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History, Opulence, Scandal - Cliveden House Hotel England has it all

Updated on August 12, 2014

Cliveden House Hotel

If the walls of this magnificent mansion could talk, they’d tell tales of dangerous liaisons, vast wealth, political scandals and sexual intrigues. But that’s all in the past now – or is it?

Cliveden House Hotel
Cliveden House Hotel | Source

Cliveden and the National Trust

Cliveden House, regarded as one of the world’s best luxury country hotels, is set in 376 acres of garden owned and operated by the National Trust. Located in the heart of the Berkshire countryside it is only twenty minutes by car to London’s Heathrow airport.

Situated on the banks of the river Thames, the first glimpse of this stately home hotel is totally impressive and that’s just the beginning. The interior is an intriguing mix of antiques, grandeur and old world charm.

As you drive through the ornate gates and meander along the sweeping drive to Cliveden you could be forgiven for thinking you are approaching the Downton Abbey of TV fame.

This property has so much to offer, opulence, history, scandal, all the ingredients to make a stay here most inviting.

Concert Day at Cliveden

Cliveden - concert day
Cliveden - concert day | Source

Cliveden is for everyone.

Throughout the year the National Trust host many activities in the grounds.

Walks and picnics in the Cliveden gardens, relaxing boat trips along the river Thames.

For young visitors, a Storybook Play Den, and a challenging Cliveden maze and there’s a fitness trail for the enthusiastic visitor.

Guided tours of the house are on the agenda at various times.

'the sweetest stretch of the river 'Jerome J Jerome

The sweetest stretch of the river thames -Jerome J Jerome
The sweetest stretch of the river thames -Jerome J Jerome | Source


In 1889 Jerome J Jerome published the classic comic novel Three Men in a Boat.

He mentions the Thames at Cliveden as – ‘unbroken loveliness this is, perhaps, the sweetest stretch of all the river…’

In Boogie up the River (1989) Mark Wallington retraces Jerome’s journey to mark the centenary.

The first Cliveden House rated a mention from Daniel Defoe (1726) A tour through England and Wales.

Film and TV

In the Thunderbirds 2004 film, the scenes of Lady Penelope’s house were filmed on location at Cliveden.

The Beatles were here, in the film Help (1965) since the scenes, supposedly at Buckingham Palace were filmed at Cliveden.

The Yellow Rolls-Royce, starred Rex Harrison, George C Scott, Shirley MacLaine and Cliveden.

The river Thames at Cliveden appears in both Chaplin (1992) and Carrington (1995)

The BBC used the grounds as a venue for the Antiques Road Show. (2000)

Upstairs Downstairs - from the past

Upstairs downstairs - from the past
Upstairs downstairs - from the past | Source

In The Beginning

The first Cliveden House was built in 1666 by the Duke of Buckingham. A supposed hunting lodge it conveniently doubled as a hideaway for the Duke and his mistress. This building was destroyed by fire in 1795.

In 1849 a second Cliveden met the same fate.

Enter the Duke of Westminster and later Lord Astor and the Cliveden we see today evolved. Bring on the celebrities.

The Duke and Duchess in residence -

When the Duke and duchess resided here
When the Duke and duchess resided here | Source

Name Dropping

You will probably recognise some of the impressive guests that have graced Cliveden. To name a few - Mahatma Gandhi, Rudyard Kipling, F.D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan, T.E. Lawrence, Joseph Kennedy, Charlie Chaplin, Amy Johnson, Joyce Grenfell, George Bernard Shaw and throughout the years many members of the royal family.

The Astor family knew how to live in style

Sleep tight at Cliveden


The Astor Family and a Wedding gift

It was 1905 when American born Waldorf Astor met Nancy Witcher Langhorne. They married the following year and Waldorf’s father presented the bride and groom with the family estate, Cliveden.

Now, that’s what I call a wedding gift.

In the 1930s the residents became known as the Cliveden Set, a group of political intellectuals. Conjecture still exists that they were Nazi sympathisers.

What can’t be denied is the extensive charity work. And Cliveden served as a military hospital during WW1 and WW2.

By 1942 Cliveden was donated to the British National Trust conditional, at that time, on the Astors having permanent residence there.

Sculpture in the gardens

sculpture in the gardens
sculpture in the gardens | Source

The Cliveden Scandal - the Profumo Affair

It’s summer 1961. A weekend party begins at Cliveden. Guests mingle, among them Lord John Profumo, Minister of War, with his glamorous actress wife Valerie Hobson.

