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Mentmore, Buckinghamshire, England

Mentmore is the grand Buckinghamshire country house built between 1852 and 1854 for Baron Mayer Amschel de Rothschild (1818-1874).

In 1836, Hannah, Mrs Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1783-1850) bought a few acres of land at Mentmore for her sons so that they could take healthy exercise away from the city. In 1850, Nathan's son Mayer Amschel bought the Manor of Mentmore for £12,400 and commissioned Sir Joseph Paxton and his son-in-law, George Henry Stokes, to design an elegant mansion in the 19th-century revival Jacobethan style as a country residence, and to display his collection of fine art. The builder was the London firm George Myers, frequently employed by members of the Rothschild family. The resulting mansion, which incorporated the most modern features, stands four-square on a slight rise with towers at each corner, and is the largest of the English Rothschild houses, with a huge central grand hall with glazed roof, designed to imitate the arcaded courtyard of a Renaissance palazzo. The rooms took their inspiration principally from the Italian Renaissance, with many of the rooms named for the collections they once contained, such as the Amber Room and the Limoges Room. The boiseries, or elaborately carved wood panels, were from the Hôtel de Villars, Paris, and are the first example of this type of decoration to be used in an English house. The fragments of the boiseries not used at Mentmore were later installed at Waddesdon Manor.

On 31 December 1851, aged just five months, Mayer’s daughter Hannah (1851-1890) helped lay the foundation stone for the great mansion, described as one of the greatest houses of the Victorian era. Visiting it in 1872, Lady Eastlake said that it was "like a fairyland when I entered the great palace, and got at once into the grand hall -40ft by 50, and about 100ft high -hung with tapestries, floored with parquet and Persian carpets."

Mayer died in 1874 leaving Hannah as his sole beneficiary; she inherited the vast estate of Mentmore and 107, Piccadilly, and was said to be the wealthiest British heiress of her day. In 1878, Hannah married the aristocrat and Liberal politician Archibald Philip Primrose, the 5th Earl of Rosebery (1847-1929) and the Roseberys divided their year among their various homes: London for the social season and parliament and Mentmore at weekends to entertain both political and shooting house-parties. Following Hannah’s death from Bright's disease in 1890 at age 39, the house became the home of her widower, who was to serve as Prime Minister for two years from 1894. 

Mentmore in the twentieth century

In 1922, the 5th Earl of Rosebery gave the estate to his son Harry Meyer Archibald Primrose, Lord Dalmeny, who succeeded to the earldom in 1929. During the Second World War, as a result of the friendship of the second wife of the 6th Earl, Eva Primrose, with Sir Kenneth Clark, Mentmore was chosen by the British government to store part of the British national art collections during the hostilities, and the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, along with pieces from the Royal Collection, including the Gold State Coach, and pieces from the Palace of Westminster were housed during the duration. Much of the estate was sold in 1944, but the mansion, its grounds, formal gardens several farms and the majority of the village of Mentmore remained in the ownership of Harry Primrose, 6th Earl of Rosebery, until his death in 1974.

The Mentmore sale of 1977

Following the death of the 6th Earl of Rosebery in 1974, the Labour government was offered the house and contents for £2 million, in lieu of taxes due of the estare but the offer was declined. It was the desire of Roy Strong, the Director of the V&A, that the mansion and its collections be acquired for the nation, at a stroke turning them into one of England's finest museums of European furniture, objets d'art and Victorian era architecture, but the government refused to spend such large sums from its funds, and the sale fell through. After three more years of fruitless discussion, the executors of the estate sold the contents by public auction, one of the major sales of the century. and the large collection was dispersed. Among the paintings sold were works by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Boucher, Drouais, Moroni and other well-known artists, and cabinet makers, including Jean Henri Riesener and Chippendale. Also represented were the finest German and Russian silversmiths and goldsmiths, and makers of Limoges enamel. The estate sale made over £6 million, and the sale of Mentmore and its collections has been described as a "turning point for the preservation movement".

In 1978, The Maharishi Foundation in the UK purchased Mentmore for ₤240,000 for use as a headquarters and college; it became the headquarters of the Natural Law Party and campus of Maharishi University of Natural Law. By 1997, the movement was seeking a larger facility and placed Mentmore on the market for ₤10 million. It sold two years later for ₤3 million to investor Simon Halabi, who planned to build additional hotel and conference facilities; the plan did not proceed. In 1992 the Mentmore Golf and Country Club opened, on land previously owned by the estate. A proposal in 2009 was to renovate the mansion stalled, and the property was left in decline.

Mentmore today

Mentmore is a Grade I listed building, with its park and gardens listed Grade II*. However, a report in April 2022 described it as "abandoned" and today it remains on Historic England’s ‘At Risk’ Register.

Note on the name: it has been suggested that ‘Mentmore Towers’ may have been used informally by the Rothschild family or local inhabitants, or was used when the estate was marketed for sale in the late twentieth century. Papers in The Rothschild Archive would suggest that the mansion when built was known  as ‘Mentmore’; the contract between Baron Mayer and George Myers describes ’the erection of a Mansion House at Mentmore’; Hannah, Countess Rosebery’s catalogue of the Mentmore collections, privately published in 1883 is titled ‘Mentmore’, and examples of Baron Mayer de Rothschild’s private correspondence are written on headed paper, ‘Mentmore, Leighton Buzzard’.

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