occurred during the 20th century, a phenomenon brought about mainly by changes in socio-economic 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.  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).  That lifestyle was not to last.

                                                                                                                                                                                         Illustrated London News, 6th Sept. 1862

Baron Lionel de Rothschilds town house at 148 Piccadilly.  It later passed to Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild and after his death to his wife Emma, Lady Rothschild, then to Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild.  The house was auctioned in 1937 and later demolished to ease traffic congestion.
The building just visible to the left is Apsley House,  formerly home to the 1st Duke of Wellington.

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 decline in farm rental income was exacerbated by other factors.  Estate duty (a tax on the capital value of land) was introduced in 1894 to be followed by other progressive taxes on the landed classes.  Unable to continue living comfortably off inherited wealth, owners were forced to sell off parts of their estates to meet their tax bills.  Once the land and its rental income were lost, maintenance of the country house became less and less viable.  During the 19th century many houses had been enlarged to accommodate the increasing armies of servants needed to cater for the famed country house lifestyle (examples of which appear in the press reports below), but less than a century later this lifestyle could no longer be afforded, while the country house had by then become of unmanageable size.  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 into lots and sold at public auction.  This process, which began in earnest in the early 1900s, reached its peak in the mid-1950s when country houses were being demolished at an estimated rate of one every five days. [England’s Lost Houses, Giles Worsley, Aurum Press].

All these factors had played their part in the demolition of the Rothschild country house at Aston Clinton (‘Aston Clinton House’).  All that remains of this once splendid Victorian mansion and estate is a substantial brick-built gateway (its former main entrance), some adjacent stable buildings, and the balustrade (photographed above) that once surrounded the garden at the front of the house.  At the time of writing its remaining parkland, barely recognisable from what it once was, 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.

The English Rothschilds

Who are the Rothschilds?

The Rothschilds are a wealthy Jewish family that rose to prominence in the second half of the 18th century.  Their ascent began in 1744 with the birth in Frankfurt of Mayer Amschel Rothschild who, from humble beginnings, went on to develop successful business and financial interests based there.  As his wealth accumulated, and seeking business opportunities further afield, in the early part of the 19th century he despatched each of his five sons to different European cities.  Nathan went to London, Calmann to Naples, Jacob to Paris, while Amschel, the eldest, remained in Frankfurt.  Close cooperation between the brothers enabled the business to grow into a pan-European network that not only handled money, but information, which gave the family a competitive edge in a field in which timely and reliable intelligence is an essential ingredient in making sound investment decisions.  Thus, the businesses prospered, creating exceptional wealth that translated into property and the creation of great country houses and estates across the Continent and beyond.


The English branch of the Rothschild banking business was founded by Mayer’s third son, Nathan Mayer (1777–1836).  Nathan first settled in Manchester circa 1798 where he set up a textile jobbing business specialising in printing on cotton, and from that beginning went on to establish the merchant bank of N. M. Rothschild & Sons in London in 1810.  Through this company Nathan made a fortune trading in the International Bonds Market.  He also dealt in gold bullion, which he developed as a cornerstone of his business, and for most of the 19th century N. M. Rothschild & Sons formed part of the biggest bank in the world.

On Nathan Mayer’s death in 1836, his eldest son Lionel Nathan (1808–1879) continued the English branch of the family business, and it is with Lionel that the family’s connection with the Vale of Aylesbury began.

By the late 19th century the English branch of the Rothschild family had acquired a number of extensive estates in the Vale of Aylesbury and at Tring, their colonisation of the area causing it to be named informally “Rothschildshire”.  The various family members commissioned leading architects to design substantial houses and/or to alter existing properties on their estates.  Of these country houses five of the six remain, two of which, Waddesdon Manor and Ascott House, now opened to the public by the National Trust.  In addition to their country houses, each family member had a palatial town residence where the most brilliant receptions and most sumptuous dinners were given, but these properties are beyond the scope of this account.



During the 1830s, Nathan Mayer’s widow, Hannah, began to complain that her sons were becoming unfit from spending so much time indoors, and that their luxurious lifestyles were causing them to gain weight.  Hannah decided that the best exercise would be the gentleman’s pastime of riding to hounds, and with that end in mind she bought some land at Mentmore in Buckinghamshire.  Thus began the Rothschild family’s invasion of what came to be named Rothschildshire.

In 1850, Nathan’s youngest son, Mayer Amschel (1818-1874), purchased more land in the Mentmore area from the trustees of the daughters of William Harcourt.  He commissioned the most fashionable architect of the day, Sir Joseph Paxton, [3] and his son-in-law George Stokes to build him a mansion on a grand scale.  Mayer Amschel’s older brothers, Lionel and Anthony, soon followed suit by acquiring land and estates in the countryside around Aylesbury.

When complete (c.1854), Mentmore Towers was one of the grandest English country houses to be built in the Victorian Era.  Situated on a prominent, elevated position in the centre of the Vale of Aylesbury, it is an amalgam of Elizabethan and Jacobean architecture – the English poet and writer Sir John Betjeman later christened the style “Jacobethan”, a term that became its accepted architectural description.  While backward-looking in style, the Mansion incorporated the most modern features, including a huge central grand hall with glazed roof, plate-glass windows and central heating.

A huntsman, horse-riding enthusiast and collector of art, the Baron saw Mentmore as a place of seclusion where he could relax, pursue his hobbies, enjoy the country air, and display his collection of fine art and antiques.  Indeed, the Mansion came to house one of the greatest connoisseur’s collections of furniture and art in the land.  The art critic and historian Elizabeth Eastlake said that it was “like a fairyland when I entered the great palace, and got at once into the Grand Hall – 40ft by 50, and about 40ft high – hung with tapestries, floored with parquet and Persian carpets.”

The Grand Hall, Mentmore.

Another visitor described Mentmore thus:

“This Palatial Residence of Baron de Rothschild introduced a new style of domestic architecture into Buckinghamshire . . . . The Mansion in built entirely of Ancestor stone, of fine quality and colour; the cornices are highly enriched; and the frieze of each order in filled in with carved panels and heads . . . . The Great Hall is about 48 feet by 40 feet, and 40 feet high, and is separated from the Sub Hall by the corridor . . . . In the Sub Hall leading to the Great Hall is a collection of beautiful Italian statuary, bronzes, and pillars of the rarest ancient marbles.  Amongst the most remarkable of these objects is a Greek statue of a Bacchante, with porphyry drapery and a beautiful bronze bust of Greek workmanship.  The Great Hall contains an infinity of interesting works of art.  From the ceiling are suspended the three Lanterns of copper gilt, surmounted by the Lion of St. Mark, which were made in the arsenal of Venice in the time of the Doge Andrea Vendremin, in 1470, and once illuminated the deck of the famous Bucentoro.  The walls are covered with twelve large well preserved and interesting panels of tapestry, the subjects representing the occupations and amusements of each month of the year.  The large chimney-piece, sculptured in black and white marble, was designed by and executed for Rubens, and formerly decorated his house at Antwerp.  There are four busts of Moors of cinque-cento workmanship in basalt, the draperies composed of Rosso antique and other rare marbles.  Also large sculptured Florentine tables of the 16th century, with magnificent antique marble slabs; and two prizes in silver with inscriptions, which were presented by King William III. to the City of Berne . . . . On the upper floor is a Boudoir, full of the most beautiful drawings, paintings, miniatures, old Sevres porcelain, and Bijoux of the time of the three Louis's, viz. XIX, XV, and XVI.”

