Now we get to step inside the house and see what they’ve done for Christmas! The house is shut completely for a week in early November and a horde of National Trust volunteers set to work decorating a sub-set of the rooms that are usually open to visitors. No complaints, though! I can’t imagine what it would take to decorate the entire thing; it would be overkill.
The main entrance is through the archway just under the flag.
Typical of grand houses in Europe and the UK, the forecourt is entirely hardscape, which is very practical, but not awfully photogenic.
Never mind, they make up for it once you get inside. How’s that for a tree inside a vestibule?
This poster describes what we can expect to see in this year’s theme, Christmas Carnival.
The decor highlights festivals and celebrations inspired by Waddesdon’s collections. Each child was given a wonderful advent-calendar-style booklet to open to find a treasure in each of the rooms. It kept them well-occupied judging by the squeals of delight we heard.
Each sign was bordered in a colourful harlequin diamond pattern associated with Comedia dell’arte. I hadn’t realized that Punch and Judy had their origins in Pulcinella, but once it was pointed out it seemed obvious. You learn something new every day.
Just behind the Italian Comedy sign is the famous Waddesdon musical elephant.
It’s stunning. Usually one of the guides is happy to get it going, but I think they’re skipping that delight with all the other Christmas fervour going on.
You can see it in action here:
The large paintings of Venice give some clues as to why they chose the Italian Comedy theme for this room.
Much of the panelling in the house was imported from France, where it had been “removed” from grand French chateaux during the French Revolution and sold to collectors. People have mixed opinions about this; some see it as conservation, as the goods would have been destroyed if there hadn’t been a market for them, others view it as capitalizing on the misfortune of the aristocracy who were separated from their property, if not their heads. Whatever one’s feelings on the issue, Waddesdon has an amazing collection for visitors to admire.
The next room had a grand display of gifts set out on the table.
Peeking through the door…
Back to the panelling for a minute. You get a good sense of the height of the ceilings from the chairs that flank the fireplace. Apparently, the height of the imported panelling had to be augmented by a couple of feet, which they did by adding sections at the top or bottom. There is a fascinating book on the subject available at Amazon.co.uk. Another site, ibtauris.com describes it in some detail
“Waddesdon Manor was built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the late 19th century. This book contains a scholarly account of the origins of the house and the first ever catalogue of the celebrated panelling which it contains, carved in the 18th century in France for great houses in Paris, and now re-assembled at Waddesdon. Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild bought the Waddesdon Estate in 1874 but building did not begin until 1877. In the intervening years the Parisian architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur produced designs on an enormous scale for a French Renaissance-style chateau. The end result, completed in 1889, was a smaller house which became the epitome of grandeur and elegance and which represents several decisive landmarks in the history of architecture and decoration in France. The catalogue of the house’s panelling comprises rather more than half the book. There are 335 entries, each one illustrated and including a description, measurements, location and provenance, and a commentary which discusses various aspects of each panel in relation to its fellows, its period and its history. Each group of panels is accompanied by a fully documented section on the houses for which they were carved – houses which were celebrated in the 18th century for the quality of their decoration.
And if the panelling wasn’t enough, that chandelier is pretty stunning.
Back out into the hall and up the stairs to the next exhibit. We are heading up the inside of those circular stairs you can see in the middle of the picture below.
Each doorway arch on the way up was festooned with greenery and white lights. So festive.
The next tree has a Highland theme, decorated with tartan bows.
It was tucked into a niche at the top of the stairs, which is usually a hallway. Amazing what a huge tree can do to shrink the visual space.
Carrying on with the theatre theme.
Masques and a multitude of baubles.
This is the famous portrait of the infamous Emma Hamilton, mistress to Admiral Lord Nelson. When we visited Portsmouth this summer with the family, we toured HMS Victory which has been wonderfully restored. It apparently stuck with the little girls that Lord Nelson had only one arm. In building a snowman this year, they had only one suitable stick to be employed as an arm, and commented that the snowman was “like that Lord Nelson guy”. They clearly remembered the ship’s surgery, with its gruesome dismembered limbs. One of them recalled it with ghoulish delight, the other with revulsion.
Then we came to my two favourite rooms. Of course!
This isn’t the official dining room, but a smaller room that’s been set up as such. The real dining room is downstairs and quite grand. Nonetheless, the white panelling makes a stunning backdrop for the table.
A sideboard laden with silver.
The theme is soft greens, peachy pinks and white, with lots of gold.
Love the majolica urns. The detail!
The table is set with a sumptuous display of silver.
The swans and wedding cakes are made of paper. Ingenious!
I wasn’t sure about the white fruit and gourds set atop the ceramic urns. The docent seemed to think they were ceramic, but I have my doubts.
They look like the real thing, painted, don’t you think? Or perhaps Papier-mâché in keeping with the paper decor on the table?
Just in case you haven’t had enough dining delights, there was a second dining room — more of a breakfast room. It was done in soft shades of blue and green.
A tall, narrow tree snuggled into the corner, framed by panelling and draperies. I don’t care for the chandelier, which is a fairly new addition. Commissioned in 2003 by Lord Rothschild, it is made of smashed china and is called Porca Miseria. Hmmm. Miseria. Aptly named.
