Cliveden: Like Staying at Downton Abbey (ScheckTrek Pick)
What is the relationship between Cliveden House and the American Revolution? Answer: a change in the course of history, the ramifications of which are interesting to contemplate.
Frederick, Prince of Wales, and his family made this Italianate mansion their home in the mid-18th century. During a game of cricket on the estate’s grounds, Frederick was dealt an injury that ultimately proved to be fatal, so he never ascended to the throne. Instead, the crown went to his son, George III, who was king during the American Revolution. So, if Frederick had been the king instead of his son during that tumultuous time, wonder if things would have gone differently in the American colonies?
Cliveden has been at the center of more than one momentous happening. Not only did events there change the succession of the monarchy in 1751, but events there in 1961—the Profumo Affair—led to bringing down a government.
But this blog is not about sex, politics and cricket injuries. More of that is available in a book.
It was something other than scandal and intrigue that led me, in 2004, to try to talk my husband into staying there: “Al, it was the former home of Lady Astor!” Not that I was necessarily a personal fan—it spoke more to the quality of the estate—but for some reason, that fact meant less to him than it did me. However, thirteen years later, this past September, I was able to spend two days there with our daughter.
And it was fabulous!
Ashley’s and my stay at Cliveden was perfect, starting with a beautiful breakfast in the morning (buffet plus menu items)…
For lunch and dinner, this becomes the restaurant, André Garrett at Cliveden.
Here's the video, with nice music and showing more of the room.
…and a wonderful turndown service at night. We were quite impressed that the chocolates were delivered in a Cliveden box!
Tours are available to learn more about the history of the house, its occupants, and what the lifestyle was like at Cliveden. Back in its heyday, it was very much an ‘upstairs-downstairs’ kind of place. Bells summoned the servants, just like on Downton Abbey.
But lest you think that all of today’s guests would be stuffy, au contraire, as evidenced by the vehicle of choice of one of them!
Some of the special features of the house include the staircase, where carved newel posts depict past owners of Cliveden.
The view is pretty amazing when you look straight up, too.
Perhaps the most impressive (though really, there’s so much that is) is the Rococo French Dining Room.
During a visit to the 18th century Château d’Asnières, which was formerly leased to Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Pompadour as a hunting lodge, William Waldorf Astor discovered that the dimensions of the dining room exactly matched those of the dining room at Cliveden. So he bought the entire room on the spot and had it installed here!
The room is stunning. Notice the detail in the panels, including the rabbits. Imagine someone’s having carved and applied all those little pieces of wood.
And then there's the quality of Cliveden's paintings. The portrait of Nancy Astor, to the left of the fireplace in the first photo above, was painted by John Singer Sargent. (Filing this under "Things I Wish I'd Known When I Was There!")
Cliveden’s 376 acres of National Trust gardens are equally impressive, beginning with the Fountain of Love. This was another of William Waldorf Astor's improvements; he had it carved in Rome and installed at the entrance of the quarter-mile drive to the house.
Beautiful gardens abound.
There’s also the famous 100-foot tall clock tower, a beautiful disguise for a water tower. It’s topped by a sculpture of the Spirit of Liberty.
Here's some trivia: this was the clock that struck midnight in the 2015 Disney movie, Cinderella. (And as long as we’re talking about movies, part of The Beatles’ movie, Help, was filmed at Cliveden.)
On a more somber note, there is a war cemetery on the grounds, the final resting place of 44 casualties from World Wars I and II. I must admit to having had mixed feelings when we saw this tombstone: sad at the wartime death, but happy to see that he was an Ernest Frank Guy.
Cliveden is bordered by the River Thames. For those whose fantasy would include a lazy cruise with a picnic lunch, complete with champagne, that can be arranged on one of their flotilla of vintage launches. This, at the entry to the house, is a model of one of them.
Location: Cliveden is 15 minutes from Windsor Castle, 40 minutes from central London, and 25 minutes from Heathrow Airport. Especially for those who have been to London before, it’s a wonderful place to spend a couple of days’ R&R at the end of a long trip; or as Ashley and I did, start the trip there and ease into the time change.