History and Topography of Buckinghamshire, James Sheahan (1862)

Paxton, originally a gardener and an accomplished landscape designer, produced plans for the grounds, which were laid out by the foremost horticulturist of the day, Sir Harry Veitch.


Entrance gates, Mentmore.


Hannah Primrose, Countess of Rosebery

Mayer’s only child, Hannah, became a companion to her hypochondriac mother, Juliana, and during the latter’s long periods of indisposition acted as hostess at her father’s social functions (while only 17 years of age she hosted a large house party at Mentmore for the Prince of Wales).  When her father died in 1874, Hannah inherited Mentmore with its priceless art collection, his London mansion, innumerable investments, and the sum of two million pounds, making her the wealthiest woman in England.

Between 1874 and her marriage in 1878, Hannah concentrated on developing Mentmore village alongside other estate hamlets and villages including Wingrave.  At Mentmore a few buildings were retained and remodelled but most were built anew in the type of Old English vernacular style popularized by architect George Devey [4] – these are recognised by a prominent plaque inscribed with Hannah’s initials, and sometimes including the year of construction.

In 1878 Hannah married Archibald Primrose, the 5th Earl of Rosebery and a Christian; thereafter she was known as the Countess of Rosebery.  She then became a political hostess and the driving force on her husband’s path to political advancement (he was to serve as prime Minister between 1894 and 1896).  She was also known as a philanthropist.  Following Hannah’s sudden death in 1890 at the early age of 39, the Mentmore estate passed to the Rosebery family.

A Hannah Rothschild plaque.

During World War II, part of the Mansion was used to store many British art collections of national importance, including the Gold State Coach of the Royal Family.  Although much of the parkland was later sold, Mentmore remained with the Rosebery family until 1978 when, following the death of the 6th Earl in 1974, the family was faced with crippling death duties.  They offered the contents of Mentmore to the nation in lieu of inheritance taxe, but the Labour government of James Callaghan refused to accept the offer, stating that in the economic climate of the time the nation could not afford it.  The executors of the estate were therefore forced to sell the contents by public auction.

In 1977, Mayer Amschel’s collection was dispersed in one of the major art sales of the century.  Paintings by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Boucher, Drouais, Moroni and other well-known artists, and also the work of cabinet makers including Jean Henri Riesener and Chippendale were among the vast catalogue of items.  Also represented were the work of the finest German and Russian silver and goldsmiths, and makers of Limoges enamel.  Mentmore Towers was sold in the following year.

The scandal that followed the disposal of Mentmore’s artworks led to the passage of the National Heritage Act (1980), which was designed to make provision for property to be accepted more easily in satisfaction of taxation.  In 1997 the Act was extended to include property of any kind, such as that of scenic, historic, archaeological, aesthetic, architectural, engineering, artistic or scientific interest, including animals and plants which are of zoological or botanical interest.

Mentmore Towers was sold for £240,00 in 1978, becoming the headquarters for the educational charity, the Maharishi Foundation.  The building again changed owners in 1999 (for £3M) when it was purchased by investor Simon Halabi who planned to convert it into a luxury hotel.  However, following the global financial crises Halabi was declared bankrupt placing his plan in abeyance.  There are now worrying concerns about the future of this Grade I-listed country house, which is reported to require urgent work to parts of its structure, leading English Heritage to place it on their At Risk Register.



Aston Clinton House,
once the home of Sir Anthony de Rothschild.  Demolished 1956-8.


Sir Anthony Nathan de Rothschild Bt (1810-76).

. . . . He was distinguished even among his family, in all matters of business, for practical sense and sagacity; and in the administration of his great estates he combined these qualities with a generosity and kindliness of feeling not always associated with them.  His splendid house at Aston Clinton in Buckinghamshire was the constant scene of hospitality which embraced distinguished persons of all classes and professions, and some of the most interesting society of the last 30 years will always be associated with it.  He and his family were unwearying in beneficence to the poor of the neighbourhood, and always worked in cordial sympathy with the charitable labours of the clergy of the surrounding villages.  But he preferred to exert this charity in the wholesale way of encouraging labour and finding work for the industrious.  Sometimes, indeed, he would find men work in the hope of making them industrious . . . .”

Obituary, Sir Anthony de Rothschild, Bucks Herald, 8th January 1876

As travellers pass through Aston Clinton along the former Sparrows Herne Turnpike, they will probably notice a substantial village hall adjacent to what is now London Road.  The inscription in prominent letters across the tie beam that fronts the building reads “Anthony Hall 1884”.  Those unfamiliar with the area’s history might reasonably wonder “who on earth was Anthony?

Anthony Hall, Aston Clinton.
Erected by his wife in memory of Sir Anthony de Rothschild.

Anthony Hall, a grade II-listed building, was among architect George Devey’s [4] last designs.  It was built as a memorial to Sir Anthony Nathan de Rothschild Bt. by his widow Laura, who gifted it to the village.  The hall is one of a few relicts of Sir Anthony’s Aston Clinton estate, the substantial country house that formed its heart having been demolished in 1956, the only one of the six Rothschild mansions in the area to have suffered that fate (so far).

Anthony Nathan (1810-76) was Nathan Mayer’s second son.  Multilingual, he studied at universities in Germany and in France, later serving his apprenticeship in the Rothschild banking businesses in France, Frankfurt and London.  On his father’s death in 1836 he became a partner in the English branch of the family’s banking business, N. M. Rothschild & Sons.

Sir Anthony Nathan de Rothschild Bt (1810-76).

A new line of business that Anthony developed was that of refining gold bullion to separate it from impurities.  From 1809, when Nathan Mayer began to deal in bullion, the trade in this commodity had been central to the firm’s operation.  When, in 1848, a Royal Commission charged with examining the efficiency of the Royal Mint recommended that the roles of refining and coin striking be separated, and that refining be leased to an external agency, Anthony seized the opportunity to manage the Royal Mint’s bullion refinery.  On the 26th January 1852 he wrote to the Deputy Master of the Mint:

I request you will have the goodness to inform the Master of the Mint that I am ready to execute the Lease for the Refinery, and I should be obliged to you to let me know when you receive the confirmation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the conditions of the Lease, in order that the documents relative to it may be completed.”

The Treasury approved the lease of the buildings and equipment and for over a century the ‘Royal Mint Refinery’ was part of N. M. Rothschild’s business interests in England.  In 1847 Anthony was created 1st Baronet de Rothschild of Tring Park.  Having no male heir, on Anthony’s death the title passed to his nephew Nathan Mayer Rothschild, who, in 1885, was created Baron Rothschild of Tring, with which title the baronetcy remains merged.

The Rothschild family’s first interest in Aston Clinton appears to date from 1848, when the Aston Clinton estate was first offered for sale.  In considering the purchase, the London partners remained as prudent as their father and uncles had been before them.  Unless land paid 3½% on the purchase price by way of rental income, they were not interested.  “If you think that Aston Clinton is worth [£]26,000,” wrote Lionel to Mayer in 1849, “I have no objection to yr. offering it, but I think we ought always to be able to rely on 3½% clear of all charges; it is not like a fancy place, you must consider it entirely as an investment.”

