Posted 12 March 2018

Archive Behind the scenes

Discovering Waddesdon’s secrets through its archives

Our archives hold many hidden stories, some of which are revealed in Secrets of the National Trust.

When we were preparing to film Secrets of the National Trust, we looked at which of Waddesdon’s many stories could be told through the archives that we hold.

Letters in Waddesdon’s archives

The document we chose to focus on was a letter from Winston Churchill to James de Rothschild, dated 26 December 1926. It’s only a brief thank you note, responding to a gift of cigars, but Churchill’s customary mastery of language makes it special: “How kind of you to send me a token of our friendship in such an agreeable form. I shall smoke them with the greatest pleasure, and see many visions in their wreaths of smoke.” This small excerpt offers a small glimpse into the friendship between the two men that lasted over thirty years, and saw James serving in the war cabinet of 1945.

Letter from Churchill to James de Rothschild

The archives held at Waddesdon were brought together six years ago from across the estate, and work to catalogue them over that time has uncovered many other stories. These small glimpses into life at Waddesdon range from Miss Alice de Rothschild writing to her Head Gardener about which vegetables to grow during the First World War, to letters from ex-members of staff to Dorothy de Rothschild thanking her for the gift of a turkey. Alternatively, you may also uncover a War Office report detailing damage done to the Waddesdon estate by the Army Service Corp during the Second World War, or figures showing income from a market gardening scheme during the 1930s.

Letter from Alice de Rothschild (b. 1847, d. 1922) to G.F Johnson (Head Gardener at Waddesdon), dated January 25th 1914

These stories have added depth and colour to our understanding of life at Waddesdon. Because of these historical insights, we’re able to view Waddesdon not just as a glorious place that entertained countless guests, but also see the love for Waddesdon from the perspective of its inhabitants, staff and tenants, all those years ago.

By Catherine Taylor, Head Archivist


Find out more about Windmill Hill archives>