I had the good fortune last week, of a guided tour of Halton House at RAF Halton. The house was built in 1880 for Alfred Charles Rothschild in the French Chateau style and completed in 1883. It rests on the edge of the Chiltern Hills, overlooking the Vale of Aylesbury.
Algernon West, the Principal Private Secretary to Prime Minister Gladstone initially described the house as “an exaggerated nightmare of gorgeousness and senseless and ill-applied magnificence” but later admitted that “lighted up and full of well-dressed people, it appeared quite tolerable“.
No expense was spared to impress visitors, the grand exterior, the dazzling interior; every room a lavish statement of his wealth and fine taste, silk wallpaper, down to the door knobs emblazoned with the Rothschild family crest.
The house was built in an age of grand entertaining, one which ended with the outbreak of WWI. For 30 years it provided the venue for Rothschild’s weekend parties.
Ground floor central hallway
Alfred, deeply patriotic, then offered the Halton estate to his friend Lord Kitchener, which then became an infantry camp. On Alfred’s death in 1918 with the house shuttered and neglected, the house was inherited by his nephew Lionel, “being the only Rothschild without a country house,” but he didn’t like it and so sold it to the RAF in 1919 for £112,000. For the past 97 years it has served as the Officers Mess for RAF Halton, a role it still provides to this day.
Rear of the house and lawns
Trixie, our lovely guide filled our visit with delightful stories of the house and it’s people, from a time long gone, with only ghosts now left permeating through the fabric of the house. What hit me most about my visit was the immediate solidity of the building and it’s incredible details, which I really struggled to capture in my illustrations.
Front entrance driveway
On leaving, the sky was full of swallows darting around the turreted roofs, with red kites circling another level above them. The timeless feeling was further enhanced when I noticed officers walking in step through the grounds and others taking tea on the terrace. The House has been used extensively for filming, The King’s Speech, Evita and Downton Abbey are just a few. The latter was used for the interior for “Haxby Park”, the home of Sir Richard Carlisle, a suitor to Lady Mary Crawley during season 2. A really beautiful day and I can’t wait to go back, to explore more of the house and grounds and sketch more portraits of the house.
For more information and photos of RAF Halton click here