The estate at Aston Clinton had been the property of the Lords Lake.  In 1838, Viscount Lake sold it to the 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, who died in the following year.  Ten years later his son put the estate up for sale, but without receiving a satisfactory offer.  Judging from the newspapers of the time, the house was then advertised ‘TO LET’.

Aston Clinton House - To LET advertisement, The Globe, 10th March 1852.

In 1853 the estate was acquired by Sir Anthony de Rothschild, for in her Reminiscences his daughter Constance records that:

Constance Lady Battersea (1912)

My father, being very fond of shooting and hunting, was fortunate in finding in that county [Bucks] a small house lying just outside the Vale of Aylesbury - that splendid hunting ground - and under the beech woods of the Chiltern Hills, where he had good pheasant shooting.  There we settled down in 1853, spending six months of each year at Aston Clinton . . . . The house was unpretentious at first, but comfortable; as time went on, however, it was enlarged and re-enlarged, finally covering quite a substantial piece of ground.

While Constance claims the house was “enlarged”, she might be referring to a house that was already there the subject of the ‘TO LET’ advertisement or to later enlargements to an entirely new house built by her father, for the Supplement to the English Cyclopedia (Charles Knight, 1869) states that:

Aston Clinton House, the seat of the Lords Lake, has been pulled down and a much larger mansion erected on the site for the present lord of the manor, Sir A. de Rothschild, Bart., M.P.

James Sheahan in his History and Topography of Buckinghamshire (1862) also talks about Sir Anthony having erected a “splendid mansion” on the site of the “ancient Manor-house of the Lord Lakes”, implying that Aston Clinton House was newly built.  Regardless of its starting point, at the time Sir Anthony and his family took up occupation at Aston Clinton, the architect George Henry Stokes and the builder George Myers were at work on nearby Mentmore Towers, so it is unsurprising to learn that the pair were invited to undertake the work on Aston Clinton House that Constance refers to.  Sheahan, writing circa 1862, describes the house as follows:

“The ancient Manor-house of the Lord Lakes (Aston Clinton House) was surrounded by a moat, and Sir Anthony de Rothschild has recently erected a splendid mansion on its site.  This beautiful structure is situated under the base of the Chiltern Hills, and is a large square pile with four fronts – the principal one being of Grecian Doric design.  On the North West side is a handsome conservatory with a dome of curvilineal form, which, with the sides, is filled with plate glass.  A long corridor leads to the principal apartments, which are fine and spacious and contain a rare and valuable collection of articles of vertu.  A considerable quantity of rich tapestry adorns the walls.”

Over time the house was extended to include a billiard room, offices and the conservatory mentioned by Sheahan.  The Bucks Herald’s report of the 1873 visit by the Prince of Wales mentions that “a new room to the Mansion had been specially added” and that “covers were laid for 24 in the new dining room”, illustrating that the extensions covered quite a number of years.

The Billiard Room.

George Devey undertook later architectural work on the house and on the estate, such as the park gateway (in Stablebridge Road) together with the adjacent lodge and stables; a number of estate cottages; Anthony Hall (referred to above); and the Chiltern Hills waterworks (acquired from the Rothschilds by the Chiltern Hills Spring Water Company in 1866):

The other day I went over to see the sanitary improvements carried out by Sir Anthony Rothschild in his cottages at Aston Clinton and adjoining villages.  I found that in each cottage, water brought from the Chiltern Hills had been laid on.  It is not everyone who can, in this particular, follow the example of Sir Anthony, or who, if willing, has a public water works so near at hand.  I have mentioned it, because on inquiry of the cottagers, I found that it was a boon highly prized.

The Farmer’s Magazine, Volume 76, 1874

Returning to the family, in 1840 Anthony married Louisa Montefiore (1821-1910), daughter of the Jewish banker and philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore.  Lady de Rothschild was also a philanthropist and became a founding member of the Union of Jewish Women.  She had two daughters, Constance (Baroness Battersea, 1843-1931), wife of property developer and Liberal Party politician Cyril Flower (Lord Battersea, 1843-1907); and Annie Henrietta (1844-1926), who married the politician the Hon. Elliot Constantine Yorke (1843-1878), son of Charles Yorke (4th Earl of Hardwicke).  Both daughters inherited their parents’ sense of moral responsibility, both being active in the temperance movement and in philanthropic enterprises.

From an early age Constance, in particular, took an interest in children’s education:

It was about that time [c. 1859] that, my father asking me what I should like to have for a birthday present, I boldly answered, An Infants’ School.  My request was granted, and I was allowed to lay the first stone of the new building.  I must add that the capital teaching in this school, with the songs and recitations of the infants, greatly entertained my dear father for many years.  It is not a little interesting to record here that Matthew Arnold was our first Inspector, and became one of our greatest friends.

Reminiscences by Constance Lady Battersea (1922)

As with the other Rothschildshire houses, Aston Clinton saw its share of visits by personalities of the day, including Robert Browning, Lord Tennyson, Gladstone, Disraeli, Matthew Arnold and Thackeray, while distinguished artists such as Sir Charles Hallé (pianist) and Joseph Joachim (violinist) were invited to perform at the family’s parties.  Sir Anthony’s little daughters could take a survey course in nineteenth century English political and literary history simply by walking through their father’s drawing room.  But even for a man of Sir Anthony’s wealth, entertaining must sometimes have proved expensive:

The Drawing Room.

Bucks Herald, 11th January 1873 (extract)

During the present week Sir Anthony and Lady de Rothschild have been honoured by a visit from the Prince of Wales at their seat at Aston Clinton.  Great preparations had been made for the reception of His Royal Highness and suite; a new room to the Mansion had been specially added and other arrangements effected for the better accommodation of the Royal visitor, whose stay lasted from Tuesday until Saturday morning . . . . Covers were laid for 24 in the new dining room.  It is impossible, by any mere description, to do justice to the artistic arrangements of this splendid room, and we would only say that everything which taste and skill could accomplish was brought to bear in its construction and decoration, and to make it worthy of the reception of the Royal party. . . . On Wednesday night a grand ball was held, which was attended by between 200 and 300, including many of the nobility, gentry, and clergy of the district. Coote and Tinney’s hand was in attendance, to whose inspiring music dancing commenced, and was kept up until a late hour on Thursday morning . . . . Thursday morning did not turn out quite so bright as was wished; still the weather did not deter the Prince from attending the meet of Baron Rothschild's hounds at the Wingrave Cross-roads. His Royal Highness left Aston Clinton at about 12 o'clock, in a carriage, accompanied by Sir Anthony, and the Ladies Tankerville and Royston, with the Misses de Rothschild on horseback. The Prince had an opportunity of seeing the village of Aston Clinton, and the villagers were everywhere anxious to catch a glimpse of His Royal Highness as he drove through; and could the prince have contrasted the place now with its condition before the name of Rothschild became connected with it, he would have seen an immense change, and have been able to realise why it is that Sir Anthony and Lady de Rothschild are so deservedly popular and respected by their neighbours and dependents, and especially by the village poor.