Set in the grounds of Cliveden is a Thames-side hideaway, Spring Cottage. In residence there that night are society osteopath Stephen Ward, Yevgeny Ivanov, a Russian Naval Attache, and goodtime girl Christine Keeler - 19 years old and a friend of Ward.

And a scandal begins.

Profumo and Christine Keeler become involved in a sexual relationship. As he’s Minister for War, the government soon becomes aware of the situation. Profumo claims his innocence.

Keeler sells her story to the press, and also confirms her relationship with the Russian, Ivanov - revealed to be a Russian spy.

Now all hell breaks loose resulting in one of the biggest scandals in Britain’s political history. The conservative government led by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan is almost brought down by the furore.

Finally, Lord Profumo admits lying to Parliament and resigns.

Stephen Ward was charged with living on Keeler’s immoral earnings and later committed suicide.

All these years later, a tongue in cheek gesture perhaps, is the addition of Christine Keeler’s autobiography on bedside tables at Cliveden.

Welcome to Cliveden

welcome to cliveden
welcome to cliveden | Source

Wooden carvings - Cliveden

Wooden carvings - cliveden
Wooden carvings - cliveden | Source

Welcome to Cliveden

You’ve arrived at the entrance to Cliveden and warmly welcomed. Like magic your luggage and car are whisked away as you enter the magnificent hall.

Comfortable Chesterfield settees are scattered around, huge open fireplaces, high ceilings, antiques, eighteenth century tapestries and a magnificent carved timber staircase.

Suits of armour gaze at you as you sink into oblivion, perhaps choosing a drink from a stacked trolley.

There’s a library of course, a magnificent spa of course, portraits and photographs of the past to examine.

My only query would be – how will I leave?

Spring Cottage on the Thames

Spring cottage
Spring cottage | Source

Spring Cottage

Spring Cottage, slumbering on the banks of the river Thames, typifies the picture postcard England we all dream of. Despite the scandal, or perhaps because of it, it is in demand as a rental property.

This ideal accommodation offers luxury galore. Cruise the river in a Cliveden vintage launch. Goes without saying in such a setting -a personal butler is available.

Enjoy the privacy of your own cottage along with all the attractions of the main house, the gym, spa, tennis and all the pleasure of the superb gardens in the National Trust Grounds.

Cliveden Gardens

cliveden garden
cliveden garden | Source

The Gardens

The grade 1 listed formal gardens and woodlands are magnificent. There’s a sculpture collection scattered throughout and the impressive Fountain of Love.

The clock tower was an 1861 addition, still functioning and providing water for the house today.

The Fountain of Love

The fountain of love
The fountain of love | Source

Nearby places to visit

Cliveden is a touring centre for Maidenhead, Marlow, Henley and the quaint villages of the Chiltern Hills.

You’ll find the university town of Oxford about 30 minutes drive away.

Also worth a look while you’re in these parts is the world’s oldest model village at Beaconsfield and the church at Stoke Poges, where Thomas Gray was inspired to write his Elegy in a Country Churchyard.


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    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from australia

      aesta - good to have you here - it is a magnificent place with such history and scandal. Love it!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I would love to walk through those gardens. What a story that is.

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from australia

      Celebrates - thank you so much for stopping by/ I'm happy that you enjoyed your visit to the fabulous Cliveden house.

    • Celebrates profile image


      3 years ago

      This is an amazing article and the photography is wonderful. The sculpture, fountains, bells, and garden is so amazing. Truly an impressive article on Cliveden House.

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from australia

      Thank you Ann, I'm addicted to the stories behind the walls - Cliveden is certainly a fascinating place to visit.

      My bucket list is overflowing...

    • Anne Harrison profile image

      Anne Harrison 

      3 years ago from Australia

      I'd heard of the Profumo affair, but didn't realise this was where it began. Thanks for such an interesting hub, something else too add to the bucket list!

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from australia

      bethperry, thank you so much, I agree, Cliveden does have much to offer.

    • bethperry profile image

      Beth Perry 

      4 years ago from Tennesee

      What a place to stay, and the history is so interesting! And I can understand how the scenic place has been so praised, just lovely!

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from australia

      Hi Michelle, the Profumo affair is quite a story, almost brought down the government, and it all began here at Cliveden. Yes, definitely scandalous. Thank you, appreciate your comments.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      4 years ago from Singapore

      I read about the Profumo affair...scandalous, that!

