Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire, England
When the Aston Clinton estate in Buckinghamshire came up for sale in July 1849 the Rothschild brothers discussed a possible investment purchase, agreeing to pay no more than £26,000, as "it is not like a fancy place." Sir Anthony de Rothschild (1810-1876) finally bought the property in 1851 when its former owner Lord Lake died.
Aston Clinton mansion
The large mansion was situated to the south-east of the village of Aston Clinton, and from 1854, Sir Anthony and his wife Lady Louise (née Montefiore) (1821-1910) began to make alterations to the house. The architect George Henry Stokes, assistant of Joseph Paxton (who had designed the great Rothschild house Mentmore Towers for Anthony’s brother Mayer Rothschild) and the builder George Myers produced a neo-Classical design at the foot of the Chilterns, with a park and gardens which Anthony greatly enhanced with conifers and shrubs. Extensions to the existing house including a ‘Billiard Room building’, dining room, offices and a conservatory were made. George Devey took over from Stokes from 1864 to 1877, designing the park gates and various cottages on the estate. Even after these building works, the house was not ostentatious, and was described by Lord Rosebery as "the only Rothschild mansion that could be called a gentleman’s house."
Photographs of the house show a large neo-Georgian Italianate-style house with verandahs, a large porte-cochère and an elegant conservatory. By the time the Rothschilds sold the estate in 1923 the house had grown from its humble origins to become a classical mansion with seven reception rooms, billiard room, ball room, thirteen principal bed and dressing rooms, seventeen secondary and servants’ bedrooms, four bathrooms and complete domestic offices. There was stabling for 32 horses and two lodges had been built.
Lady Louise was initially disappointed with the property, regarding it as rather too small. "Aston Clinton is not the house I dreamt of", she wrote in her diaries. Nevertheless, she and her daughters Constance, Lady Battersea (1843-1931) and Annie, Mrs Eliot Yorke (1844-1926) came to love the house and the family enjoyed a pleasant life in the country. The house and park were the setting for many entertainments, both formal and intimate. Anthony was a keen countryman and he became owner of a number of successful racehorses including Carnelion and Coomassie, and Aston Clinton hosted shooting parties at which the Prince of Wales was a frequent guest, while distinguished artists, such as Hallé and Joachim, were invited to perform at the family’s parties.
The Rothschilds at Aston Clinton
At Aston Clinton, Anthony and Louise were noted for their enlightened views of the responsibilities towards their employees and their tenants. The whole family took a close interest in the development of the community, and the Rothschilds transformed the estate and village. A large number of workers' cottages were built and the Anthony Hall in the village was erected by Louise in 1884 in memory of her husband. Both daughters inherited their parents’ sense of moral responsibility and devoted their time to education issues and other social welfare causes. Aston Clinton Infants’ School was built by Anthony as a sixteenth birthday present for Constance at her request.
After Anthony’s death in 1876, Louise and her daughter Constance continued to live in the mansion. Constance is said to have been responsible for alterationsand extensions to the house and gardens, including a re-designed stable block and water features including a 'Fairy Glen'. Upon Lady Louise's death in 1910, Aston Clinton reverted to the Rothschild Estate and the three sons of Anthony’s brother Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879) jointly inherited the interest. Constance and Annie continued to use Aston Clinton as a holiday home until the outbreak of the war. Constance wrote fondly of her days at Aston Clinton and the life of the house and its guests in her memoirs.
In the First World War, like the adjoining Halton estate, Aston Clinton was lent to the War Office, the mansion becoming in September 1914 the HQ of 21st Infantry Division. 21st Division was a ‘New Army’ division, part of Kitchener's Army, and it was formed-up and trained on Rothschild land in Buckinghamshire, initially in Tring but in 1915 on the Halton and Aston Clinton estates. Four brigades of field artillery and one heavy battery received their advanced training in the grounds of Aston Clinton House in the spring and summer of 1915, including extensive gas offensive and defensive training. Final inspection of the division by Lord Kitchener occurred in August 1915 and the move to France took place from 2 to 13 September 1915.
Sale of the estate by the Rothschilds
By 1923, Lionel’s three sons had died, and the estate passed to Charles Rothschild, (1877-1923). When Charles died, his executors, concerned about the rising cost of the upkeep of Aston Clinton, put the estate on the market. The whole estate was disposed of in sales in 1923 and 1924, and the mansion was sold to a Dr Crawford who, from 1924 to 1930 ran Aston Clinton School, a prep school at which the young Evelyn Waugh taught. The house reopened briefly as the Aston Clinton Country Club in 1931.
The estate again came to the market in 1932, when it was divided into lots and the ‘freehold estate known as Aston Clinton Park’ was auctioned. Land from the estate was purchased by a builder for development. The house reopened as the Howard Park Hotel in 1932.
By the start of the Second World War the house was the Green Park Hotel, but during the War the stables were used by EKCO, an electronics company from Southend-on-Sea, Essex, as its main headquarters and for radar research and development, and the main house was used as a hospital for war wounded. Following the war, the mansion briefly re-opened as a hotel, but in the early 1950s the building was badly damaged by fire, and was later demolished between 1956 and 1958.
The estate was acquired by Buckinghamshire County Council c.1959 (with the provision that is be used for educational purposes) and opened as Green Park, a public park, with a county training facility and sports complex later being built on the site of the former mansion. Some of the original ornamental features of the extended garden still remain, incorporated into the site, including an original ice-house. All that remains of the buildings of the estate are the stables, used as part of the training centre, and the lodge in Stablebridge Road.
See Aston Clinton House, Buckinghamshire in The Rothschild Archive Annual Review 2002-2003 and Mr Warren's photograph album: memories of a vanished Rothschild estate in The Rothschild Archive Annual Review 2012-2013 for more information about Aston Clinton.Return to Estates listing