Cliveden – Bluebells and Astors

Berkshire, From London

When his father dies in 1890, William Waldorf Astor becomes the richest man in America. His father’s passing also kicks off a family feud as to who should be the official Lady Astor. When William’s aunt wins the argument, William moves his family to England, where he scouts for a family home. He settles for Cliveden, which he purchases for a mere $1.25m.


William Astor Buys Cliveden in 1893
  • Start of Day: Paddington Station, Zone One, London
  • Cost of Day Out: Moderate
  • History Content: High

Cliveden may be associated with the hilltop village of Taplow, but it is far easier, and safer, to traipse to it from [1] Bourne End. Another bonus of heading to Bourne End is the short enjoyable trundle by the slow train from Maidenhead. It runs on a single gauge track, along a narrow cut and over the river Thames.

Bourne End Station
Bourne End Is Aptly Named For A Terminus At The End Of A Spur

An open field along my walk gives me my first superb view of the chalk cliffs on which the 2nd Duke of Buckingham builds the first ever house (image here) here in 1666. The Duke, one of the richest man in England, throws hunting parties in Cliveden. And installs his mistress, the Countess of Shrewsbury, here.

View of the Chalk Cliffs Of Cliveden
Cliff -Dene Sits 130 Feet Above The Thames.

The Duke’s mistress is, by all accounts, very beautiful. And also very married. Her very unimpressed husband challenges the Duke to a sword duel at Barns Elm, a.k.a Barnes Common. The Duke survives. But the cuckolded husband dies from his chest wounds.

Converted Barns At The Bottom Of The Hill
Converted Barn Houses At The Bottom Of The Hill Of The Countess’ Love Nest

Given the circumstances, I presume the Duke’s wife, who herself falls in love with this charismatic rogue whilst her wedding banns are being read out, is never invited to Cliveden. When the Duke dies with no legitimate heirs, Cliveden is sold, passing on to Countesses, Baronets and even a Prince of Wales.

Steep Climb Up To Cliveden
It’s A Steep Climb To The Stately Cliveden Mansion

In 1849, the 2nd Duke of Sutherland acquires Cliveden. Soon after, Cliveden burns down for the second time in its history. Fortunately, the heavily propertied Duke has an architect on call. The Italianate mansion of today is the work of Sir Charles Barry, probably better known for building the Palace of Westminster.

The Long Drive to Cliveden
The Long Drive To The House The Duke of Sutherland Builds

The only marital scandal, if I can even call it one, in relation to the Duke of Sutherland is him marrying his mistress within months of his wife dying. When he does so, he falls out of favor with Queen Victoria. Which goes to show that in Victorian Britain, it’s OK to have a mistress, but it’s not OK to elevate her to married status!!

The Water Garden at Cliveden
I Am Bemused By Victorian Morality As I Wander Round The Water Garden

William Astor also faces tragedy soon after buying Cliveden. His wife dies aged only 36. William becomes a recluse, focussing his time and energy into Cliveden. He commissions the wonderful Fountain of Love in 1897. From the fountain, I get my first glimpse of Cliveden sitting in perfect symmetry at the end of a long, wide, white, gravel drive.

The Fountain of Love With Cliveden In The Backgroun
The Fountain of Love Provides A Focal Point As I Walk In

As I walk along the drive, I pass another of Sutherland’s legacy, the striking 100 foot clock tower. The tower actually holds water tanks. A gilded clock which chimes, graces each side of the column. It is finished with a replica statue of the Spirit of Liberty, the original being at the Place de la Bastille in Paris.

 The Clock Tower at Cliveden
The Beautiful Clock Tower Built In 1861

William Astor on the other hand knocks three rooms together to form the Grand Hall, the main entrance to the property. William brings a touch of Europe to Cliveden by buying original tapestries, fire places and rococo paneling from European palaces, villas and chateaus.

The Grand Hall At Cliveden
The Grand Hall In Cliveden Hotel Is Decorated With Antiques From Europe

Today Cliveden is a secluded, romantic 5 star hotel (more hotel photos here). With its American connection and proximity to Windsor, it’s no wonder Meghan Markle chooses to stay here the night before her wedding. And with a spring wedding, flowers would have been in abundance.

Flowers on The Parterre
Meghan Would Have Enjoyed The Flowers in The Parterre From The Restaurant

The only way to explore the hotel is on a tour. At the end of the tour, the group tumbles out onto the balcony for a bird’s eye view of the Parterre, built in 1830 during the ownership of Sir George Warrenden.

