Postcard from . . . Cliveden

AS VIEWS go, few outlooks are quite as spectacular as that enjoyed by the late Duke of Sutherland from his lofty perch among the trees at Cliveden.

From here, the 2nd Duke can stare perpetually out over the elegant house he and his wife had built here after their newly purchased home burned down in 1849.

The man in charge of the project was Charles Barry, the architect responsible for the Houses of Parliament, who had rebuilt the Duke’s other homes at Trentham Hall in Staffordshire and Dunrobin Castle in Scotland.

Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland, wanted a retreat from London that was close to her friend Queen Victoria at Windsor, and by 1852 the three-storey Italianate villa was complete and able to host a ball for 200 people.

“Just, compassionate and good” is how the Duke was remembered by his son in the inscription on the rear of the larger-than-life Grade II listed marble statue that stares out across the Cliveden estate, with an equally impressive panorama over the Thames on the other side.

The Duke died in 1861 and the statue was erected at Cliveden at Christmas 1866, but it wasn’t always in this location, being moved from the Grand Avenue in 1896 to make way for Lord Astor’s new acquisition, the Fountain of Love.

But the Duke’s commanding position is an apt choice, offering such an unequalled view of the house which has witnessed so much history.

If only trees could talk, what a tale they could tell – of parties and politics, scandal and intrigue.

The estate has been here from more than three centuries, successive owners sparing no expense in their efforts to create a magnificent summer retreat.

Within 20 years of buying Cliveden in 1849, both the Duke and Duchess had died. They were not to know just how famous their house would become for its lavish hospitality and glamorous guests when Nancy and Waldorf Astor lived here during the first half of the 20th century.

Nor could they have foreseen how a chance meeting at the newly installed swimming pool in the 1960s would ignite one of the biggest scandals in British political history when John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, met model and showgirl Christine Keeler there.

The “sex and spying” scandal marked the end of Profumo’s career and nearly brought down the government.

Nonetheless, the estate survived the Profumo scandal and the Sutherland legacy lives on – not just in their beautiful mansion, but through no fewer than 11 children, whose descendants read like a who’s who of the British aristocracy.

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