This tour included a visit to the church of North Marston which at one time was the third most-visited shrine in England and includes a small embrasure into which the sufferer inserted his foot in order to experience relief. Well, that is what they claim, frankly, I will put my money on Allipurinol.
More prosaically we visited a number of houses in the area designed to reflect the development of the English country house from those owned and used by the same family over centuries to those built by the nouveau-riche Rothschilds in the 19th century. What contrasts! Firstly to Nether Winchendon. A medieval hall house later dressed up, in order to be à la mode, in Strawberry-Hill Gothic. The mixture,not a readily recognised style of architecture but one which epitomises the eccentric nature of so many English houses not “renovated” by a smart architect. Guided tour by the owner, always an additional pleasure, who was able to throw light on his treasures with the immediacy of ownership. Charming church with box-pews and an idiosyncratic pillar box.
Another house where the owner was desperate to be up to date was that of the Verney family at Claydon. Here it is Rococo that has propelled the owner to create series of carved wood embellishments in the vast rooms which make Grinling Gibbons look positively restrained. Hugh Lightfoot was the perpetrator of these embellishments culminating in a staggering marquetry staircase and a Chinese room complete with nodding mandarins and much what-ho-ho-ery. All this excess got Verney nowhere in the end, for two-thirds of his grandiose dwelling, designed to out-shine neighbouring Stowe, had to be demolished by his heir. What you see is but a fragment and a vision of what might have been.
Finally two contrasting Rothschild houses. Ascott and Waddesdon. Two very different houses but both immaculately maintained and embellished. Ascott, now the home of Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, is a rambling, very rambling, “Victorian Tudor” mansion which has had the gloom of the 19th century removed by the Rothschilds of the day in the 1930’s. Result, a comfortable, spacious, elegant house filled with French and English furniture, Chinese porcelain and eminently desirable pictures, Gainsborough, Cuyp and Stubbs come to mind. Waddesdon, 19th century Napoleon III France, translated to the top of a Buckinghamshire hill. Built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild to house his ever-increasing collections, this chateau has not fallen into decrepitude as he feared but is wondrously maintained by the Rothschild foundation. Every inch is tended, and cossetted be it the “Ancien Régime” furniture, which rivals the Royal Collection or the quality of the tea-towels in the shop. Everything is of the best. Certainly a high-spot to end this tour of the this part of Buckinghamshire.
If you were unable to come on this tour and would be interested in joining us in 2018, please contact TRAVEL EDITIONS on 0207 2510045, to register your interest. Nicholas Merchant will accompany the tour and will give two talks “The Rothschilds in the Vale of Aylesbury and “The Collections at Waddesdon”. Please contact Nicholas on 01423 340017, email firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to discuss the itinerary.