Whilst the ambiance of Cliveden is serene the history of the estate is anything but dull and was actually at the heart of the biggest political sex scandal of the 20th century. Magnificent architecture, exceptional gardens and even its own ‘species of snail’, Cliveden is one of Britain’s must see destinations. Early records show that the history of the land can be traced back to 1237 when it was owned by Geoffrey de Clyvden – passing down within his family until it changed ownership to the Mansfield family in 1605. The land was purchased in 1666 by George Villiers, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, who was to commission the building of the original house to stand on the estate which was designed by architect William Winde. The Duke was known for his indulgent lifestyle and promiscuity, entertaining a string of mistresses and party goers on the estate. His influence in the design of the mansion set the footprint on which future houses would be built. In 1696, the house changed ownership once again and became the home of the 1st Earl of Orkney and his wife Elizabeth Villiers, a first cousin of the Duke of Buckingham.
In 1795, tragedy struck this beautiful but turbulent house and on the evening of 20th May, a catastrophic fire broke out sweeping through the main building completely destroying everything and leaving only the wings standing. The fire was thought to have been caused by a maid carelessly knocking over a candle. The building remained in ruins until it was bought by Sir George Warrender, 4th Baronet in 1824. Cliveden was then restored under the guidance of Scottish architect William Burn.
In 1849, a second fire destroyed the mansion but this time it was blamed on bad workmanship from its reconstruction after the first fire.
A POLITICAL SCANDAL
Cliveden House has a chequered and slightly ‘sinful’ history and this by no means only relates to its early life. In 1893, the house was brought for $1.25 million by William Waldorf Astor, a member of the wealthy German American Astor family. In 1942, the Astor family ‘gifted’ Cliveden to the National Trust on the understanding that the family would remain in residence for as long as they so wished
The Astor’s were renowned for being socialites entertaining some of the most influential people at Cliveden including, Secretary of State for War, John Profumo and Christine Keeler, an exotic dancer and good time girl. The two had a brief affair during 1961 but unfortunately Christine was also sharing her bed with a Soviet spy – Captain Yevgeny Ivanov. It is said that they met through mutual connections with the Astor family after being invited as guests to one of their many parties. The outcome of this liaison put the estate at the centre of one of the most scandalous political affairs in modern history – the ‘Profumo affair’ – which almost brought down the Government of the time. In 1968 the Astor family moved out of their home for the last time.
HOTEL & GARDENS
The House is now leased as a five star hotel but the gardens and the estate are open to day visitors wishing to experience the magnificence of this remarkable place. Although, it is open throughout the year some of the estate is only open to the public at certain times. It is recommended to check the website before visiting for prices and opening times. It is possible to see inside Cliveden by joining one of the organised tours.
Access for visitors with limited mobility is good and there are sensory attractions in the gardens. A shuttle bus is available on site and paths are well maintained around the grounds. Visitors can chose to buy tickets for the house and gardens separately.
Camping and Caravanning Club Site
Bridge Road, Chertsey
Surrey, England, KT16 8JX
+44 (0)1932 562 405
- Address: Cliveden Road, Taplow, Maidenhead, Berkshire, England, UK, SL6 0JA
- GPS: 51.55813889,-0.688313889
- Phone: 0044 (0)1628 605 069
- Part of UK: England
- Sat Nav Postcode: SL6 0JA
- Entrance Fees: Yes
- Disabled Access: Very Good
- Visibility from Road: None
- Image Credits: Header Image: Patrick Wang