Bucks, Oxon & Surrey
20th - 24th September 2021

Led by Prof. Marilyn Palmer MBE
Click here to register interest

One of a series of unique, small-group, tours, led by the key experts in the field, exploring the impact of technology on our great country houses and the people who lived and worked there.
Based in the historic town of Old Amersham, this tour explores some magnificent examples of the great Country House in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, and a day in Surrey, where we are planning to include houses owned or occupied by a great military hero, bankers and industrialists!

During the second half of the nineteenth century the Rothschilds acquired and constructed seven grand houses in the Vale of Aylesbury, where a railway service gave them good access to the City. We include Halton House (left) on the Monday afternoon and two more on Wednesday.
The house is now an RAF Officers’ Mess and is not generally open to the public but we have obtained special permission to take a look. It was one of the first houses to be built with both gas and electricity in mind. The most impressive room in the house, the Salon, has wooden sliding doors to separate it from the adjoining rooms and lobbies. Between this room and the lobby connected to the former Winter Garden there are sliding glass doors as well. On the top floor are the servants’ bedrooms, with all the windows facing internally, not overlooking the grounds. We shall take a look at the heating system including early free-standing radiators. There are several early electroliers and other light fittings, including a magnificent example in the salon. At various places around the corridors are what appear to be fittings for speaking tubes, each labelled with a destination (ground floor, north corridor third floor etc.). We also plan to be visiting the James McCudden Flight Heritage Centre.

On Tuesday morning we will drive to Polesden Lacey in Surrey for a full day’s exploration. The medieval house was rebuilt in 1631 with many different owners, including Richard Sheridan the dramatist, with many different stages of remodelling up to the early 1900s. Mrs Greville, the last owner, continued to entertain on a vast scale until her death in 1942. Electricity was installed in about 1904 and the size of the electricity generators indicates that most if not the whole house was electrically lit. On chalk, ground water supply is difficult. Water tanks were built to retain rain water and there were deep wells. We shall see the pump house, the many bathrooms, an electric lift, a large electric Annunciator Board in the service corridor outside Servants’ Hall, early telephones and much more.

On Wednesday morning we will visit Waddesdon Manor. Waddesdon has one of the first electric lifts in the UK, installed by Otis in 1898, and there are remains of at least two electric bell systems and at least one telephone system. The most recent bell system has no less than 90 indicators. We plan also to visit the former power house where the electricity was generated and much more. The grand interior has many lavishly decorated state rooms and includes fine collections of Sevres and Meissen porcelain and French furniture. It has extensive grounds which underwent restoration to recreate the garden's original splendour, sponsored in 1990 by Lord Rothschild.

In the afternoon we will visit Ascott House. The property was an old farmhouse, thought to date from 1606 but was greatly expanded by Leopold de Rothschild to make a fully-fledged hunting-lodge with extensive stables, kennels and other outbuildings, before being again further enlarged to make a substantial Edwardian country house undergoing further extension in 1937. Of particular interest is the small sewage treatment plant which contains installations by Thomas Crapper and Sir James Farmer & Sons of Salford and was built at the end of the 19th century. There is also a large gas house with the remains of the gas holder and nearby electricity generator house.

On Thursday we will cross into Oxfordshire to visit Nuffield Place which was built for Sir John Bowring Wimble, a shipping magnate. Acquired by Lord Nuffield (founder of Morris Garages, the motor manufacturer in Oxford) in 1933 it was his home until his death in 1963. It is a very modest house at odds with the very considerable wealth which he amassed from the motor business. The house was built with both its own electric generating plant and central heating although little is now extant. There are some remains of a disused sewage settlement tank and filter bed but the most unusual item is the 'Vita' glass, developed by Pilkington to let in the 'Health ray'. Many of the sanitary fittings are Art Deco and there are many domestic appliances of the 30s, 40s and 50s.

In the afternoon we will take just a short drive to Greys Court, a Tudor manor house in origin tucked away in a fold of the Chilterns which was bought in 1935 by Mrs Evelyn Fleming, mother to Ian Fleming. It later passed into the hands of Sir Felix and Lady Brunner, the former a Liberal politician and descendant of the great industrial chemicals magnate John Brunner who founded the Brunner Mond company, eventually to become ICI. The most fascinating object on the estate is the donkey wheel which probably dates from the time of the original Tudor manor house but there are many other details of interest. There are beautiful gardens including a wisteria "tunnel" in this most tranquil setting.

On Friday morning we will drive to Blenheim Palace. Designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, it is one of the country's most magnificent residences - when George III visited he was overheard to remark "We have nothing like this!" The Palace was built in the early 18th Century to celebrate victory over the French in the War of the Spanish Succession. In particular, it was built as a gift to the 1st Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, the military commander who led the Allied forces in the Battle of Blenheim on 13th August 1704. Marlborough himself received the surrender from Marshall Tallard, leader of the French forces, following the battle. To honour the Duke’s heroic victories, Queen Anne granted his family the ruined Royal Manor and park at Woodstock, along with £240,000 with which to build a house to mark the occasion. Around 1706, John Vanbrugh installed a machine, very similar in design to that of Sorocold under London Bridge, into one of the arches of a bridge over the river running through the grounds of the Palace. Built by Robert Aldersea of London, this had two banks of three pumps and was originally intended to provide water for ornamental fountains in the gardens but was found to be inadequate for this purpose, so the water was directed instead to a tank in the Kitchen Court Tower, from where it supplied parts of the house. Few bathrooms were installed, however, before the 8th Duke married the American heiress, Lilian Hammersley, who demanded comforts similar to those she had experienced at home. Her money also enabled the installation of electricity, and both lighting and telephones were put into Blenheim by 1896, with four electricians on the permanent staff. We shall be having a tour of the service areas of the house and other features can be seen within the house itself.

The grounds are, of course, by Capability Brown.

Click here to register interest in joining the tour.