For Mary Gladstone, the 19th century Prime Minister’s daughter, it was ‘a palace-like cottage, the most luxurious and lovely thing I ever saw.’ But somehow the message never quite reached the stately home-visiting public.
Today Ascott House, near Wing in Buckinghamshire, is one of the less busy big houses to the immediate north of London. Certainly much less busy than Waddesdon Manor, eight miles away.
I suggest it as a place you can visit without a car, if you’re looking to reduce your travelling carbon footprint. The details are at the end.
Part of the property dates from 1606, but the process of turning a Jacobean farmhouse into a rambling, asymmetrical ‘Old English’ style manor house, all black and white half timber, with red–tiled roofs and shafted brick chimney stacks happened after the Rothschild family acquired it in 1873.
The house, with some of its important art collection – paintings, fine furniture and oriental porcelain – and a small part of the estate, was given in 1947 to the National Trust. There are enough treasures, indoors and out, to keep you occupied for a good few hours.
The extensive manicured gardens were laid out around 1902, an attractive mix of the formal and natural, with specimen trees, shrubs and beautiful herbaceous borders. There are large areas of lawn and terraced garden features, including a sundial made entirely of topiary, a bronze fountain representing “Venus in Her Shell Chariot attended by Cherubs”, topiary box and bay trees. A long-grassed avenue, enclosed by a tall beech hedge, leads to a lily pool. There is a rock garden with dripping grotto and artificial stalagmites. And uplifting views across the Vale of Aylesbury to the Chilterns. Astonishing to think that only 20 years ago there was a proposal to drive the Swindon to East Anglia road through here.
The easiest public transport option is train to Aylesbury or Leighton Buzzard, then the 150 Max bus which runs between the two. (Leighton Buzzard is nearer, 2 miles away.)
But if you want to make a day of it, it’s a satisfying walk (5 miles) from Cheddington Station (hourly service service from Euston – 41 minutes – and from the Midlands.)
Footnote: How they stopped the express train (with a loco something like the photo) for Mr Gladstone, who had been reappointed as Prime Minister the previous April.
“Arrangements were made to stop the 2.45 Euston down express at Cheddington. On Monday Mr. Gladstone drove down to the station, with Lord and Lady Rosebery, in ample time to meet the special arrangements made for them. Some slight astonishment was expressed by a few regular passengers in the train at such an unusual course being pursued. When, however, it became known that Mr. Gladstone was the gentleman thus obliged, the only anxiety was to catch a glimpse of the right hon. gentleman, for whom and Mrs. Gladstone a special carriage had been annexed. The express reached Cheddington about twelve minutes late, but in the course of the journey to Crewe, this was considerably reduced, and Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone arrived at Chester at official time from Cheddington to Chester.” –
The Monmouthshire Merlin and South Wales Advertiser, Sept 12th, 1880.
For more on my visit to Ascott, click here.