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Ascott House, Buckinghamshire

Ascott  House was created by Leopold de Rothschild, great-grandson of the Mayer Amschel Rothschild, the founder of the family’s fortunes.

Leopold purchased the original Jacobean half- timbered farmhouse in 1876. This house is now buried in the gabled, mock-Tudor ranges added by the architect George Devey in the following years. The only visible remnant of the original house is a beam over the present front door dated 1606.

In 1937 the house was inherited by Antony de Rothschild who, with his wife, was responsible for the exterior and interior of the house seen today. They also consolidated the family’s magnificent collection of paintings and works of art. Nowadays Ascott is known more for its art collection and gardens than the house itself.

Despite the size of the rambling, half-timbered 19th century building, the rooms have the atmosphere of a comfortable and beautifully furnished family house.

The low-ceilinged dining room is hung with predominantly Dutch and English paintings including the immensely long, thin canvas of Aelbert Cuyp’s ‘Dordrect on the Maas’. On an easel in the oak-panelled library is Lorenzo Lotto’s early 16th century portrait a young prelate. On the opposite wall is Gainsborough’s painting of the Duchess of Richmond. This is one of a number of fine English portraits at Ascott.

The house also contains works by old masters such as Rubens and furniture by Chippedale. The elegant 18th century English furniture in the library acquired by Leopold de Rothschild contrasts with the French pieces he inherited. Antony de Rothschild also acquired many paintings and introduced the oriental porcelain which is now a feature of Ascott. His collection includes the deep rich colours of the Ming and K’ang Hsi dynasties.

Ascott is set in 30 acres of gardens overlooking the Vale of Aylesbury with views to the Chilterns. The gardens were designed by Leopold de Rothschild with the advise of Sir Harry Veitch.

The gardens, with a blend of formal and natural planting, are an outstanding example of 19th century horticulture. The large number of evergreen shrubs and trees were planted because Leopold originally intended to use Ascott mainly in the winter as a hunting lodge.

Terraced lawns planted with specimen trees, chosen for their variegated and coloured foliage, descend from the house. One terrace leads to an unusual topiary sundial. The Roman figures are created out of box and a yew casts the shadow.

Beyond the lawns clipped yew hedges and a retaining wall conceal a formal garden. A colonnaded pavillion, reached by a herbaceous walk, overlooks a circular lawn framing William Storey’s Venus fountain. The long, narrow Dutch garden is crowned by another Storey fountain.

A sheltered lily pond lies to the north of the terraces where white and coloured blooms carpet the water in the summer.

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