InfoBritain - Travel Through History In The UK :
Since 1666 when the site was acquired by George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, Cliveden has served as a retreat for rich men from their lives in London. This sense of escape was heightened by the use of romantic architecture from foreign lands. Villiers employed William Winde to design a house on a terraced platform, reminiscent of villas at Frascati, east of Rome. In landscaping terms Cliveden also offered escape. The drama of a natural location on cliffs above the Thames Valley was used in planning the house - the name Cliveden, or "Cliefden" as it is pronounced, derives from these cliffs. In using a natural landscape in a carefully planned scheme, Villiers was anticipating a major naturalistic trend in English garden design, which was not to become established for another hundred years. The Thames Valley as a whole is one of the first examples of large scale landscaping, creating an apparently natural landscape which is actually planned and managed. This original vision for Cliveden was then built upon by subsequent owners, to create formal areas, contrasting with apparently wilder landscapes, which are themselves part of the design. Paths to the west of the house were laid out specifically to emphasise views over the natural wonders of the Thames below. In this landscape of idealised nature, Cliveden's dreamy villa seemed to be a world away from London. Villiers would come here to relax and hunt, and also to have some peace with his favourite ladies. Villiers brought the Countess of Shrewsbury to Cliveden to conduct his affair with her. The affair ended with a duel between Villiers and the Duke of Shrewsbury, which resulted in Shrewbury's death. Villiers never recovered from the scandal, and eventually had to leave Cliveden, dying in 1687. His scandalous duel is commemorated at the Duke's Lawn on the east side of the house where the date 1668 and a duelist's sword are marked on the grass.
Since Buckingham's death Cliveden has always been connected with wealth and royalty. Between 1737 and 1751 the estate was leased to Frederick Prince of Wales, eldest son of George II. Prince Frederick, a typically rebellious youth, would escape the king's influence at Cliveden where he and his circle would enjoy musical parties. The music of Handel and Thomas Arne were heavily featured, and Cliveden saw the first performance of Arne's Rule Britannia in 1740, probably in a grass amphitheatre which still exists, hidden in woods at the estate's north end. Although Frederick proposed to do revolutionary things as king, he died before his father. It was Frederick's eldest son, who had spent most of his childhood at Cliveden, who became the next king as George III.
View of the Thames from the top of the Yew Walk
Two fires at Cliveden, in 1795 and 1849 destroyed the first two incarnations of the house. After the 1849 fire, Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament, was chosen to supervise rebuilding work. The Italianate villa he built stayed close to the spirit of Villiers' original building, and this is the house which in 1893 was purchased from the Duke of Westminster by William Waldorf Astor, a hugely wealthy American businessman. When William's son Waldorf married Nancy Longhorn in 1906, Cliveden was given to the couple as a gift. Nancy, always a great socialite, became in 1919 the first woman to sit in the House of Commons, and turned Cliveden into a major social and political centre. Many of the most famous figures of the period visited. George Bernard Shaw in particular loved it, and visited many times. Perhaps Cliveden's most famous role in political affairs was to occur in 1961. In July of that year Bill Astor invited a group of guests to stay, a group which included Lord Mountbatten, the president of Pakistan, and John Profumo, secretary of state for war. Also on the estate, at Spring Cottage beside the Thames, a society osteopath named Simon Ward was staying with his own group of guests, which included a pretty girl from London named Christine Keeler, and an assistant Soviet naval attache Yevgny Ivanov. On a hot sunny weekend that July, Ward's group were having a raucous time around the Astor's swimming pool. Bill Astor and his guests must have thought it sounded like fun, because they wandered out to see what was going on. It was here beside the pool that John Profumo met Christine Keeler for the first time. Profumo a married man then embarked on an affair with Keeler, not an unusual course of action for a government minister at the time. Profumo ended their affair within a few weeks, but when details began to leak, the combination of government minister, poor attractive girl from London, and a link with Soviet attache Ivanov, who Keeler was also sleeping with, produced a compelling story, and a major scandal. Profumo's career was finished, and the government's reputation damaged. The official report on the Profumo Affair was released on September 25th 1963. Within a month prime minister Harold Macmillan resigned due to ill health. One of the saddest aspects of the affair was an attempt to make Simon Ward a scapegoat. Trumped up charges of making a living by "immoral earnings" led to Ward's suicide during the court case.
Since 1942 Cliveden has been owned by the National Trust, although the Astor family continued to live there until 1964. Today the house is a hotel, and accommodation includes Spring Cottage where Simon Ward, Christine Keeler and Yevgny Ivanov stayed in 1961. Accommodation at Spring Cottage includes your own butler and a well stocked fridge! The grounds are open to general visitors, and the house is open to limited numbers of visitors by timed ticket usually on Thursday and Sunday afternoons. There are beautiful walks in the landscaped grounds and along the Thames. Restaurant facilities are provided in a conservatory built by the Duke of Westminster.
Cliveden House and gardens have been used as a location for a number of films including Sherlock Holmes, Chaplin, Help!, and The Ruling Class.
Opening Times: Opening hours for National Trust properties can be complex. Please use contact details below.
Address: Cliveden, Taplow, Berkshire, SL6 0JF
Directions: 2 miles north of Taplow. Leave M4 at junction 7 to A4, or M40 from junction 4 onto A404, and follow brown signs. Sat Nav use SL1 8NS. Click here for an interactive map centred on Cliveden.
Access: Level access to building, and alternatives to steps inside. A small number of wheelchairs provided. Grounds are very extensive, and there are steep slopes in some areas. But in the area of the house there are good paths, and most areas are level.
telephone: 01628 605069