Cliveden House

Our women’s club had a short tour of Cliveden House yesterday as the end of year tea since our year ends in June when school is over and many women are packing up and moving on to new assignments with their spouses or back to the states.  Have to admit, had not really heard of Cliveden House before and I was unable to attend the lecture on it before the visit.  But WOW.  Sure wish I was uber-rich because how wonderful and fun it would be to live in such a place and have such famous people as friends and neighbors.  Of course there is a downside to being so rich, mainly probably in finding good help and having neighbors erect their homes to spoil your view (this from Nancy Astor).  But still, would be fun to try it for awhile.

We bused down there (arg!  Had just spent 12 hours on a bus the day before and my knees and back and hips have yet to recover). but luckily it isn’t far.  We started our morning with a tea in one of the drawing rooms or parlors.  Then we divided into groups of 16 and we got Gary as our guide.  It is a National Trust Property as well as being a working hotel so the guides are National Trust volunteers (or maybe paid, not sure which).  Gary was a great guide as he wasn’t adverse to telling us some of the rumors and scandal that was associated with the home and people over the years.  Spices up what could be a dull and boring rendition of history and furniture and people.

The Duke of Buckingham acquired the estate early on – 1660’s – and used it as a hunting lodge and mainly for entertaining his mistress who happened to be someone else’s wife.  Hollywood made out that the Duke and the husband had a duel on the property with the mistress holding their horses dressed as a page.  Reality has it that the duel was elsewhere with the wife/mistress ensconced in a nunnery somewhere but the result was the same in that the husband was wounded and died later from his wounds leaving the Duke free to take his mistress home with him and pack his own wife back to her father.

The house burned down a couple of times taking everything with it so that the only part surviving since the first building is the patio outside the main lodge.  As a result, most of the items in the house are products of auctions and hunting down period pieces but without the actual known history behind them and without belonging originally to the house.

In 1893, William Waldorf Astor bought the house.  His mother died there so he built a wall around the 300+ acres of the grounds and it was said that Waldorf owed the land and was “walled off” – play on words.  but he gave the property to his son, Waldorf Astor when he married Nancy Langhorne.  Nancy proved a bit of a stubborn rich lady complaining about her neighbors house which spoiled the view so she asked him how much it would cost her to tear down his house.  He refused and asked her how much to tear down Cliveden!

Many of the rich and famous of the time came for visits but during the war, it was turned into a hospital by the Canadaians after the Brits thought it would be too cumbersome and expensive to convert.   After the war, the rich and famouse continued to visit including Christine Keeler and Charles Profumo who created the scandal that brought down the MacMillian government in Britain.  You’ll have to go read that one on your own.  All spy versus spy and loose women type of affairs.

Finally the house was used for students for a period of time for the University of Stanford from 1969 to 1983.  In 1985 it became a hotel and is reputed to have the most expensive afternoon tea in Britain.  We did not receive this tea.  And I saw that the most expensive tea was only 49 pounds.  surely somewhere in Britain can beat this price for expense.  BUT then there is the Platinum tea which has:

“”THE PLATINUM AFTERNOON TEA…

A true indulgent treat, the Platinum tea has been billed as one of the world’s most expensive afternoon teas with truly special ingredients.

Presented by Executive Head Chef Carlos Martinez you can expect a lavish spread that includes world’s most expensive ingredients and side dishes. Priced at £550 per couple, it includes ‘white truffles at a £2,500 per kilogram, Beluga Caviar at a staggering £4,000 per kilogram and Da Hong Pao Tea, which is harvested from one thousand year old plants and is so rare that it costs over £2,000 per kilogram. The afternoon tea is washed down by a glass of Dom Perignon Rose, dubbed the King of Champagnes’. It also comes with ‘Cliveden House Chocolate Cake with Gold Leaf’ paired with Kopi Luwak, the world’s most expensive coffee.

Another most expensive snack of the menu is the hotel’s legendary Platinum Club Sandwich priced at £100 which will appear in a mini canapé version””

So not sure anyone can beat that price after all.  Rooms start at only 385 pounds a night but you can go all the way to 1720 pounds for a cottage for the night.  It does include breakfast.

We had a very lovely time being shown around the house and getting the history and tales behind the tapestries and suits of Armour and the carvings and looking at the Thames and the valley below.  It is a beautiful place.  

     As I mentioned, our tea was not the Platinum Afternoon Tea but it was delightful with some wonderful sandwiches, some delightful cakes and some candy crowns.  Many of the cakes were decorated with the U.K. flag.

     As it was raining most of the day, only a few of us walked down to the chapel where Nancy Astor is buried but unfortunately, it didn’t open until 3 p.m. and we had to leave.  

     So much more hisotry of Cliveden house than I can relate here but it is a grand and magnificent place and well worth a visit.  One can dream and imagine all the intrigue and drama of the past and wonder how much drama and intrigue continues to this day.  Another very enjoyable outing with the American Women of Surrey.

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