Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The present house, which is now a hotel owned by the National Trust, was built in 1851 by the architect Charles Barry. However this house is near the site of a much older construction, which was built in 1666 as the home of George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. His architect was William Winde. The house was let to Frederick, Prince of Wales from 1739 to 1751. It was during this tenure, in the rustic theatre in the garden, that the song Rule Britannia was first performed in 1740. In 1795 the house was seriously damaged by fire. For the next thirty years it remained a shell; following a second rebuilding it was again destroyed by fire in 1849.
The three floored house seen today, in the classic Italian style, was built in 1851 on the broad terraces of its predecessor, for the Duke of Sutherland, who required a country retreat in close proximity to London. This new mansion was considerably grander and more luxurious than the previous house, when a few years later it was for sale it was a highly desirable property. The exterior remains much as designed by Barry, however, the interiors were much altered in the 1870s, when the house was owned by the Duke of Westminster, and again in the 1890s when J L Pearson remodelled the entrance hall and sweeping staircase.
In the magnificent gardens are temples and follies built by various owners and tenants. One especially outstanding garden building was commissioned by George Hamilton, 1st Earl of Orkney in 1735; this is the octagonal temple (now the chapel) by the architect Giacomo Leoni.
In 1893 it became the home of the Astor family; from 1919 it was the home of Waldorf Astor, 2nd Viscount Astor and his wife Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor, the first woman Member of Parliament to take her seat. Viscount Astor died in 1952; his wife Nancy Astor died in 1964 at her daughter's home at Grimsthorpe in Lincolnshire.
While the home of the Astors, the house became a very fashionable place for prominent figures in both politics and the arts to meet each other, to fox-hunt, stroll in the magnificent gardens or attend the lavish parties held there. This prominent group of individuals became known as the 'Cliveden Set' and were very influential over the affairs of state. In the mid 1930s the Cliveden Set were one of the most prominent groups to call for the appeasement of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. It was about this time that the Astors had the house extended in the form of a 'horseshoe' shaped wing, to provide extra bedrooms for their large house-parties.
The house became the centre of a scandal once more in 1961 when a chance meeting at a party there between the cabinet minister John Profumo and a showgirl Christine Keeler led to a brief romantic affair between them in the swimming pool. A year later the affair was made public, causing a national security scare as Miss Keeler had also been having romantic assignations with an attache at the Soviet embassy. The much publicised scandal that followed has subsequently been known as the Profumo Affair.
In 1942 Waldorf Astor had given the property to The National Trust, with the proviso that the family continue to live there, should this ever prove to not be the case, he expressed the wish that the house be used:-
- ....as my wife and I have tried to use it, to bring about a better understanding between the English speaking world and between various groups or sections of people of this and other countries.
Today The National Trust has leased the house to a company who run it as a five star hotel operating in the style of an Edwardian country house. Its close proximity to London and to Heathrow Airport make it very sought after destination. The grounds are listed by the National Trust as one of the finest gardens in the country.
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