Anthony left no male heirs, so on his death, under the terms of the baronetcy, the title passed to his nephew Nathan Mayer. [5]  In 1885 Nathan was elevated to the House of Lords and created Baron Rothschild of Tring, a title to which the baronetcy was then merged.  In the period following Anthony’s death, Constance is believed to have made further alterations and extensions to the house and garden including a redesigned stable block and a ‘Fairy Glen’ water feature.  The kitchen garden was relocated from the southwest of the house to the site of the old manor house in the north of the park, a new parterre being built in its place.

Aston Clinton House, photograph from the auction catalogue, 1923.

Upon Louisa’s death in 1910, Aston Clinton reverted to the Rothschild Estate and the three sons of Anthony’s brother Lionel jointly inherited the interest.  Constance and Annie maintained the estate until the First World War, staying there periodically during the summer months.  On the outbreak of the First Word War, the family lent the estate to the War Office and it became the headquarters of the 21st Infantry Division:

“During the early months of the Great War, in 1914-15, Aston Clinton House, our old home, was given over to the Commanding Officer of the Twenty-first Division, then encamped on the Halton estate.  It was there that first Sir Edward Hutton and later General Forestier-Walker was quartered with his stuff.  I spent many week-ends with my military tenants, and made some good friends amongst them.

One fine summer’s day I stood at the crossing of the roads, near the town of Missenden, watching the departure of the Division, marching off to join the army abroad.  With the deepest regret I heard, as time went on, that some whom I had known well and learnt to look upon as friends could never be welcomed back again by me, as they had laid down their lives for their country.”

Reminiscences by Constance Lady Battersea (1922)

Training took place on the Aston Clinton and adjoining Halton estates, but the new training camp - under canvas - soon became waterlogged, forcing the division into billets in the locality until hutments had been erected:

Four brigades of field artillery and one heavy battery received their advanced training in the grounds of Aston Clinton House in the spring and summer of 1915, including extensive gas offensive and defensive training.  Final inspection of the division by Lord Kitchener occurred in August 1915 and the move to France took place from 2 to 13 September 1915.

Aston Clinton House, Wikipedia

Following the war, the Aston Clinton estate was returned to the family. By 1923, Lionel’s three sons had died and the estate had passed to Charles.  When Charles died in 1923, his executors, concerned at the rising cost of its upkeep, put the estate on the market and it was disposed of in sales in 1923 and 1924.

Auctioneer's summary of accommodation from the house sale in 1923.

The house was bought by Dr Albert Edward Bredan-Crawford who, from 1924 to 1930, ran Aston Clinton School, a school for boys with learning difficulties.  Between September 1925 and February 1927 the young novelist Evelyn Waugh spent several unhappy terms there as a teacher.  He thought the house ugly and the park beautiful. [6]

Above, Aston Clinton Park.  Below, the Lake.

In December 1930 the school was put up for sale by auction.  In April 1931 the estate reopened as the Aston Clinton Sport and Country Club, having been bought for £23,000 by a syndicate in which the previous owner, Dr Crawford, was chairman.  The club was to offer a “landing ground for light aeroplanes”, 9-hole golf course, swimming pool and facilities for hunting, riding, tennis, squash, archery and croquet.  There was also accommodation for 60 resident guests.  Although the venture got off the ground it didn't pay, and the Club went into liquidation in October 1931.

In 1933, Aston Clinton became the Howard Park Hotel run by Stanley Cecil Howard, the son of a well-known hotelier.  According to the advertisements it was ‘a first-class country hotel’ complete with a landing strip for light aeroplanes, and,  ‘A week-end spent in these luxurious quiet surroundings is well spent, and the hours will slip by . . . . broken by an occasional dance in the wonderful oak ballroom . . . .’  In June 1938 the house became the Green Park Hotel, the earlier business having failed (Stanley Howard was declared bankrupt in 1939).  When war came, the Hotel appears to have had a number of uses including a hospital for RAF war wounded and temporary premises for OXO Ltd and the Ecko Radio Company (who were working on RADAR development).


Awaiting the wrecking ball, c.1956.

Following the war the history of the house is unclear.  The mansion briefly re-opened as a hotel (in September 1946 the Sale of Entire Contents and Catering Equipment of Green Park Hotel, Aston Clinton was advertised), but in the early 1950s the building was badly damaged by fire and, between 1956 and 1958, the building was demolished. [6a] The estate was then acquired by Buckinghamshire County Council and opened as Green Park, in which a county training facility and sports complex were erected on the site of the former mansion.




Tring Park Mansion, from the South; the Ballroom is on the left.

The history of the Manor of Tring extends back to Domesday, when William the Conqueror gave it to Count Eustace II of Boulogne, who fought with him at Hastings.  In the centuries that followed the estate passed through a number of influential owners including the Crown until, in 1679, it was granted by Charles II to Henry Guy (1631-1710), Secretary to the Treasury.  At some time during the 1680s Guy commissioned - it is thought - Sir Christopher Wren to design for him a substantial country house. Wren’s input is by no means certain, but if the design was his, what emerged is believed to be one of only two such properties, the other being ‘Winslow Hall’ (Winslow, Buckinghamshire) that Wren designed for William Lowndes, another Secretary to the Treasury.

Tring Park Mansion - believed to be the original Wren design, south front c.1700.

In 1705, the Tring Park Estate was acquired by Sir William Gore (1675-1739)
, one-time Lord Mayor of London and a wealthy banker.  Following Sir Williams death in 1707, the estate was inherited by his eldest son, William junior, who petitioned that the route of the main road, which crossed Tring Park, be moved to the north side of the Mansion because (it is believed) he disliked traffic passing his dining room windows.  An “inquisition” conducted before the Sheriff for Hertford with a jury approved the change and the main road was re-routed through the town.  During the 1820s further changes were made to the course of the road that correspond to the route followed today by, respectively, Tring High Street, Western Road and Aylesbury Road.

Tring Park remained in the Gore family until 1786, when Charles Orlando Gore sold the Estate to Drummond Smith (1740-1816), third son of John Smith and Mary Ransom, his father being described variously as “a merchant of London” and a “banker” depending on where you look.  Drummond married Mary Cunliffe in 1786; she died in 1804 and in the same year he was created 1st Baronet of Tring Park –  it is not known for what services he received this preferment.  In 1805 Drummond remarried, his second wife being the Hon. Elizabeth Monckton (d. 1835), daughter of William Monckton, second Viscount Galway.

According to a note published by the Rothschild Archive, during the 30 years in which Drummond Smith occupied Tring Park . . . .

“. . . . he made extensive changes both to the park and the house, which until that time had remained unaltered from Wren’s original design.  The contours of the parklands were smoothed and flattened to present a more naturalistic outlook in keeping with the style of Capability Brown, and the interior of the house was extensively remodelled along the entire south range of reception rooms with the exception of the library, which retained its seventeenth century ceiling.  The drawing room and sitting rooms were given moulded and carved plaster ceilings in the rococo style, complete with cherubs and garlands.”

In the 1780s, Drummond Smith moved the main entrance to the east side, where he had a porte cochère built,
while the original brick exterior was rendered to give the impression that the house was built of stone.

Another view of the Drummond Smith house.  It is not known when the conservatory was built -
in the Rothschild rebuild (1880s), the conservatory was replaced by a ballroom.

