Well, now the fuss and furore over Matthew’s presumed death on Christmas Day has subsided, I want to say thank you to all the wealthy Americans who bought houses in England in the last century. Without them and their dollars much of Britain’s Stately Home Heritage would have mouldered into ruins instead of the inspiring properties enjoyed by the as public they are today.
We appreciate the foresight of William Waldorf Astor who declared that ’America was no longer a fit place for a gentleman to live’, and in 1891 crossed the pond to purchase the Cliveden estate in Buckinghamshire and bring up his family.
In Kent, In 1903 he acquired and restored Hever Castle, childhood home of Anne Boleyn & used it as a family residence. A new exhibition is opening at the Castle celebrating the Astor years and the restoration of the Castle plus the chance to watch the Astor family’s rare archive collection of home movies.
WW Astor’s son Lieutenant-Colonel John Jacob Astor V, was thoroughly anglised ; a British military officer, statesman, a newspaper proprietor and recognised by a grateful nation as 1st Baron Astor of Hever DL.
He bought Chiddingstone Castle in the delightful village of Chiddingstone.
Astor’s neighbour just down the road in the other direction at Ightham Mote was the American businessman, Charles Henry Robinson of Portland Maine who bought the moated house in 1953. Robinson, had seen the house as a younger man and returned with the intention of buying it, but changed his mind on the journey home. Amongst family papers in Portland was found the “Letter of Withdrawal”, a letter drafted on the Queen Mary liner by Robinson stating that he had changed his mind about buying Ightham Mote. However, because the ship’s Post Office was closed, the letter was never sent, Robinson reconsidered and sent an offer for the house. The letter is now in the Ightham Mote library.
In the Mote’s crypt there is a memorial plaque , with the inscription “A Pilgrim Returned”. Robinson’s grandmother, Emily Cobb, was descended, via two different lines, from those who had sailed on the Mayflower.
Leeds Castle in Lenham Kent is yet another Country House rescue story. Bought in 1926 by the Hon. Olive, Lady Baillie, daughter of Almeric Paget, 1st Baron Queenborough, and his first wife, Pauline Payne Whitney, an American railway & oil heiress. Lady Baillie redecorated the interior, working with the French architect and designer Armand-Albert Rateau and later, with the Paris decorator Stéphane Boudin.
During the early part of World War II Leeds Castle was used as a hospital where Lady Baillie and her daughters hosted burned & injured Commonwealth airmen as part of their recovery (ringing any Downton bells?)