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Benjamin Disraeli's career in Parliament began in 1837. He was an eccentric individual and did not seem marked out for high office. But after the resignation of Conservative Party leader Sir Robert Peel in 1846, and a party split over laws designed to protect the price of corn in 1849, Disraeli emerged as the Conservative Party's most visible figure. He had to wait until 1874 before becoming prime minister.
Disraeli's years as prime minister 1874 - 1880 saw many reforms. Picketing was legalised. All breaches of contract, whether by employer or employee were covered by the same legislation. Disraeli intended to appeal to the working class, partly out of a need to shore up support against his Liberal opponent William Gladstone. Historians have argued over Disraeli's credentials as a reformer. Many play up his opportunist nature, the way he adopted reform simply as a way of keeping the Liberal Party out of office. Others give more emphasis to his stated sentiments that government should take on a wider social responsibility: he once said: "The first consideration of a minister should be people's health... Pure air, pure water, the inspection of unhealthy habitations, the adulteration of food, these and many kindred matters may be legitimately dealt with by the legislature". The reality must be a combination of vision and opportunism, with perhaps the emphasis on opportunism, and reform as a happy side effect. Rather than reforming ideas coming about as part of a progressive plan, they were instituted on the run, usually in response to threats from the Liberals. In the memorable phrase of Disraeli's biographer R. Burke: "It was like a moonlight steeple chase. In negotiating their fences few of them saw where they were going, nor much cared so long as they got there first" (Disraeli - Ch21).
Disraeli lived at Hughenden Manor from 1848 until his death in 1881. Most of his furniture, books and pictures remain at the house, which was his private retreat from life in London. The gardens have been recreated to the original designs of Disraeli's wife Mary Anne. There are lovely walks through the surrounding riverside park.
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Address: Hughenden Manor, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire HP14 4LA
Directions: Hughenden Manor is just over a mile north of High Wycome on the A2148 in Buckinghamshire. Click here for an interactive map centred on Hughenden Manor.
Access: Three wheelchairs are available to hire. There is a step into the house. A ramp is available to negotiate this. The ground floor is generally accessible, though some rooms are small and offer little turning space. There are stairs to other floors. A photograph album tour can be viewed. There is an adapted toilet in the stable yard. The grounds are partly accessible. Braille and large print guides are provided. There are induction loops in reception, shop and restaurant.
telephone: 01494 755565 (Infoline)
telephone: 01494 755573