Writing in the Topography of Great Britain, G. A. Cooke describes the Mansion in this period so:

“Adjoining, to Tring, upon the south side of the road, is Tring Park, the beautiful and extensive demesne of Sir Drummond Smith, who was raised to the rank of a baronet in the summer of 1804. — The dwelling-house is spacious, elegant and commodious, pleasantly situated, and commanding, especially to the south, many rich and extensive prospects.  The apartments are handsomely furnished, and in several of them there are some good paintings, among which we cannot avoid noticing a singular whole length of Queen Elizabeth, which hangs in the small drawing-room upon the right of the hall.  This painting is not improbably a copy of that by Zucchero . . . . The Ballroom, which is situated over the hall, is a handsome room, illuminated by a handsome dome.  Tring Park contains about 350 acres of excellent land, beautifully diversified by hill and dale, richly wooded, and well stocked with deer.”

From documents held in the National Archives it appears that Drummond and his elder brother Joshua set up as timber merchants at Lambeth, and from 1770 and for some years thereafter did business with the Admiralty.  Drummond’s name also appears in the list of the company of Merchants trading to Africa.  In 1791 Joshua, who was looking for a Parliamentary seat, made a gift of £500 to Devizes for its improvement and in 1803 made another of £1,000, which suggests that he and Drummond were successful in business.  A further source of Drummond’s apparent wealth might have been his second wife, whose first husband had “acquired a large fortune in India” [The Baronetage of England (1819)].

Sir Drummond Smith died without issue in 1816 and his executors put the Tring Park Estate up for sale by auction.  The following is the auctioneer’s published description of this opulent property and its considerable estate as it then existed:

“Tring Park.—Noble Mansion, Manor, and Tithe-free Estate, near Berkhampstead, Herts.
—By Mr. CHRISTIE, at the Auction Mart. in Bartholomew-lane, on Tuesday August 15, precisely at One, by order of the Executors of Sir Drummond Smith, deceased . . . .
. . . . THE very Capital, Valuable, and Highly Desirable TRING PARK ESTATE, Tithe-free, excepting about 284 Acres, in the Parishes of Tring, Wigginton and Albury, Herts; and of Marsworth, Cheddington, and Drayton Beauchamp, Bucks, five miles from Great Berkhampstead, and 31 from London; consisting of the Manor of Tring, with its Rights, Royalties, Quit Rents, Fines, Heriots, and Right of Sporting over 8000 Acres and upwards, abounding with Game, and with extensive Covers, reserving the same; noble Mansion, a regular substantial Pile of Building, containing a magnificent entrance hall, 30 feet high, and 60 feet long, paved with marble and terminated by a double screen of columns, forming an approach to a grand staircase, which ascends to a music- gallery, or ball-room, 75 feet long by 16, intersecting the first-floor; a grand range of lofty Apartments on each side of the Hall, among which are dining and drawing rooms, each near 37 by 22 feet, library, billiard room, &c. &c.; abundant accommodation on the bed-chamber and attic floors for a numerous Family of distinction, and for a large establishment of Domestics; stabling, pleasure-grounds, kitchen garden, hot-house, ice-house-, &c. the Mansion seated on a commanding spot, environed by a beautiful park, which is moulded by the hand of nature into swelling lawns, and crowned by a lofty amphitheatre of woods, among the finest in the kingdom; the foregoing on lease to Edmund Yates, Esq. now four years unexpired; several Hill Farms, with Covers for Game, and other Farms, with Land of superior quality in the Vale, with the Grand Junction Canal and the collateral Cut to Wendover passing through them; also the Tolls of the Market, the Market-house, and Freehold Dwellings in the town of Tring, and Enclosure contiguous, with store fish ponds, and command of water capable of turning a water corn-mill. A part of the latter Tithe-free Farms, and the Tithes of 1148 Acres in Wigginton, are held by renewable lease of Christ Church, Oxford, and Trinity College, Cambridge, being, altogether, a Demesne and Estate of Four Thousand Three Hundred and Fifty Acres, in hand, or let to tenants on leases, or at will, and forming a truly distinguished Property for a Family Residence and Investment.—Particulars may be had of Mr. Nockolds, at Tring, at whose Office a Map of the Property may be seen; Particulars may also be had of Mr. Wrotham, Solicitor, Castle-court, Holborn; at the King
s Arms, Berkhampstead; at the Auction Mart; and of Mr. Christie, who will also shew a Map of the Estate.”

Presumably the lot failed to reach its reserve, for in August 1820 Tring Park Estate was sold by private contract to William Kay, [11]  a Manchester textile magnate. 
The story goes that “having inspected the estate, he (William Kay) called at the auctioneer’s offices and asked the price.  ‘One hundred thousand guineas’ was the answer, and Mr Kay arranged a meeting for the next day.  After some conversation, Mr Kay pulled out his watch and said ‘Gentlemen, it is now ten minutes to twelve.  I make you an offer of eighty thousand guineas, and I must have an answer, ‘yes or no’, by 12 o’clock”.  However it happened, Kay’s offer was accepted at what was considered to be an extremely low price.

Kay never occupied the Mansion, preferring his London address (York Terrace, Regent’s Park) instead, and he let the it continuously to his relatives and other tenants including Drummond’s niece Augusta and her children.  Writing in October 1828, Augusta’s daughter Frances had this to say about their  landlord: “Our landlord Mr. Kay has treated us with rather more visits than we wish for.  He is offensively civil, but there is an easy vulgarity in his manner, which is almost intolerable.  And yet we want to keep on good terms with him to remain here.”  The Smiths remained as tenants at Tring Park until 1833.

Tring Park Mansion.
The North Front as rebuilt by either George Devey or W. R. Rogers (it is unclear which) during the 1880s.

Another tenant was Nathan Mayer Rothschild with whom Kay may have become acquainted during Rothschild’s time in the textile trade in Manchester.  Nathan Mayer first rented Tring Park Mansion as a summer retreat in the 1830s.  The new London & Birmingham Railway, which reached Tring in October 1837, gave, by the standards of the time, quick and comfortable access to the Capital and its financial markets.  In September of the following year the line was completed throughout, making Birmingham and (via the new Grand Junction Railway) the North-West of England similarly accessible.  It is possible that these rapid transport communications influenced the Rothschilds in their choice of Tring as a base for their hunting and shooting pastimes, and eventually their purchase of the Tring Park estate when it became available.

The High Street entrance gates to the Mansion, long since removed.

Tring Park Mansion remained in the Kay family [12] until 1872 when it was sold at auction to Lionel Nathan de Rothschild for £230,000.  With the Mansion came its 3,643 acre estate, which included the manors of Miswell, Hastoe, Dunsley and Willstone.  Following Lionel’s death in 1879, the estate was inherited by his eldest son Nathaniel who, in 1885, was created 1st Baron Rothschild of Tring, the first Jewish peer to sit in the House of Lords.

The Morning Room.

Using designs by the Rothschild’s family architect George Devey [4], Nathaniel made considerable extensions and improvements to the house.  These included encasing Wren’s design in French Renaissance dress, faced with red brick and lavish stone dressings, dormer windows, and slated mansard roofs.

Bucks Herald, 30th October 1897.

