Working on the Waddesdon standard- CEO aims to bring the best of nature and culture

North Front, Waddesdon Manor ©National Trust, Waddesdon Manor photo : John Bigelow Taylor

The Lod floor mosaic (detail), late third C.E., Israel Antiquities Authority. Photo: © Israel Antiquities Authority / Nicky Davidov

Sarah Weir

First published in News Bucks Free Press: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

STEPPING into the grounds at Waddesdon Manor, CEO Sarah Weir wants visitors to feel they are stepping into another world to see the best of culture and nature.

Built in 1874 near Aylesbury by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild the French Renaissance-style château was intended to entertain the fashionable world and to house his collection of fine art.

And those ideals live on as Waddesdon has become well known for its art exhibitions and special events.

It currently has a Roman mosaic from Lod, Israel on display until November 2. It is the only place in the country which is displaying this special piece, which was discovered in 1996 and excavated in 2009.

And Sarah, who started as chief executive last November, said that is why people love Waddesdon as every time they come back there is something different to see.

She said: "There is always something new. It is always changing. That is what makes it very special.

"I would really like local people to think this is our local space."

It is one of the most visited National Trust properties in the country and has a large budget to play with.

It was after the Second World War that James de Rothschild decided to leave the manor, its collections of national importance and 165 acres of garden and park to The National Trust.

To maintain the bequest, he set up the largest endowment the trust has ever received and ensured the family’s continued involvement by naming his wife, Dorothy as the chairwoman of the management committee.

The Rothschild Foundation, a charity chaired by Lord Rothschild, now supports a broad range of philanthropic activities, including the management of Waddesdon Manor on behalf of the National Trust.

Sarah said: "The standards are really high. We are constantly working on The Waddesdon Standard- being the very best we can be at all times."

Since she started, a new car park has opened- previously visitors would park on the driveway leading up to the house.

By having a designated car park with buses to transport people around she said it brings a sense of tranquillity, where people know their children can run freely.

Sarah said: "There is a sense of tranquillity and relaxation and the feeling of safety.

"For me, this is all about stepping into another world and seeing the best of culture and the best of nature."

This summer they ran children's activities every day and children went free in August.

It's part of an ongoing commitment to connect with the community- not just with families, but with older people and the visitors who come for the specialist exhibitions.

Sarah said: "Small steps make a big change.

"Frankly if you don't have the visitors, we would be sat in a big empty house."

The leading project this year is relighting the front of the house, the trees, paths and roadways to update work previously done by Pierre Bideau.

Patrick Woodroffe from Woodroffe Bassett, who was the lighting designer for the London Olympics, has worked on improving the lighting which will be revealed when the Christmas season starts.

And from next March two large candlestick sculptures by Joana Vasconcelos will be in place in front of the house.

The Netherlandish 17th century vases outside the kitchen and the west wing would be removed to be conserved and stored, and the pair of candlesticks made of glass wine bottles set on a steel armature and lit from within with fibre-optic strands would take their place on the planted mounds.

Sarah said: "I think about it in terms of themes- light is a big one. This house was one of the first to have electricity.

"Queen Victoria asked to come here for lunch so she could see it.

"People were rather frightened- how did it work? They thought it was the work of the devil.

"She wanted to turn the switch off and on."

Other projects include Curtains Up- opening the blinds from the front of the house all the way to the back. The rooms are all carefully preserved with low lighting and blinds shut, but on October 1 from 12 to 4pm the blinds are lifted so you can see from the front of the house to the gardens, as Baron Ferdinand intended. Sarah said: "When the house was built it was built as a weekend house to come and stay for visitors.

"There was a big sense of theatre- you would come up the drive in a carriage and to the front door and look through and see straight through each room into the garden."

This summer 27,000 people have been to seen the Lod Roman mosaic so far.

Sarah said she wants it to be a specialist place but also a fun place.

"It is imperative we do both those things." she said.

"We don't have to be the wow factor- the thing of the moment and then we have gone again.

"We are here for a long long time. We are an amazing piece of English stewardship."

There is an Alexander Pope exhibition inside the house until October 26, and also Waddesdon at War, which marks the centenary of the First World War.

Bruce Munro's work returns this Christmas, after the light installations were incredibly popular last year.

He will once again transform the garden with a series of immersive and imaginative light from November 12 to January 4.

There are summer nights film screenings at the North Front with Some Like It Hot tonight and Skyfall tomorrow.

The Chilli Festival takes place this Saturday and Sunday at the aviary glade, after moving from the garden centre, which closed last year.

Sarah said: "Local people have a very strong connection to Waddesdon. People feel a very strong affinity to this place and we want to keep it that way."

Waddesdon Manor is open until 26 October, Wednesday to Sunday 12 to 4pm weekdays and 11am to 4pm weekends, then open for the Christmas season from November 12.

Free entry for National Trust members and under fives. Otherwise admission charges are £18 for adults and £9 for children.

For full details of all the events go to www.waddesdon.org.uk.

Comments (1)

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6:34am Sat 6 Sep 14

Nick1958 says...

It is an amazing site but we won't be going back because of the new parking system. Not a convenient idea for families who want a picnic!
It is an amazing site but we won't be going back because of the new parking system. Not a convenient idea for families who want a picnic! Nick1958
  • Score: -1
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