Every year for as long as I can remember myself and my family have visit Waddesdon manor to see the annual Christmas display, during December. For the last 5 years the East and Bachelor’s Wing have been decorated to reflect the five European cities in which the founding sons of the Rothschild dynasty made their fortunes. Over the last few years the house decorations have transported visitors through Frankfurt, Naples, Paris, London, and concluding this year in Vienna, Austria.
Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild bought the Waddesdon estate in 1874, when it was nothing but farmland. He employed French architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur to design a country retreat in the style of a Loire châteaux, and work began in 1877. The bachelor’s wing was completed in 1880, and the main part of the house in 1883. However, Ferdinand soon realised the house was too small for all his guests and he decided to build a west wing – finishing the morning room, and two bedroom suites in 1891. Ferdinand’s sister, Alice de Rothschild inherited Waddesdon when he died in 1898. She is often remembered for her strict housekeeping which has ensured the preservation of the extensive and beautiful collection throughout the house. In 1922 when Alice died the estate was passed to her Parisian great nephew James de Rothschild and his English wife Dorothy. During the Second World War, James and Dorothy moved into the bachelor’s wing, leaving the main house to children evacuated from London. After the war, James became increasingly ill and decided to leave the estate to The National Trust, appointing his wife as the chair of the management committee and supplying a very large endowment. This funding has enabled restoration to numerous parts of the house and gardens since 1959. Initially overseen by Dorothy de Rothschild and then by Lord Rothschild after 1988. Work still continues throughout the estate, from the aviary to the coach house and stables.
As I live nearby it only takes around 50 minutes by car (Via the A40 and A41) and there is plenty of free parking inside the estate. Previously parking was along the main road through the estate, and visitors would then need to walk up to the manor by foot. However, this year a new parking area has been built near the bottom of the estate, with regular buses to take visitors up to the manor as well as coach house and stables. In the winter months parking on the main road could be very difficult especially if the weather was bad, so I think the building of designated parking was a really good idea. The bus we traveled on was very comfortable and took us up to the end of the main drive in only a few minutes.
Interesting twisted drainpipes around the right side of the manor
Waddesdon manor and gardens are decorated for Christmas from the 13th November to 1st January and are open Wednesday to Sunday 11am-4pm. Tickets for house admission can be pre-booked, which is definitely recommended over Christmas and Bank Holidays as it can get very busy. You can of course purchase tickets on the day of your visit, and for garden visits you aren’t likely to need to pre-book (Prices are available here). As we are members of The National Trust, admission is free to both the house and gardens.
Currently, the grounds are home to a collection of six large outdoor art installations by British light artist Bruce Munro, entitled Winter Light. You are able to view the installations at any time by following the trail around the gardens, however each afternoon from 3-5pm they are illuminated. There are also several late night openings, from 3-8pm. Unfortunately we visited too early to see the installations illuminated, but I really enjoyed reading about the story and construction behind each. I would really like to see the illuminations, especially the installations: River of Light and Parliament of Owls. If you can’t visit in person, or miss the illumination I would definitely recommend watching this video of the collection in action.
Parliament of Owls
River of Light
This year the manor showcases the city of Vienna in Austria where the creator of Waddesdon himself Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild spent time during his youth. Every year as part of the Christmas trail, 6 letters are placed throughout the house, which spell out a famous city related to the themed country.
Inside the manor, you begin your tour in the entrance room, which introduces the current theme, before heading left through the hallway and ascending the stairs. One of my favourite parts in the hallway is the intricate elephant clock usually found between two towering Christmas trees.
The stairs at Waddesdon are some of the most interesting I have ever seen, and when standing out front you can see that they mirror each other on each side of the manor. As you climb the stairs, look out for the seasonal foliage decorated with gingerbread ornaments – which smell delicious 🙂
When you reach the top of the stairs, you enter a hallway with a large decorated tree before heading into another two rooms. The first contains a large tree decorated with ornaments inspired by the artist, Gustav Klimt (In particular his famous work – ‘The Kiss’).
One of mine and my dad’s favourite paintings is also hung in this room, which illustrates the romantic relationship between a man, and what can be assumed is his wife and mistress/lover.
As you move into the next room, the main focal point is the beautiful court dress and train made in Vienna and worn by Rozsika Rothschild (1870-1940), grandmother of the present Lord Rothschild.
Moving back out into the hallway, you then head to the right into a room whose decoration are inspired by the Austrian crystal company, Swaroksi. I particularly enjoyed seeing the resident exploding porcelain china chandelier, entitled ‘Porca Miseria’ (1994), whose title roughly translates as ‘Damn it!’.
From here you move through a long hallway and down circular stairs before reaching the bachelor’s wing. This section of the manor is decorated with a book/film or story linked to the overall house theme. This year it is inspired by ‘The Sound of Music’, and was decorated with musical notes, tea pots, mittens, bells and an old bicycle. I really enjoyed this theme, especially the unique ornaments.
Moving through the bachelor’s wing, you can explore the hallway as well as the billiards’s and men’s smoking room. The smoking room is one of my favourite rooms, however it is not usually open for exploring inside. This year the room was open and with a large tree covered in snow globe decorations, which was really good to see.
Continuing down the hall, you can visit a small bathroom and two bedrooms to the right, one of which contained the dress uniform worn by Baron James de Rothschild (1792-1868) as Consul General of Austria.
This year a table was set up here displaying a large collection of snow globes, which were all very beautiful and lovely to see up close. The last room open for Christmas is at the end of the hall, and this year contains traditional dress for boys and girls in Austria.
Once you have finished upstairs you can then walk down a small set of stone stairs to the original kitchens and servants quarters (Make sure to have a look around the stairwell at the decorations!).
Downstairs the long hallway to the restaurant is fully decked out with Austrian ornaments and Christmas decorations, including: Snow globes, birds, dried citrus fruit and glass icicles. From here you can look around the gift shop before exiting in front of the woodland walk which takes you down to the coach house and stables.
I really enjoy the woodland walk which takes you down to the coach house and stables past reindeer sculptures made from twigs, lights, bells and real antlers. When you reach the bottom of the walk, you will find yourself behind the coach house and stables. Throughout these buildings you will find a sweet/gift shop, restaurant and a gallery which is also decorated for Christmas. This year it is a decorated walk through a winter woodland, with reindeer, sledge and woodland animals.
If you get the chance definitely explore the wine cellar under the manor, the tented cafe and aviary within the surrounding gardens. The aviary is another of my favourite parts of the estate, particularly the collection of beautiful and interesting birds. I also really love the colourful lanterns that hang inside the tented cafe to the left of the manor.
I have and do visit at other times of the year, but I really love visiting Waddesdon manor at Christmas. I would definitely recommend visiting if you get the opportunity, as the decorations and ornaments are always so beautiful and unique. I am looking forward to visiting next year as Waddesdon has now concluded the five European cities themes, so it will be interesting to see what they do for next year’s theme!
A Day in the Life…