“The Prince of Wales’ visit to Tring Park, Lord Rothschild’s beautiful seat . . . . took place on Saturday, and was the occasion of a great and loyal demonstration by the people of Tring in honour of Lord Rothschild and his Royal guest.  Tring Park Mansion, a palatial and substantial structure, built more than 200 years ago, but much improved and enlarged by the present owner, stands in a grandly-wooded deer park among the Chiltern Hills . . . . The Estate is managed upon the most modern principles.  The Tring Park Jersey herd and the Hampshire Down flock occupy a prominent position in the estimation of judges and purchasers.  The dairy, the stud farm, and other establishments, under the energetic control of Mr. Richardson-Carr, are models of what can be accomplished by the judicious employment of capital.

“This was the Prince’s first visit to Tring, though he has passed through it several times when visiting other members of the Rothschild family in the district . . . . the last time was in January, 1884, when his Royal Highness was visiting Halton as the guest of Mr. Alfred de Rothschild . . . . During his visit the Prince paid a visit of inspection to the Hon. Walter Rothschild’s zoological museum, and evinced much interest in his natural history collection of more than European renown.  A visit was paid to the Home Farm, where the Jersey cattle and shire horses were paraded before H.R.H., who noticed particularly Paxton, a magnificent three-year-old grey horse.  In the afternoon he drove to Aston Clinton, and paid the Dowager Lady Rothschild a visit.  On Monday the party shot over the reservoirs at Wilstone and Marsworth, a bungalow having been erected and other arrangements made for their accommodation.  As the reservoirs cover about 500 acres, and as the water-fowl are carefully preserved, the eight guns were pretty busy, and some capital sport was had.

“The Prince left Tring Park at 3.30 on Monday afternoon, in order to travel to London by a special [train] at 3.40, a vast crowd assembling outside the avenue to give him a parting cheer, and to wish him, as did the motto on the avenue gates, God Speed.”

To Nathaniel’s great disappointment his eldest son Lionel Walter had little interest in the family’s banking business –  Walter’s obsessive interest lay in zoology, a field in which he gained international recognition.  Despite his disappointment, in 1892, as a 21st birthday present, Nathaniel presented Walter with a museum building on the edge of Tring Park in which to house his collection.  When Walter died in 1937, he left his collections, the museum building,  its contents and the surrounding land to the Natural History Museum in London.  Part of the Natural History Museum at Tring is now open to the public.

Nathaniel Mayer Rothschild
1st Baron Rothschild GCVO, PC (1840-1915)

Lionel Walter Rothschild
2nd Baron Rothschild FRS (1868-1937)

Having eventually recognized that his son was unsuited to life as a banker and head of the family, in due course Nathaniel disinherited Walter in favour of his younger son, Charles.  Accordingly, when Nathaniel died the house and estate passed to Charles and, on his death in 1923, to his son Nathaniel Mayer Victor.  On Walter’s death in 1937, Victor became the 3rd Baron Rothschild of Tring, but he had no interest in maintaining the estate.  Although the Rothschild family retained the Mansion and some of its parkland, from the early 1920s onwards the estate, which consisted of farms, smallholdings, allotments, and cottages and shops in Tring and the surrounding area, was sold piecemeal . . . .

During the Second World War the Mansion was used by N. M. Rothschild & Sons, when more than half of the clerical staff together with the current records were moved to the comparative safety of Tring Park.  In 1945, the Rothschild Bank vacated the Mansion and the Rothschild family permitted the premises to be used on a permanent basis as an independent co-educational school offering specialist courses in the performing arts for 8–19 year olds.  Tring Park Mansion eventually became the ‘Tring Park School for the Performing Arts’, a use that it retains today.




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.




Ascott House South Front.

“Ascott became well known as a perfect weekend house for tired statesmen and men of business, and my cousins were the very centre of much pleasant and varied society during the whole of their married lives.  But I rejoiced particularly in the fact that there the old Rothschild traditions were well maintained, and that the relationship between landlord and tenants was so perfect.”

REMINISCENCES by Constance Lady Battersea (1922)

Waddesdon Manor and its contents may lay claim to being the most magnificent of the Rothschildshire houses, but Ascott House with its terraced lawns, panoramic views to the Chilterns, specimen and ornamental trees, mirror image herbaceous borders, impressive topiary (including a box and yew sundial) and, in season, a sea of daffodils, takes the prize for botanical splendour.

Ascott is a hamlet near Wing in Buckinghamshire. In 1575 Robert Dormer (1551-1616) succeeded to the considerable lands of his father in Buckinghamshire and elsewhere. Ascott Hall, as it was then known, was built in ‘Wing Park’ adjoining the village and became the Dormers’ Mansion.

Dormer was succeeded by his grandson Robert, later 1st Earl of Caernarvon, who added a “noble apartment” [Historic England] to the house to the design of Inigo Jones.  The title Earl of Caernarvon became extinct with the death of the 2nd Earl in 1709, and the manor of Wing passed to the Stanhope family.  Sir William Stanhope, who was given the manor by his father, allowed the Hall to fall into ruin and it was demolished, probably during the late 18th century.  Around 1800 its foundations were cleared away and the bricks used for road repairs around Wing.

Following the hall’s demolition no building occupied the park until 1860, when a farmhouse built of red brick and in the old English style was erected together with farm buildings.

The first Ascott House - an old farmhouse.
The Sketch, 25th May 1904.

In 1873 Baron Mayer Amschel de Rothschild of the neighbouring Mentmore Towers estate bought the farm, which, on his death in the following year was bequeathed to his nephew Leopold.

“Adjoining the Bucks estates, within two miles of Leighton Buzzard, surrounded by property belonging to the then Lord Overstone, stood a charming old farmhouse of the eighteenth century, in the very centre of the hunting country. This was acquired by my Uncle Lionel, and after his death became the property of his son Leopold. In time the old farmhouse blossomed out into a picturesque, very original, many-roomed, glorified cottage, with a beautiful garden that was evolved from the fields; the view over the Vale being a very extensive one, including an enchanting glimpse of the Mentmore towers.

Leopold acquired by degrees most of the land round the place, and it was a happy day for Wing and the neighbouring villages when he became landlord. The adjoining fields of Southcote proved very valuable as nurseries for young race-horses, whilst the kennels for the staghounds and the very spacious stables made the whole property an ideal residence for a man of sporting tastes and most hospitable intents. Who would be the fortunate lady to reign as Queen over this little Paradise? There were several . . . .”

REMINISCENCES by Constance Lady Battersea (1922)

. . . . of which the beautiful Italian Marie Perugia (1862-1937) stood out, for she was married to Leopold in 1881, thereby breaking the tradition of marriage to a Rothschild cousin. The wedding was one of the social events of the season and was attended by many famous guests including Disraeli and the Prince of Wales, who signed the register in the Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street, becoming the first member of the Royal family to attend a Jewish service.

Ascott House in its second stage.
Photo Payne & Son, Aylesbury.


Leopold de Rothschild, CVO.