The Parterre At Cliveden
The Parterre At Cliveden

The Parterre is stunning. And a great way to start exploring the formal gardens. When I wander up to the very tip of the Parterre, the Duke of Sutherland’s statue stares back at me across from the wooded hillside of fine specimens of mature trees.

Mature Trees Surround Cliveden
Mature Trees In The Woods Of Cliveden

There is no such thing as a short walk in Cliveden. There are 376 acres of formal gardens, trails and woods. It is William Astor who introduces many of the formal gardens, the maze, scupltures and fountains into Cliveden’s estates.

The Long Garden At Cliveden
The Long Garden At Cliveden

The reason I am at Cliveden in late April, is to catch its famed carpets of bluebells. They are everywhere, as the woods in Cliveden are perfect blue bell habitat.

Carpets of Blue Bells At Cliveden
Plenty Of Blue Bells At Cliveden

High on a cliff, Cliveden commands a fine view of the Thames Valley. One view within easy reach is by the restored chapel where William Astor and his wife are buried.

Views Of The Thames Valley From Cliveden
Wonderful Views of The Thames Valley From The Chapel At Cliveden

Just beyond the chapel, broad steps lead down to the Thames which snakes along the valley below. Windsor Castle lies to the south of the Thames. It’s so close that Queen Victoria is said to have rowed over to visit.

The River Thames From Cliveden
The River Thames Through Cliveden’s Trees

William generously gifts Cliveden to his newly married son in 1906. The couple, Nancy and William, usher in an era of glamorous entertainment. Royalty, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Hollywood and politicians are invited to Cliveden to partake in boating or fishing along the Thames, a spot of tennis, croquet on the lawn and parties by the outdoor pool.

Croquet on The Lawn At Cliveden
Croquet on The Lawn Anyone ?

Nancy Astor‘s status as a socialite stands her well in her career in politics. She becomes the first sitting female MP in 1919 for Plymouth, her husband’s previous constituency. She eventually retires in 1945, after some disastrous remarks, including one where she suggests that the English cricket team lost the ashes because of too much drinking.

The Beautiful Formal Gardens At Cliveden
Nancy Astor Retires At Cliveden After Some Statements That Don’t Go Down Well

Nancy’s hard stand on drinking throughout her political career may have stemmed from her supposedly alcoholic first husband. Neither is this the first time cricket has had a negative impact on Cliveden’s residents. The Prince of Wales, son of George II, is said to have eventually succumbed prematurely to an injury after being hit by a cricket ball during a game at Cliveden.

Blue Bells At Cliveden
Life Isn’t Always A Bed Of Blue Bells For Cliveden’s Owners

A trip to Cliveden cannot pass without bringing up the Profumo affair. It’s by the swimming pool that Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, comes across the 19 year old Christine Keeler skinny dipping. A short affair follows in 1961. This explodes into a political scandal as everyone tries to discover if State secrets were passed to a Soviet spy whom Christine was also sleeping with.

View of Cliveden From the Parterre
An Espionage Scandal Is Born At Cliveden During the Cold War

I return to Bourne End Station the same way I arrived. As I return to London, I scribble down the names of the 3 incredibly rich and wealthy men of Cliveden. William Astor, George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and George Sutherland- Leveson -Gower, 2nd Duke of Sutherland. I have a feeling that I’ll bump into them again in London someday.

Walk to Cliveden from Bourne End
Crossing A Stream On My Way Back To Bourne End Station

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Some Useful Stuff

  • Tube Map and City Mapper are free apps that provide London maps, route planner and train/ bus times from your nearest stop.
  • Only Oyster Cards, purchased at stations, or contactless cards are acceptable on Transport for London.
  • Catch a train to Bourne End using Trainline’s website for train times, fares and advance ticket purchase. Discounted off-peak fare with Network Rail Card.
  • Walking Instructions From Bourne End to ClivedenInstructions and Map Here
  • Cliveden is a National Trust Property – opening times and prices listed here. Free for National Trust members.
  • The house tours only run at selected times. Places can be reserved at the ticket office by the Water Garden.
  • Some suggested walking routes within Cliveden.
Map Of Walk From Bourne End to Cliveden
Outline of Route From Bourne End to Cliveden

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