An early start on a dull day, motoring north of Reading and finding the very narrow entrance and driveway to Basildon Park and understanding why only one coach per day is allowed into the site.
Built in 1783 by the architect John Carr for Francis Sykes, both Yorkshiremen.
Sold 50 years later, to the Liberal MP James Morrison and lived in by the Morrison family until the death of daughter Ellen in 1910, whereupon the house remained empty for over 40 years, until the 2nd Lord and Lady Iliffe bought it in ‘52. They lovingly restored this great 18th Cent Georgian mansion with skill and on a grand scale, to bring it back to its full glory. They scoured the country for, and salvaged, 18th century architectural fixtures and fittings. Lord and Lady Iliffe filled their comfortable new home with fine period furnishings and important Old Master paintings. By contrast ‘below stairs’ the 1950’s kitchen and laundry, are utterly of their period, and provide memories of childhood for visitors.
Following an early coffee in the small tearoom, some of the party were fortunate to join a guided tour, which highlighted the many treasures in the house
In the Sutherland Room, Graham Sutherland’s studies for the Coventry Cathedral tapestry ‘Christ in Glory’ (Sutherland and the Iliffes were close friends)
Portrait of Lady Iliffe by Frank O. Salisbury, in the Staircase Hall
Paintings of God the Father and his apostles by Pompeo Batoni in the Octagon Room, as well as 18th-century silk damask curtains from Blenheim Palace
A rare example of surviving 18th-century plasterwork in the Green Drawing Room
The house has featured in many TV and film productions, most notably Downton Abbey. The interiors of Basildon Park are used as the Crawley family’s London residence, Grantham House. In the season five finale, the elegant Georgian mansion was at the heart of Lady Rose and Atticus Aldridges’ wedding, all providing an insider’s guide to the filming of the show).
A quick lunch at Basildon Park, whilst sheltering from the showers, and then we reboarded the coach to move eastwards to Nuffield Place near Henley–on-Thames.
Originally built as a country retreat for a shipping magnate and bought in 1933 by Sir William Morris (who became Lord Nuffield shortly afterwards), the founder of Morris Motors and one of the richest men in the world. Despite his wealth, he chose to live in the same comfortable Oxfordshire house (close to his car-building factories in Oxford) for 30 years.
William Morris designed the Morris Oxford ‘Bullnose’ a century ago, and it entered mass production in 1913, making him millions, most of which he gave away.
A comfortable 30’s home, with its china displays, cocktail cabinet and radiogram, Nuffield Place is furnished in quiet good taste, and an evocative reflection of a man whose modest home life was In complete contrast to his wealth and public persona. It is as though its owners have just stepped into their much-loved garden: there are framed photographs, letters and smoking paraphernalia everywhere. An unpretentious style of living. So Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia must have been startled when, in 1954, he dined at Nuffield Place. Lady Nuffield had laid the table and the food, brought from the local golf club and warmed up, was taken into the dining room by Lady Nuffield herself.
But the true nature of the man, is revealed in Lord Nuffield’s bedroom. The beige carpet, like that used in his cars, is made from offcuts.
We were fortunate to experience a tour of the gardens by the head gardener, who is endeavouring to regenerate the original gardens, which had been ill-maintained by the College after William Morris’s death. Based mainly on photos, he is trying to expose lost ponds and repair collapsed stone walls. A heavy shower brought our visit to a close.
Robert Windslade brought us back, via unfamiliar country roads, to complete a well-organised and very enjoyable day viewing two contrasting properties.