Cliveden - elegant backdrop to Sixties scandal
Cliveden is an English country house and estate in Buckinghamshire in the care of the National Trust. It has a rich history of upper class decadence and entertainment, and in the early 1960s, when it was the home of the 3rd Viscount Astor, became the setting for key events of the Profumo affair - a notorious political scandal of the era.
The current house owes its elegant architecture to Sir Charles Barry, famous for designing the Palace of Westminster. His decadent masterpiece, created for the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland in the 1850s, is the third house here, the other two having burned down.
From the early 20th century, when it was the home of the Astor family, right up to the present day in its incarnation as a luxury hotel, Cliveden has been the epitome of fun, beauty, wealth and glamour. The Italianate mansion crowns an outlying ridge of the Chiltern Hills close to the villages of Burnham and Taplow. It sits 40 metres above the banks of the River Thames, and its grounds slope down to the river, with several attractive out buildings and boathouses, as well as an elegant stone staircase visible to boat traffic.
In 1893, the estate was purchased by an American millionaire, William Waldorf Astor (later 1st Viscount Astor), who made sweeping alterations to the gardens and the interior of the house. He gave Cliveden to his son Waldorf when Waldorf married his wife Nancy.
In 1942, the Astors gave Cliveden to the National Trust with the proviso that the family could continue to live in the house for as long as they wished. The Astors ceased to live at Cliveden in 1968.
The young Astors used Cliveden for entertaining on a lavish scale. The combination of the house, its setting and leisure facilities offered on the estate —boating on the Thames, horse riding, tennis, swimming, croquet and fishing — made Cliveden a destination for film stars, politicians, world-leaders, writers and artists. The heyday of entertaining at Cliveden was between the two World Wars when the Astors held regular weekend house parties. Guests included: Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Joseph Kennedy, George Bernard Shaw and Mahatma Gandhi. The tradition of high-profile guests visiting the house continues to this day, following its conversion into a hotel.
In 1961, defence minister John Profumo attended a party at Cliveden hosted by Lord Astor. Profumo was married to a well-known actress. Cooling off in the now-famous outdoor pool was Christine Keeler, a nineteen year old mistress of a suspected Russian spy. The two began an affair, which was to force Profumo's resignation, irrevocably damage the then Prime Minister's reputation, and significantly impact on the course of British politics.
The extensive gardens are open to the public.
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