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Waddesdon Manor: The Heritage of a Rothschild House

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By Michael Hall. Photographs by John Bigelow Taylor. Abrams, 2002. 320pp. £45

'Undeniably hideous, but there is an awful impressiveness about its symmetry, the high quality of the masonry, and the finish of every detail, 'wrote James Lees-Milne in his report on Waddesdon Manor for the National Trust.

Baron Ferdinand Rothschild bought the land in Buckinghamshire (where Rothschilds were already established at Aston Clinton, Halton and Mentmore) in the 1870s, paying £74 per acre; it would not regain its value until the 1960s.Estate cottages were demolished to make way for the building; in compensation, disgruntled tenants acquired piped water and regular employment.

Ferdinand chose a French architect, Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, and the French Renaissance style: Waddesdon bristles with echoes of the great Loire chateaux.The facades were faced in Bath Stone; floor beams were made of steel; windows were fitted with clever draught excluders.The cost came to about £2 million.Construction took three years and was completed in 1880; then the parties began.Guests were greeted at the entrance by the sight of a herd of goats gambolling over an artificial stone outcrop (until the smell became offensive).The Prince of Wales was a regular visitor and once fell down the West Staircase.

Henry James complained of 'gilded bondage'.

Harold Nicholson thought Sissinghurst more comfortable.

None of the incumbent Rothschilds had heirs, and in 1957 the house passed into the care of the National Trust.The lavishness of this publication, with photography taking pride of place, captures the exuberance of its flashy subject.

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