I think this room is the origin of the peacock masks I saw in the gift shop.
You can see a similar theme in the birds tucked onto the ends of the mantlepiece.
Such a cosy table.
The goblets look almost modern with their geometric pattern. Likely Art Deco, I’m thinking.
The open lattice work baskets were filled with fruits and nuts.
A close up of the panelling.
Then a magical tunnel to take us back downstairs.
Lots of twinkling lights, glittery decorations and gauzy draping.
The visit drew to a close within the Bachelor Wing of the house, added to entertain male guests with billiards, smoking, and rumour has it, unmentionable females.
The walls are lined with an impressive array of weaponry.
The “Renaissance Museum” room housed “Dressing for the ball”.
Aren’t the stained glass windows stunning?
There is a such an overwhelming number of treasures to take it, it’s easy to miss the decorated ceiling.
Elizabethan portraits hang above a tufted settee.
A display case with Majolica vases.
Everywhere you turn there is something else to take in.
Across the hall, the display is much more light-hearted. Billiards!
The trees are festooned with cards.
A chess set decorates the mantlepiece.
I’m always intrigued by the lights over a billiard table. I think they’re the precursor to the task lights we have in kitchens these days and pendant lights above counters.
The vaulted barrel ceiling is painted.
And again, the panelling. Wouldn’t you love to snuggle up in here with a book, a cup of tea and a scone?
Back out into the hall for the last couple of rooms. The hallway ceilings are tooled leather.
A box on a table in the hall collects mail to be picked up and posted at set times of the day.
This little room featured a carnival float.
Discreetly tucked into a small bedroom, this gondola-like boat overflows with gifts.
And finally, Fancy Dress (because everything up until now has been so plain and unadorned)…
The room is unabashedly feminine.
The tree overflows with purses, picture frames and baubles in soft blues and pinks.
Echoing the colours in the porcelain chandelier and the draperies.
The half-moon shaped console is a deeper shade of blue, with heavy gilding.
Opposite, a painted panelled alcove with silk hangings and squishy-comfy cushions. I feel a nap coming on.
Please forgive the blurry photo; I tried to get a close up of the pastoral scenes in the panelling.
That was the final room. Now we headed down the staircase to the former servant’s area, now the Manor restaurant and the gift shop. The stairs were lined with children’s drawings of carnival-themed cats and masks.
How adorable is that?
Even the hallway was decorated to the nines. The volunteers did an amazing job. The mind boggles at how much work this must have been – all crammed into one week.
Last stop for us, the gift shop. From there we went down to the stables. and had lunch, as reported in the first blog on The Christmas Market at Waddesdon.
I hope you have enjoyed the tour! We sure did. Thanks for coming along.
I’m sharing this post with Between Naps on the Porch.
Waddesdon isn’t one we’ve made it to yet, but I can see Mrs Britain would love it! Places like this do tend to bring out my latent socialist, but – wow! You have photographed it beautifully. And haven’t the NT gone to town?! It shows what big business the heritage sector is now. But it does look beautiful. Love the elephant! I can’t get too excited about people objecting to things being re-used – it’s happened since Man started building and, as you say, if material was not re-used it would get lost.
Hi Mike! Waddesdon is over the top at the best of times, and Christmas took it several levels higher. The decorations were stunning.
Waddesdon really is a must-see – probably the most opulent of the National Trust locations. You’re not the only latent socialist to twitch at it; I’ve heard some National Trust volunteers airing their views on the subject, which I found quite startling To fully appreciate Waddesdon in all its glory, you might want to go in the spring or summer when the whole house is open and you can see the gardens, too. The Christmas portion was a fraction of the house itself, though as you say, NT did go to town! Wow!
I’m with you on the re-using things. Let’s talk to the Vatican about nicking the bronze from the porch of the Pantheon (126 AD) to build that Baldacchino over the altar (horrid thing), shall we?
The tour is truly a treat, a visual historical delight. Now I’m eager to take the tour a second time to digest it slowly and thoroughly. Thank you inviting us to tag along. CherryKay
You’re most welcome, CherryKay. Half the fun is sharing the experience with others who enjoy similar things! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Have a good day.
Dear Helen, a feast for the eyes indeed! But have you seen the silver swan at Bowes?
Oh Beatrice, how fabulous! Thanks for sharing the video.
We were up at Barnard’s Castle on our last visit but didn’t make it to the Bowes Museum. What a spectacular building, and if the silver swan is anything to go by, it must have some excellent exhibits. Thanks again! Next time we are up that way I will definitely drop in. We haven’t seen Wakefield or Northumberland Cathedrals yet, thus another trip is called for.
Oh, my goodness. What a fabulous blog post, trip and experience. Your photos are amazing….and I pinned my brains out! The table setting was exquisite, and I just loved this…from beginning to end. Thank-YOU! Sandi
Thanks Sandi! We are having a wonderful time. We’ve seen another couple of houses and Manchester Cathedral. I’ve got a lot more photo sorting to do and then will post a couple more. Stay tuned. Thanks for joining in the fun.