Cliveden House, Berkshire. Victorian mansion and English palladium styles with overtones of Roman Cinquecento architecture, Bells details

Cliveden House, Berkshire. The only privately managed house under the National Trust portfolio

Acquired in 2012 by London & Regional, after a four-year-long restoration period, lavishing over thirty million pounds, Cliveden opened. The House suspended its operations only for a month whilst the renovations

Cliveden House, Berkshire  – The Royal Legacy

Set on the banks of the River Thames, a Seventeenth-century Palladian mansion, steeped in aristocratic history has reincarnated as a country house hotel. Brimming with royal connections, the ownership of Cliveden – spread across five hundred acres – it changed many hands before its metamorphosis into a hospitality offering. Built in 1666 by the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, the House was envisioned as a hunting lodge, and a place for the duke and his friends to get together. To the Duchess of Buckingham’s dismay, it was also where the Duke brought his mistress, the Countess of Shrewsbury, to conduct their affair.

Later in the 18th century, the Prince of Wales acquired the House and lived there with his family. Queen Victoria would make frequent visits to Cliveden while traveling up the River Thames from Windsor to spend time with her friend, the Duchess of Sutherland. In 1893 the House was bought by William Waldorf Astor, America’s wealthiest citizen. William made Cliveden a gift to his son, Waldorf Astor, upon his marriage to Nancy in 1906. The Astors were responsible for ushering streaks of glamour and magnificence to the heritage property. They turned the house into a weekend soirée spot and played host to the  English and American high society. Over the years their guests included the likes of Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Edith Wharton, and Henry James.

Cliveden House, Berkshire: the palladian mansion turned luxury hotel

The house and the grounds were donated to the National Trust by the Astor family in 1942. National Trust is a charity that maintains royal properties in the absence of its owners. «The trust takes care of houses that have been passed over by families after they have died. This is usually done to avoid paying duty and the heavy maintenance costs of grand properties as such», explains Macedo, General Manager.

In 2012 the house was acquired by London & Regional, a privately owned real estate and leisure investment company. After a four-year-long restoration period, and lavishing over thirty million pounds, Cliveden opened as a five-star luxury hotel. The House suspended its operations only for a month whilst the renovations. «We have always operated as an open house. We want our guests to witness the upgrades. This helps garner curiosity from the patrons as they become part of the story».

Cliveden House runs as the only privately managed house under the National Trust portfolio. «Trust is responsible for maintaining the grounds, and we are responsible for maintaining the house. We work together to ensure an integrated experience for the clients», explains Macedo.

The three hundred seventy-six acres of National Trust parklands with its manicured lawns and a Nineteenth-century parterre offer an idyllic English countryside setting. Activities on-site abound; a maze, a children’s play area, indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, amphitheater, etc. Guests that have checked-in get exclusive access to the Louis Treize-style Library, adorned with a marble fireplace and elaborate wooden walls brimming with books about lord chancellors.

Cliveden House, Berkshire, was built in 1666 by the 2nd Duke of Buckingham

Architecture and design of Cliveden House, Berkshire

Cliveden House brings together Victorian mansion and English palladium styles with overtones of Roman Cinquecento architecture. Roman design influence can be seen throughout the exterior of the house. «The house is rendered in Roman cement», adds Macedo.

In the course of its three-hundred-fifty years-old history, the stately home has undergone several modifications. It suffered two ordeals, first in 1795, then again in 1849. Charles Barry, the architect behind London’s Parliament, was behind the rebuilding of the house. Speaking of amends, «when Lord Astor bought the house he wanted to have big rooms so he opened up the great halls and converted them into suite-style bedrooms. Making it more Italian palazzo style to blend with the exterior balustrade roofline engraved with Latin verses», adds Macedo.

At Cliveden House, the restored interiors mirror its heritage. William Waldorf Astor’s architectural legacy is etched all over the house. In 1897 he imported all the elements of a Louis XV wood-paneled room from the Château d’Asnières near Paris to adorn the French Dining Hall. Including the Sixteenth century fireplace and the original pillar that has withstood the test of time. Cliveden also became the setting for his extensive collections of sculpture, tapestries and furniture. Interior details abound; 16th-century tapestries, wood-paneled halls, red and gold velvets, oil paintings of British aristocrats, high paneled ceilings, antiques and curios, grand gildings, ornate chandeliers. 

There are 47 rooms and suites; all are named after people who have been connected to the House. George Bernard Shaw, Lady Astor, Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Prince of Wales and more. The Lady Astor Suite,, offers a king-sized bed, antique furniture and original pieces of art. Lady Astor was the first lady in the British parliament in 1919. Owing to her strong ties with Winston Churchill, she shared a love-hate banter with him. «Once Lady Astor told Churchill ‘if you were my husband I’d poison your tea with arsenic’, and to this, he would respond, ‘if I were your husband I would definitely drink it’», Macedo tells us.

Guests can also opt to stay at Spring Cottage, a three-bedroom cottage that can accommodate up to six people. It offers a private chef and butler service. «It was built by the Duchess of Sutherland as a venue for her to host Queen Victoria for afternoon tea. The Queen made regular visits along the Thames from Windsor castle». The stately home also boasts a state-of-the-art spa offering seven treatment rooms alongside a Technogym, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and tennis courts, a sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi, and al-fresco hot tubs. 

Restaurant and bar at Cliveden House, Berkshire

Cliveden House offers two eateries: The Astor Grill and Cliveden Dining Room. The dining room menu retains classic French influences with a focus on quality English ingredients. «We are very classic with our approach and prefer to adhere to British cuisine. Beef Wellington is one of our bestsellers at the dining room». 

Named after the residing family, Astor Grill offers a cosmopolitan brasserie-style affair with an all-day menu. Some of the signatures include; Sweet Potato Falafel, Harrisa Houmous, Piperade. Garlic and Thyme Baked Somerset Camembert. Cobb Salad, Barkham Blue, Avocado, Tomato, Spring Onion, Hen’s Egg. Falafel and Halloumi Burger. Sticky Date Pudding. 

Despite its classic and regal reputation, for Macedo, catching up with the changing consumer trends is imperative. «Now 40% of our entire menu for both our eateries is vegetarian and vegan as a lot of our patrons are going down the plant-based and vegan route».

Profumo affair 

Cliveden is home to a series of scandals that shook the British parliament. The history of the stately home would not be complete without a mention of the Profumo affair. It mired the House in scandal during the Sixties in the same way it had been three-hundred years ago with the Duke of Buckingham. 

The seeds that triggered a series of events were sown in July 1961, when Bill Astor invited a group of guests to stay that included John Profumo, British Secretary of State for War. Other guests were Lord Mountbatten of Burma and the president of Pakistan. During the Cold War: John Profumo ignited an extramarital affair with a young girl: Christine Keeler who had secret ties with the Soviets. Stephen Ward and Christine Keeler were staying in Spring Cottage during the scandal. 

Cliveden House, Berkshire

Cliveden Rd, Taplow, Maidenhead SL6 0JF, United Kingdom

Thirty minutes from London by train, Cliveden is situated in the village of Taplow in Berkshire. 

Chetna Chopra

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.