Thursday, June 21, 2007

Waddesdon Manor

Waddesdon Manor is the Renaissance-style chateau Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild had built to house his impressive collection of art treasures. It dates from the late 19th century and took about fifteen years to complete. Ferdinand had less than ten years to enjoy his chateau, but in that time, the house parties held at Waddesdon were legendary. There are 9 suites where couples could stay and a Bachelor wing, complete with Smoking and Billiard rooms for the single Gentlemen, who were invited, to stay. It was to all intents and purposes on the cutting edge of design and invention, incorporating the latest electric lighting, lifts and even underfloor heating.

I visited with a very good friend, and we arrived in time for a coffee in the Courtyard Coffee Bar, before our visit. The house in open from midday Wednesday - Friday and 11 am at the weekend in the summer season. As the tickets are timed, we were lucky to be able to enter with the first visitors at midday.

We had opted for the audio tour, but also had a guide book with us. There was so much to see, each complemented the other, and we were also pleased that there were stewards on duty in every area whom we could questioned if needs be. There are 45 rooms to visit all filled with treasures. These have been collected by four generations of Rothschild associated with Waddesdon. Some are stunningly beautiful and others are fascinating curiosities. The collection is continually being added to by the family, although the house was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1957 when James de Rothschild died. We saw wonderful treasures - both art and artifacts. Paintings are the best quality as is the porcelein, the furniture, the decoration - in fact, everything! We saw Dutch paintings from the Golden Age; a silver dinner services commissioned by George III; French Savonnerie carpets; a specially commissioned chandelier called Porca Miseria, which is constructed from broken modern porcelein (Ingo Maurer). We also saw the extraordinary automaton, in the East Gallery, depicting a decorated elephant whose trunk, ears and tail move along with flowers and figures, when the clockwork is wound up. It also plays tunes. Apparently it saved the day when the Shah of Persia came to stay. He was expecting to meet the Prince of Wales, who could not join the party at the last minute. It was only the promise of seeing the automaton playing that lured him from his room where he had been sulking!

When we had completed our tour, we made our way to the gift and wine shop. Here is a great selection of wine for sale from all over the Rothschild wine world. It was here we bought souvenirs for the men, before we had to head back home again. What a shame we missed quite a lot of the gardens, which were looking splendid. We ceratinly need to return to visit these, as they too have been restored to former glories during the 1990-94 refurbishment, which continues even today.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Brooklands Centenary

This weekend saw Brooklands celebrate its centenary – quite a milestone even for a race track! To the uninitiated, Brooklands is the world’s first purpose-built car racing track – or perhaps more properly called a motor circuit. Hugh Locke King, a landowner of Surrey was also a car enthusiast and with his large 330 acre estate of farm and woodland, he decided to build the track. It was a hundred feet wide oval track with banking, 2.75miles long plus a half mile finishing straight. The whole complex including a club house and other associated buildings was completed in nine months ready for the first race meeting on 17th June 1907. It had cost almost the equivalent of a million pounds in present day terms.
Throughout its history, Brooklands has been associated with speed and speed records. Latterly the names of Malcolm Campbell and Bluebird as well as John Cobb and the Railton have been synonymous with land speed records at Brooklands. It is also associated with flying; and the centre of the track became one of the earliest aerodromes in the country, with A V Roe having his base here as well as the Bristol Aeroplane Company. Today, the track has almost disappeared and visitors to Tesco hardly notice the banked track running by the car park. But this is not the only bit of the track remaining. There are several pieces by the Brooklands Museum, which also has the most interesting collection of cars, bikes and planes from the heyday of Brooklands. There is also a Concorde plane, offering the Brooklands Concorde Experience.
So we attended the celebration taking place this weekend not only at the Brooklands Museum, but also using the Mercedes Benz test track at the newly opened Mercedes Benz World situated inside the old race track. Although the weather was awful at the start, the day improved and the car drivers and owners did not let the rain dampen their spirits. We were treated to a cavalcade of vintage cars, which included many named cars e.g. the Napier Railton, Babs, Mother Gun and a rare visitor from America, The Blitzen Benz, which has been painstakingly re-built using genuine parts from the time. They paraded and raced around the test track, and even tried out the banked track on the other side of the site, which had been partially renovated for the event. We also saw an aerial diplay, but some of the older planes were unable to fly because of the poor weather conditions.
Visiting Brooklands Museum is great fun for young or old and a visit would not be complete without walking across to Mercedes Benz World, where all present day models are on display – even the out of this world Mercedes SLR McLaren, just look, don’t touch! If you’re lucky you can watch drivers trying out their skills on the track. The coffee is also excellent.