Leopold intended to use Ascott House as a lodge during the hunting season and also for entertaining his circle of influential friends and contacts.  Realising the limitations imposed by its modest size, in 1874 he employed the architect George Devey to enlarge it.  Devey, who had worked on other Rothschild projects, drew up plans for an Old English or Jacobean style house.  Taking the original farmhouse as the core, he created an informal, sinuous range of gables, chimneys and half-timbering.  He was also responsible for the large cottages on the Green near the entrance, now the Estate Offices. Devey was still working on the house at his death in 1886, when his partner James Williams took over the project.  Although further half timbered extensions continued to be added to this house as late as the 1930s, Ascott House is probably Devey’s greatest monument.
While construction was in progress the gardens and much of the park were laid out. A keen gardener, Leopold took the advice of the eminent horticulturalist Sir Harry Veitch and planted some remarkable trees and shrubs, chosen for their magnificent autumn colours, together with an evergreen sundial in box and Irish yew, which remains today.

Mr. Leopold de Rothschild set himself an ambitious task, that of creating a garden, or series of gardens which should recall no one style, but which should, on the contrary, include the graces and the special charms of every period. To say that he has been successful is understating the truth, and it may he doubted if there is anywhere in the Temperate Zone a happier mingling of the formal with the natural . . . . Mr. de Rothschild is in the true sense of the word s tree-fancier, and Ascott has long been famed for its superb trees and shrubs, which include some remarkable examples of the topiarist
s art. In the more formal section of the grounds quaintly clipped yews are a distinctive feature, as are also the stretches of beautifully kept green turf and the grass-paths. All interested in sun-dial literature have heard of the evergreen sun-dial at Ascott; the figures are grown in golden yew, at each corner is a heart-shaped bed, and beyond the figures the moto — Light and Shade by turns, but Love always.

The Sketch, 25th May 1904.

When Leopold died early in 1917 the house passed to Anthony Gustav de Rothschild (1887-1961), the third and youngest of Leopold and Marie’s three sons.  Anthony made numerous alterations to the house, updating the plumbing and heating systems, enlarging some windows and adding others, and constructing special recesses and vitrines to house his collections.

In 1950 Anthony transferred ownership of the house and grounds to the National Trust, Although Ascott remains the countryside residence of the de Rothschild family, parts of it are now open to the public.




Halton House constructed by William Cubbitt and Co. for Alfred de Rothschild.

Photo 1892.

About 3 miles to the South-West of Tring lies the village of Halton.

In the latter part of the 10th century the manor of Halton appears to have been in the possession of the monastery of Christchurch, Canterbury.  Following the Norman Conquest it passed through a variety of owners including the Crown, the Church, and several notable families.  By the 18th century it was owned by the Fermors who, in 1720, sold it to Francis Dashwood (later the 1st Baronet).

The manor remained in the Dashwood family until 1853, when the 5th Baronet sold it to Lionel de Rothschild.  Its contents having been auctioned in 1849 to clear Dashwood family debts, the 1853 sales comprised the manor house, the grounds around it, and parkland and woodland to the north of the Wendover Arm Canal.  Lionel did nothing of significance with the estate which, following his death in 1879, was inherited by his second eldest son, Alfred.

Alfred Charles Freiherr de Rothschild, CVO.

Alfred was well educated, having attended Trinity College, Cambridge where he formed a lasting friendship with the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII).  He was also a competent performer on the piano and violin as well as a connoisseur of fine art, which led him becoming a Trustee of the National Gallery and the Wallace Collection.  At the age of 21 he took up employment at the Rothschild Bank in London, where he learnt the business of banking from his father and made valuable contacts in European banking circles.  For twenty years he also served as a director of the Bank of England.

On inheriting the Halton estate Alfred commissioned William Cubitt & Co. [10] to design and build a new house, and oversee the project.  Alfred, a confirmed bachelor and committed city dweller, intended Halton House to be a country retreat where he could undertake weekend entertaining on what most mortals would consider a ‘lavish’ scale.  The old Dashwood house lay in Halton to the west of St. Michael’s Church.  It was demolished and the village transformed, with attractive properties (probably to designs by George Devey) built in the ‘Rothschild style’ to house Alfred’s tenants and servants.

Work on the new house was completed in July 1883.  What emerged was a house in the style of a French chateau, perhaps influenced by his cousin’s design for nearby Waddesdon Manor; it did not meet with universal acclaim.  One of Gladstone’s private secretaries, for instance, described it thus; “an exaggerated nightmare of gorgeousness and senseless and ill-applied magnificence” although he admitted later that “lighted up and full of well-dressed people, it appeared quite tolerable”.  However, the Scottish architect Eustace Balfour was scathing:

“I have never seen anything more terribly ugly.  Outside it is a combination of a French chateau and a gambling house.  Inside it is badly planned and gaudily decorated.  Oh! but the hideousness of everything, the showiness, the sense of lavish wealth thrust up your nose!  The coarse mouldings, the heavy gilding always in the wrong place, the colours of the silk hangings.  Eye hath not seen nor pen can write the ghastly coarseness of the sight.

Bucks Herald, 19th January 1884.

“The imposing Mansion in white stone, which stands on a commanding eminence under the shadow of the Chilton Hills, on the road from Aston Clinton to Wendover, has this week been the scene of a series of brilliant gathering and festivities on the occasion of the visit of his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to the newly-built residence of Mr. Alfred de Rothschild in this county.

“Halton Mansion, the residence in question, adds another to the many palatial homes of the Rothschilds in Bucks, and must now be numbered as one of the most imposing of them.  It was begun about three years ago and finished only in July last, a vast expenditure having been made with regard to the furniture and appointments, in addition to a lavish outlay on the building itself.  The Mansion and its surroundings are truly of a princely character, and this week science has lent its aid to art and nature to make them still more attractive.  The various apartments at night have been lit by the electric light, softened down in incandescent lamps to a state in which many people thought it never could be brought when Mr. Edison first gave the result of his researches in lighting by electricity to an astonished world.  The country for a great way round Hilton has been lit up by the electric light, which shed its many lustrous rays from arc lamps on the Mansion towers.  The charming grounds, laid out with faultless taste, to the north-west of the house, and encircling amidst their wealth of trees a magnificent fountain, were after dusk ablaze with light.  The flower beds, the grass plats, the many brilliant objects around, and the waters of the fountain throwing up the Prince of Wales’s Feathers, in liquid form, above the trees which formed the background, could all be seen as though the light of day were upon them.

“This was how the Heir Apparent found Halton on Tuesday, and that he was pleased with all he saw was not to be wondered at, even in the case of one such as he, whose eyes so often rest upon sights and sounds of dazzling brilliancy.”

Lavish entertainment continued at Halton until July 1914, when it ceased with one last big house party.  In the following month Britain declared war on the Central Powers, thereby estranging Continental branches of the Rothschild family.

Following the commencement of hostilities, Alfred offered the military the use of his house and it was turned into an officer’s mess with an army training camp set up in the grounds.  The 21st Yorkshire Division was the first to be billeted at Halton and it was followed by many others.  Initially the troops were housed in tents, but later in purpose-built buildings.

In 1916 the newly-formed “Royal Flying Corps” moved its air mechanics school from Farnborough to Halton.  In the following year the school was permanently accommodated in workshops built by German PoWs, and airfield was later established.  This was to be the seed of the future Royal Air Force occupation of the estate, which continues at the time of writing.

In 1917, Alfred learned that the allies were short of pit props for the trenches and in response he offered his trees at Halton for the purpose.  “I am not an expert,” he wrote to the Prime Minister on 28th February 1917, “as regards what sort of timber would be suitable for pit props, but I cannot help thinking that, as there are so many pine trees in my woods at Halton, some of them at least would be suitable for the purpose.  May I ask you very kindly to send down your expert who would very easily be able to report fully on the subject, and I should indeed be proud if my offer should lead to any practical result.”  It did, and very many fine mature trees were felled and carried away.

