Cliveden House Hotel (photo from Luxurious Magazine)
One of my many interests is visiting stately homes and historic residences. There’s a few of them in London, but the remarkably grand ones are outside the capital, far from any form of public transport. Palatial houses come with extensive grounds and beautiful gardens after all.
My husband and I keep a list of houses we want to visit but we’ve never come across Cliveden House. It is jointly owned and looked after by the National Trust and Iconic Luxury Hotels. The former handles the gardens and the grounds while the latter manages the house as a luxury hotel.
So why a literary festival at Cliveden House? That would involve some history-telling, so bear with me and I’ll try to keep this as short as possible!
The first known member of nobility to have owned it was the second Duke of Buckingham, George Villiers. He was a close friend of Charles II, and was one of the wealthiest and highly influential men in that period.
He was also known as a rake and had a mistress, the Countess of Shrewsbury, who lived with him in Cliveden House. He “won” her by duelling against her husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, who died soon after due to his wounds. Can you imagine all the drama and raucity they were up to? I’ll be honest: it’s the kind that gives me life.
The Grand Staircase (photo by Andrew Testa from the NY Times)
Strangely enough, rakish George did not have any heirs, so Cliveden House was passed along to various noble families. All the succeeding mistresses of Cliveden House wielded great political influence during their time.
At the tail end of the 19th century, the house was bought by William Waldorf Astor as a wedding present to his son Waldorf and his wife, the famous Nancy Astor.
This is the period the literary festival is inspired by. Cliveden Lit Fest hopes to evoke the time when politicians and world leaders, writers, artists, and film stars, were frequent guests of the house and informal literary salons took place.
The Great Hall with a 16th century fireplace that Lord Astor bought overseas for maximum impression. Lady Nancy Astor’s portrait on the left of the fireplace (photo from the official website)
In keeping with its history of intrigue, Cliveden House’s most recent one (1960s) was a sex scandal involving the Secretary of State for War and 19-year-old Christine Keeler, who apparently described it as “a screw of convenience”. Hah!
That was an absolutely barebones version — I strongly suggest acquiring a copy of Natalie Livingstone’s The Mistresses of Cliveden. Save for Keeler, it provides richer detail about the women who lived there and had considerable effects on society and history.
I came to Cliveden House with fellow book bloggers who all use different mediums to share the literary love. We were given to a brief tour of the social rooms as well as the general history of the house by a butler who has been there for quarter of a century. We initially spent time at the study (photo below) but I cannot recall which master of Cliveden used it as such. *hides* Whoever it was, it was someone after my own heart. I highly approve and covet the cosy room with all that shelf space!
photo by Andrew Harper
The above room can be hired as a meeting space, as well as the room adjacent to it. Again, I can’t recall if it was Nancy Astor or one of the other mistresses’ who had turned it into a sitting room where close friends were taken in for tea. That massive Great Hall is simply for making an impression, you see!
We passed by the doors of the dining room and was ushered straight in to the French Dining Room. It was exquisite. There are intricate details everywhere — the walls, the ceilings; the lush curtains and tall windows with a fantastic view of the gardens brought some light into the room.
The French Dining Room (photo from Passport to Friday)
The best part? They served us afternoon tea! Everything was delicious, and they even let us bring home some of the dessert items we couldn’t finish. Heh.
The French Dining Room — and finally, a photo I’ve taken
You might notice that most of the photos here were not taken by me except for that last one. I’ve been very muddled in the head as of late and I always seem to miss one thing every time I have a list of things to bring. On that day, aside from sending the cab to the wrong address so I had to briskly make my way by foot to the right one, I didn’t check if I had my camera all ready before leaving the flat.
I turned it on on arrival to Cliveden, and guess what? THERE WAS NO MEMORY CARD!
Commence mental eye-roll and internal sigh.
I anticipated the need for a device that could work with limited indoor lighting; I didn’t expect there would be no memory card in it. Guess that’s why I’m don’t blog for a living, eh? Haha! If I ever get invited again to have a look around, I’m checking every crevice of the bloody camera before setting off! In the meantime, I’ll try and entice the husband to drive over so we can explore the grounds!
The Cliveden Literary Festival is on for the 14th and 15th of October, and tickets are already on sale. We were told the amount of tickets are limited because the organisers want to keep the intimate feel reminiscent of the literary salons hosted by the Astors. You know what that means: book ASAP! Check the official website for ticket prices, the programme, and the special guests and speakers invited.
Thank you Laura for inviting me to a preview of this exciting event and for letting me join despite the late notice! Thanks as well to Richard and James for being so nice and accommodating! It was lovely to meet you all!