Waddesdon Manor is set to welcome the public again into its splendid interiors from Wednesday 16 September, with a special, free, Covid-safe ground-floor route.
This not only allows visitors to reacquaint themselves with friends from the collections old and new, but also highlights a lesser-known aspect of the life of the house – including its long career starring on both big and small screens.
Starting with Carry On, Don’t Lose Your Head in 1966, Waddesdon – built in the 19th century in the Buckinghamshire countryside in the style of a French château – has hosted stellar directors including Ridley Scott (The Counselor, 2012), Stephen Frears (The Queen, 2006) and Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, 2011) and been the backdrop for scenes from the classic James Bond Never Say Never Again (1983), to Downton Abbey, Midsomer Murders, MasterChef The Crown and Antiques Roadshow. It has even starred in a J-pop video (World Order’s Informal Empire, 2015).
This is the first opportunity to visit the Manor in 2020. When lockdown happened, the house was in the midst of being prepared for reopening from its winter closure, during which the Collections are ‘put to bed’. This instantly went on hold and in the intervening months a small team of house staff worked to ensure that the paintings, furniture and works of art remained safe and secure in their seclusion.
As the lockdown eased, and the staff began to think about how the house could reopen, it was clear that there were some interesting angles to explore. Thanks to recent filming part of the house is shown as it is used as a location – a rare opportunity for visitors to see something that is usually kept firmly behind the scenes. In planning the route, staff also had to consider a one-way flow, avoiding pinch points and narrow doorways. An unexpected bonus is that in some places, visitors can have closer encounters with objects in the collection than they usually do.
For example, the two magnificent views of Venice by Francesco Guardi (the largest canvases ever painted by the artist), are now so close that you can almost feel the waves in the lagoon. While on the other side of the East Gallery, you come face to face with the marvellous, musical Elephant automaton which entertained the Shah of Persia during his visit to Waddesdon.
Waddesdon’s interiors have been used for filming over the last 40 years. It’s a reminder of how a little silver-screen magic can transform them from their 18th-century Parisian elegance into the lair where James Bond (Sean Connery) goes head to head with villain Max Largo (Klaus Maria Brandaeur) in the eternal battle game, Domination in Never Say Never Again. The rooms visitors regularly see have also been used as locations for A Little Chaos (Alan Rickman and Kate Winslet, 2014), Our Kind of Traitor (Ewan MacGregor and Damian Lewis, 2016), Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Robert Downey Junior and Jude Law, 2011), Half Moon Street (1986), and The Queen (Helen Mirren and Michael Sheen, 2016).
Yet another facet of Waddesdon is revealed in the Red Drawing Room, with a rare chance to see how Waddesdon looks when the furniture, carpets, porcelain and other objects are packed away. We call this ‘putting the house to bed’, as everything is conservation cleaned before being protected with covers made especially for each object to protect delicate surfaces from dust and light. The portraits still look down from the walls, though – some of them of people as much celebrities in their time as the stars who have filmed in front of them.
As visitors move into the West End of the house, they will see a more familiar side of Waddesdon, set out as it usually is, so that the collections can be enjoyed as they were by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild’s guests, but with an unexpected twist for those who know the house well. In the Morning Room you can now stand in front of the fireplace, either to admire Reynold’s magnificent portrait of notorious courtesan Emily Pott as Thais, to enjoy the Dutch Golden Age paintings to their best advantage, or marvel at the complexity of one of Waddesdon’s mechanical desks opened up.
Pippa Shirley, Waddesdon’s Head of Collections & Gardens says, ‘After months of closure, I think we are all craving opportunities to see and reconnect with extraordinary spaces, places and things, in reality rather than on screen. It’s been so exciting to plan for visitors again, and we can’t wait to see them meeting old friends in the collections or discovering new ones. Waddesdon is a house with so many stories to tell, and it’s been incredibly rewarding to present ourselves a bit differently, to offer a close-up on some unexpected aspect of what we do, and some of the surprising ways in which the house comes to life.’
OPENING DATES, TIMES AND TICKETS
Wed 16 September – Sun 1 November, 11am-4pm, last entry 3.30pm
Admission free with pre-booked grounds ticket (£11 Adult, £5.50 child)
Advance booking of timed Grounds admission, parking and shuttle bus tickets is essential for all visitors, including National Trust members.
Online booking waddesdon.seetickets.com/content/ticket-options
Creating a Covid-safe visit
- Admission on a first come basis, and free with timed Grounds admission, with queue outside the house being managed by staff
- Visitors will be asked to queue outside the Main Door and invited in by staff in household/family groups or up to eight at a time
- Entry to the house cannot be guaranteed. This is an experiment as demand to see inside the house is not yet known
- Visitors will be required to wear face coverings, asked to hand sanitise before entry and to ensure they keep two metre distance from others while in the house
- Interpretation will be presented on lecterns and using the free Smartify app on visitors’ mobile devices, so that no one has to handle shared laminated room sheets.
Image © National Trust, Waddesdon Manor, Mike Fear