In later life, Alfred suffered poor health and he died after a short illness on the 31st January 1918, aged 75.  Having no legitimate children he bequeathed the house to his nephew Lionel Nathan de Rothschild.  Lionel, who detested the place, sold its contents at auction in 1918 and the house and estate - the latter by then much damaged by the activities of the military - to the Air Ministry in the following year to create an RAF training base.  Following its sale, Halton House became the base’s Officers’ Mess.  The elaborate domed Winter Garden attached to the south end of the House when it was built, with radiating flights of steps down to the gardens, was demolished in 1935 and replaced by an accommodation block.  Parade grounds and buildings were constructed over the south and east park areas, retaining many estate trees.

The Winter Garden, Halton House.

In 2016 the MOD announced the base was to close as part of a wider programme to reduce the size of the defence estate.  Initially closure was scheduled by 2022, however it was announced in February 2019 that there will now be a phased closure, drawdown and development from 2022, with closure by 2025.




01.    The former Rothschild house ‘Champneys’ at Wigginton, near Tring, is excluded from this account because it was not used as a Rothschild family home.  It was bought in 1900 as a dower house for Emma Lady Rothschild, wife of Nathaniel, but when it became evident that her eldest son Walter, the second Lord Rothschild, would not marry, Lady Rothschild sold the property and continued to live at Tring Park Mansion with her son.  The house was sold in 1925 to Stanley Lief who opened it as a health resort, a use in which it remains.  By comparison with the other Rothschild country houses referred to in the following account, ‘Eyethrope’, near Waddesdon, is of modest dimensions.  It was bought in the 1870s by Alice de Rothschild, sister of Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, for her to use as a home, but she chose to live with her brother at Waddesdon Manor.  That said, the house is now used by the family. [7]

02.    ‘Historic England’ is a non-departmental public body of the British Government sponsored by the Department for ‘Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’.  It is tasked with protecting the historic environment of England by preserving and listing historic buildings, scheduling ancient monuments, registering historic Parks and Gardens, and by advising central and local government.  Every year Historic England updates the Heritage at Risk Register, the end result being a dynamic picture of the sites most at risk and most in need of safeguarding for the future.

03.    Sir Joseph Paxton (1803-65) was an English gardener, architect, engineer and Member of Parliament.  He is best known for the Great Conservatory at Chatsworth House (84m long, 37m wide and 19m high, now demolished), which he completed in 1840 while Head Gardener to the Duke of Devonshire, and for designing the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851.

04.    George Devey (1820-86) FRIBA was an English architect whose style is the forerunner of the arts and crafts school of design.  Devey is notable for his work on country houses, especially those belonging to the Rothschild family, together with estate cottages and lodges; examples of the latter can be seen at Halton, Wingrave and Mentmore.  His most notable works on the Mentmore Estate are both the Rosebery Arms and the School House at Cheddington, and the Thatched Lodge that stands at the end of a long avenue approach to Mentmore Towers.  The waterworks at Dancers End near Tring (1866) marks a notable departure from his commissions for private dwellings.

05.    According to one obituary, Sir Anthony de Rothschild’s life was not eventful; he was less well known, probably, to the public than either of his three brothers.  He was a steady man of business, and a quiet country gentleman; but in this comparatively reserved and retired sphere he silently rendered private and public services of very great value.  He abstained from attempting to enter the House of Commons, from the sense that the important share he took in the business of his firm would not enable him to spare sufficient time for parliamentary duties.  This left him, however, more leisure for the ordinary offices of friendship and charity, and he fulfilled these with genial and unlimited liberality.”

06.    Waugh was sacked by the Headmaster after returning from a drinking session at the Bell the worse for wear.  It appears that he had said something to the matron that she had taken great offence to, and had reported the matter to the Headmaster.
06a.    Ref. The Rothschild Archive.

07.    Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur (1822-93) was a Paris-born architect and interior designer active in mainland Europe and the UK in the mid to late 19th century. Catering for rich and titled clients, he is particularly noted for his town and country houses built in the Renaissance revival style, and for his various mausolea and memorials, such as the priory and mausoleum at Farnborough.

08.    In 1875 Alice Charlotte von Rothschild (1847-1922) acquired a modest estate at Eythrope, which adjoined her brother’s Waddesdon parkland.  Sited within a picturesque bend of the River Thame, she commissioned architect George Devey to build a small charming house which she named ‘The Pavilion’.  During its construction Alice suffered an attack of rheumatic fever and for this reason was advised not to sleep near water because dampness would aggravate her health problem.  ‘The Pavilion’ was therefore designed without bedrooms, and Alice used her house solely in the daytime, retaining a bedroom at Waddesdon Manor to where she returned every evening to dine with Ferdinand.  ‘The Pavilion’ has since been enlarged and is now a Rothschild family home.

09. Ferdinand represented Aylesbury as Liberal MP from 1885 until his death.  He also served at various times as Deputy Lieutenant and High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire, as a Justice of the Peace, and as a member of the Bucks County Council.

10.    William Cubitt & Co was a London-based firm of contractors that undertook design work and had a large drawing office.  William R. Rogers (born Rodriguez) who was responsible for the design side - notably at 5 Hamilton Place, Piccadilly (1879-81) for Leopold de Rothschild and Halton House (1882-8) for Alfred Charles de Rothschild.  The business was taken over by Holland & Hannen in 1883, thereafter being known as Holland Hannen & Cubitts.  Rogers remained with the firm to complete Halton.
The Journal of the House of Commons (Jul 1826-Jan 1828) states that . . . . A Petition of William Kay, Esquire, was presented, and read; setting forth, That in the year 1820, the Petitioner purchased the Tring Park estate, in the county of Hertford, and therewith a certain public house called The Green Man . . . .   Chancery Appeals L. C. 1871 page 685 (viz. Pemberton v. Barnes) also gives 1820 as the year in which ownership of Tring Park estate passed to William Kay.
Until the Rothschild family bought it in 1872, the ownership of the Manor is complicated, made more so by litigation (Pemberton v Barnes [1871] LR 6 Ch. App 685).  In 1820 the Manor of Tring was sold by Drummond Smith’s trustees to William Kay, on whose death in 1838 it was bequeathed to his son William Kay Jnr. for life with remainder to his heirs male, and to the testator’s nephew and niece, Robert Nixon of Aylesbury, and Anne, only daughter of John Ismay, and wife of Thomas Barnes, jointly (at the time of his father’s death William Jnr. was still a minor; thus, for the purpose of inheritance, he was made a ward of the Court of Chancery).  On the death of Robert Nixon the reversionary interest of his heirs in half the estate was sold by a decree of the Court of Chancery to William Kay Jnr., who then held the manor for life.  William Kay Jnr. died in 1865, and devised the half of which he was possessed to his wife Rose Louise Kay, who in 1872 joined with Mrs. Barnes by order of the Court of Chancery in selling the manor to Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild.  Lionel was succeeded in 1879 by Nathan Mayer de Rothschild, who was created Lord Rothschild of Tring in 1885 and held the manor until he died in 1915.


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