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Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild of Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire

See also Waddesdon Manor

It was while out hunting that Baron Ferdinand (1839-1898first saw the magnificent views that can be glimpsed from the top of the hill on which Waddesdon Manor now stands.

Baron Ferdinand came from the Austrian branch of the Rothschild family. He was born in Paris and spent most of his childhood in Frankfurt and Vienna. His mother was an English Rothschild and from her he learned to love England and its countryside and admire its way of life. When his mother died he decided to live in England. He fell in love with his first cousin Evelina, one of the English Rothschilds, and they were married in 1865.

Tragically, after only eighteen months of marriage, Evelina and their baby died in childbirth. Two things helped Ferdinand to recover from his grief. One was to throw himself into forming his collection of 18th century works of art and the other was the arrival from abroad of his youngest sister Alice, who decided to dedicate her life to Ferdinand and become his constant companion.

Although Ferdinand had a London house he had always wanted a country residence where he could entertain his family and friends. This wish was fulfilled when in 1874, after his father died, he found himself with the funds to build a house and realise the plans he had first formulated with his wife.

Waddesdon Manor by Barbara Ballard Ferdinand then bought the Waddesdon and Winchendon estates with two and a half thousand acres from the Duke of Marlborough. He chose a distinguished French architect, Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, because he had been greatly impressed by the ancient Châteaux of the Valois during a tour of the Touraine and had decided to build in the style of the French Renaissance. He thought it safer to get the design made by a French architect who was familiar with French work. Waddesdon Manor was built between 1874 and 1889. The French landscape gardener Elie Lainé was asked to make designs for the terraces, principal roads and to supervise the planting of trees.

The interior was furnished with the Baron's fine works of art including French royal furniture, Savonnerie carpets and Sèvres porcelain, as well as important portraits by Gainsborough and Reynolds and works by Dutch and Flemish masters of the 17th century, a collection to which he added all his life.

Waddesdon Manor grounds by Barbara Ballard As soon as Waddesdon Manor was habitable Baron Ferdinand welcomed his friends and family as guests. The Prince of Wales was a regular visitor as too were many political and literary people; the young Churchill, Curzon, Asquith, Guy de Maupassant and Henry James to name but a few.

The visit that was probably the most memorable and most meticulously planned was that of Queen Victoria and her entourage in May 1890. After many consultations with Princess Louise as to Her Majesty's preferences, and acceptance of his proposals, Baron Ferdinand had been "delighted that the visit had passed off so satisfactorily". That the Queen, who for the last thirty years had lived in almost complete privacy, should have found his house so exceptional an attraction as to draw her from her seclusion, was highly gratifying to him.

Waddesdon was the ideal focus Baron Ferdinand needed for the expression of his many talents which were not only artistic but organisational, and gave him opportunities to improve the life of others in a practical way. The Bucks Herald reported with some amazement that when piping the Chiltern hills water to Waddesdon for his own use he should have arranged for the village to also provided with "the first pure and clean water it had ever had". There was equal appreciation for the repeated celebrations Baron Ferdinand organised to mark the completion of each stage of the building of his house - dinners followed by fireworks for all those who had taken part in the building work and the creation of the park. There were also the annual 'Treats' the Baron organised for the children and parents of the surrounding villages.

Baron Ferdinand not only built his Manor on Lodge Hill but he also many houses for his employees, a Reading and Instruction Room in the village and the hotel, The Five Arrows, to house his visitors' coachmen. These are all still in existence.

He was Liberal Member of Parliament for Aylesbury from 1885 until he died, 13 years later. He was also a member of the first Buckinghamshire County Council, a trustee of the British Museum, and a keen mason.

When Ferdinand died in 1898 he left Waddesdon to his sister, Miss Alice. Upon her death the house passed to James de Rothschild, a cousin from the French arm of the family. James inherited a substantial part of his father Baron Edmond's great collection. In 1957, in order to ensure its future in perpetuity, Waddesdon was bequeathed to the National Trust by James de Rothschild, although his widow, Dolly, continued to manage the house until her death in 1988.

Information courtesy Waddeson Manor

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