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Cliveden, Buckinghamshire, England

August 12th, 2007 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places

Cliveden (pronounced CLIV-d'n) is a mansion in Buckinghamshire, England overlooking the River Thames. It has an intriguing history.

The present house, owned by the National Trust and used as a hotel, was built in 1851 by the architect Charles Barry on the site of a house 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 that the song "Rule Britannia" was first performed, in the rustic theatre in the garden in 1740. In 1795 the house was seriously damaged by fire. For the next 30 years it remained a shell; following a second rebuilding it was again destroyed by fire in 1849.

The three-storey 1851 house, in the classic Italian style, was built on the broad terraces of its predecessor, for the Duke of Sutherland, who required a country retreat near London. This new mansion was considerably grander and more luxurious than the previous house. The exterior remains much as designed by Barry, but the interiors were much altered in the 1870s, when the house was owned by the Duke of Westminster, and again in the 1890s when John Loughborough Pearson remodelled the entrance hall and sweeping staircase.

In the magnificent gardens are temples and follies built by various owners and tenants. The octagonal temple (now the chapel) by the architect Giacomo Leoni was commissioned by George Hamilton, 1st Earl of Orkney in 1735.

In 1893 the house 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. Astor died in 1952; his wife 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, hunt, stroll in the magnificent gardens, and attend lavish parties. 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 set were accused of calling for the appeasement of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. House records and influential members of the set show that not to be true, and all factions of the political landscape were represented at Cliveden, but the impression of appeasement persists. 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 the house-parties.

The house became the centre of the Profumo Affair in 1961, after a chance meeting at a party between cabinet minister John Profumo and showgirl Christine Keeler led to a brief affair, which when made public a year later caused a national security scare as Keeler had also been having an affair with an attaché at the Soviet embassy.

At the outbreak of World War I, Astor offered the use of some of the grounds to the Canadian Red Cross for building a hospital. The HRH Duchess of Connaught Hospital was dismantled at the end of hostilities.

In September 1939, Astor offered the land again for a rent of 1 shilling per year and the Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital was built to the designs of architect Robert Atkinson. After the war the hospital's main focus was as a nursing school, a maternity unit and a rheumatology unit, which was headed by Dr Barbara Ansell.

In 1942 Astor gave the property to The National Trust, with the proviso that the family continue to live there. Should this cease, he expressed the wish that the house be used: 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.

From 1969 to 1983 Stanford University ran an overseas studies campus at Cliveden. A basement pub was open to students and locals.

Today the National Trust has leased the house as a five-star hotel operating in the style of an Edwardian country house. Its proximity to London and to Heathrow Airport make it a popular destination. The grounds are listed by the National Trust as one of the finest gardens in the country.

[Source: Wikipedia]

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