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      4 years ago from Singapore

      I read about the Profumo affair...scandalous, that!

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from australia

      Kay, lovely to have your opinion. I agree with your comments, there is much to offer at Cliveden, it is very enticing. What's next? I'm thinking. All best wishes...Maj

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from australia

      Michelle, thank you, appreciate your comments, I'm enthusiastic too.

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from australia

      Janet, my pleasure to share Cliveden with you. Glad you enjoyed the visit.

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from australia

      Nell, thank you, love the story of your mum and gran and Lady Astor. How marvellous. Yes, Cliveden is beautiful and the surrounding areas. Yes, again, you are lucky to live in such a splendid area. Much appreciate your family memory.

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from australia

      Annie, good to have you on board. Yes, Cliveden is the best. How fabulous your hubby went to a garden party there. You also raise a good point, have not seen any reference to ghosts but must check it out. We do like our hauntings. Best to you - cheers Maj

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from australia

      Thank you Flourish, yes, great place to visit.

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from australia

      Eddy, thank you indeed for such warm comments. Much appreciated. Thoughts still with you.

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from australia

      Shelley, thank you for this,. Yes I agree, imagine being in the cottage. Cliveden really does have much to offer everyone.

    • profile image

      Kay Readdy 

      4 years ago

      Love your pictures, Travmaj, and Cliveden looks like a worthwhile travel destination all on its own. So much of historical interest, scenic beauty and ambience - you make it very enticing. More please!

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      4 years ago from Singapore

      A beautiful place, Travmaj! it looks like a wonderful place to be...and awesome photos!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      4 years ago from England

      Hi travmaj, now you are talking about my neck of the woods! lol! I have visited Cliveden a number of times, and its beautiful. And you mentioned my little town too, Marlow! Yes it's a lovely part of the river Thames, I am so lucky to live there. Here's a quick mention of Nancy Astor, she was walking through Marlow village many years ago, and my mum was being pushed in the pram, she leaned over and said to my gran 'Oh what a beautiful baby, and what startling blue eyes'! Then she gave me gran sixpence for each of her blue eyes! lol! Great hub!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      4 years ago from USA

      What a magnificent historical landmark. This was a fun hub to read. I would love to visit.

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from australia

      Hi Ruthbro, glad you enjoyed Cliveden with me - sigh, yes, they remind me of home too!

    • bac2basics profile image


      4 years ago from Spain

      Wow maj you certainly did it in style staying there. I remember my dear hearty telling me he had been to one of Lord Astors garden parties. Heartys dad was sub editor on the sporting life, so must have got to know the Lord through that. It´s certainly a beautiful house and setting and your account, of the history inside those walls is amazing. No mention of ghostly goings on though, and I´m sure there must be some in a house that age.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      4 years ago from Wales

      Wow a brilliant hub travmaj and voted up for sure. Your obvious hard work has certainly paid off here and wishing you a great day.


    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 

      4 years ago

      travmaj, thank you for sharing these beautiful pictures of this historic place. Imagine being able to rent that cottage and live in such rich, historic beauty.

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from australia

      Stamp on those daisies Bill. Thank you for joining the Cliveden tour, I too love the history behind all these wonderful places. And the Thames and the woodland and the gardens are truly spectacular.

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from australia

      Rachael - thank you so much. Yes, I agree, I became swept away in the dynamics of the Astor family too, what panache, what a lifestyle. I did have to maintain the Cliveden story though. I'm most happy you found so much of interest. Much appreciated...

    • janetwrites profile image

      Janet Giessl 

      4 years ago from Georgia country

      Thank you for sharing this wonderful place and hotel. I could really learn something new.

    • Ruthbro profile image


      4 years ago from USA

      Thank you for sharing these beautiful pictures. They remind me of home.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      What a spectacular place...and what a great history lesson....and I thank you for taking me on this tour. Just another reason why I want to see England before I'm pushing up daisies. :)

    • RachaelOhalloran profile image

      Rachael O'Halloran 

      4 years ago from United States

      travmaj, you make me want to pack up and go there forever! This was a beautiful travelogue with great tidbits of history and beautiful pictures. I googled Lady Astor and her story alone is enough to keep me occupied for a couple of hours, clicking from link to link (my downfall - why I don't get much work done!). I love to read and even more so, about history. You are a gifted writer that makes the reader want to go visit this wonderful estate. :)


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