The entrance facade in 1819 from "Neale's Views of Seats"
The southeast facade in 1819 from "Neale's Views of Seats"
An engraving of the house in 1785 from "Watts' Seats of the Nobility and Gentry"
Robert Adam design for a pier glass and table for the Earl of Bute, probably intended for Luton Hoo.
Earlier Houses: There has been a house on, or near, the site of the current house since the 13th century.
House & Family History: The de Hoo family probably took their name from the land they owned (Hoo is a Saxon word meaning the spur of a hill). The last de Hoo was created Lord Hoo and Hastings in 1448. James I visited Luton Hoo in 1611 and knighted Robert Napier, whose seat the house then was. John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute and prime minister to George III, bought the estate for £94,700 in 1762 (equivalent to approximately £13 million in 2008 values using the retail price index). Robert Adam was engaged by the 3rd Earl to rebuild the old house (Adam considered the Library his chef d'oeuvre). Dr. Johnson, visiting with Boswell in 1781, was particularly complimentary about Luton Hoo. After a severe fire in 1843 the Butes sold Luton to John Shaw Leigh. Sir Julius Wernher purchased the estate from the Leigh family in 1903. Wernher made a fortune in South African diamond mines, was a friend of Cecil Rhodes, and was, at the time of the purchase of Luton Hoo, one of the richest men in the world. The interiors were remodeled in Edwardian style for Sir Julius by Mewes & Davis, the designers of the Ritz Hotel in London. In 1891 Mary of Teck, later Queen Mary, consort of George V, accepted, at the age of 24, an offer of marriage at Luton from Prince Albert, Duke of Clarence, the heir to the British throne (a mere six weeks after the engagement was announced the Duke of Clarence died of pneumonia and the following year Mary became engaged to the new heir, the duke's brother, George). During World War I Luton Hoo was used as a military convalescent home for officers, while World War II saw the house serving as Eastern Command Headquarters. When Harold Wernher's wife, Anastasia Romanov (Lady Zia), died in 1977, the estate passed to her grandson, Nicholas Phillips, a godson and nephew of the Duke of Edinburgh (the queen and Prince Philip spent their wedding night here). Mr. Phillips died at age 43 on March 1, 1991; in 1997 Luton Hoo was put on the market by his widow with an asking price of £25 million. The mansion house and part of the estate sold in 1999 for approximately £10 million to a Canadian-backed group, Elite Hotels. Elite spent years obtaining planning permission to convert the house and stables into a five-star hotel, and to build ancillary buildings, all of which opened in 2007, after a £60 million transformation.
Collections: Luton Hoo once contained a large collection of possessions of the Russian imperial family, including a significant collection of the works of Carl Faberge. The collection of Faberge came to Luton Hoo through Lady Zia Wernher, who inherited it from her parents, Grand Duke Michael of Russia and the Countess Torby. One of the most important pieces of Faberge in the collection was a freedom box in nephrite with red and green gold mounts and the lid surmounted by the Russian eagle in matte and polished gold; this piece was given to the 14th Earl of Pembroke by Tsar Nicholas II in 1896 during a visit to Balmoral to visit Queen Victoria. Luton Hoo was the home of the Wernher Collection (largely accumulated by Sir Julius Wernher), once one of the finest collections of art in Britain. (The collection was given to the nation, and, since June 2002, has been housed at Ranger's House, London, a property of English Heritage). The Wernher Collection includes world-class collections of Medieval ivories, German silver gilt, Italian majolica, Renaissance jewels, and Limoges enamels. Outstanding individual pieces from the collection include "Lady Caroline Price" by Joshua Reynolds, the Sevres service of Catherine the Great, and the altarpiece of St. Michael by Bartholomew Bermejo, considered the finest example of 15th century Spanish painting in Britain. Albrecht Altdorfer's "Christ Taking Leave of His Mother" was sold to the National Gallery in 1981 for £825,000. John Constable's "Harnham Bridge Looking Towards Salisbury Cathedral" was sold on November 18, 1992 for £850,000. Bernard van Risamburgh's ebonized kingwood and Chinese black lacquer commode was sold on June 11, 1992 for £660,000. "Winter Landscape of 1650" by Aert van der Neer sold at auction in 1996 for £2.3 million. The 15th century "St. Michael Triumphant Over the Devil" by Bartolomeo Bermejo was sold to the National Gallery, London, for £10 million. On March 26, 2013 Lyon & Turnbull sold at auction in Edinburgh for £400 a George III mahogany and kingwood Pembroke table that had once been in the collection at Luton Hoo. The drawer interior features an old label that says "Collection Wernher #793."
Garden & Outbuildings: At the time of the 1999 sale to Elite Hotels, the Luton Hoo Estate stood at 1,545 acres and included a pheasant shoot, a 50-acre lake, and an Italian garden. The famous landscape was laid out by Capability Brown in the 1770s; the Adam family probably designed the stables in the 18th century. The Luton Hoo hotel sits in 1,000 acres of parkland and features an 18-hole golf course.
Chapel & Church: The chapel was restored in the late 20th century and consecrated in 1991 in the Russian Orthodox Church in memory of Tsar Nicholas II and the imperial family.
Architect: Sydney SmirkeDate: Post 1843
Architect: Robert SmirkeDate: Circa 1825-30
Architect: George Edmund StreetDate: 1850s
Architect: Mewes & DavisDate: 1903-07
John Preston (J.P.) Neale, published under the title of Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, among other titles: Vol. I, 1818.
Country Life: CVII, 1282 plans, 1950. Jan 16 & 23, 1992.
Title: Independent, The (newspaper)
Year Published: NA
Reference: Vanessa Thorpe article on Luton Hoo, Sep 13, 1997
Publisher: London: Independent Print Ltd.
Book Type: Newspaper
Title: Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, A - SOFTBACK
Author: Colvin, Howard
Year Published: 1995
Reference: pg. 880
Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press
Book Type: Softback
Title: Luton Hoo Guidebook - 1975
Author: Smith, M. Urwick
Year Published: 1975
Reference: pgs. 8, 10
Publisher: London: Pitkin Pictorials
Book Type: Light Softback
Title: Disintegration of a Heritage: Country Houses and their Collections, 1979-1992, The
Author: Sayer, Michael
Year Published: 1993
Publisher: Norfolk: Michael Russell (Publishing)
Book Type: Hardback
House Listed: Grade I
Park Listed: Grade II*
Current Seat / Home of: Phillips family; here since 1903. The house was sold in 1999 and converted into the Luton Hoo Hotel; the Phillips family retained part of the historic estate and make their home in a former outbuilding there.
Past Seat / Home of: SEATED AT EARLIER HOUSES: de Hoo family, circa 13th century until 1454. Sir Robert Napier, 2nd Bt., 17th century. SEATED AT CURRENT HOUSE: John Crichton Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, 18th century; John Stuart, 1st Marquess of Bute, 19th century; Stuart family here until 1848. Leigh family, 1848-1903. Sir Julius Wernher, 1903-12; Wernher family here until 1991.
Current Ownership Type: Corporation
Primary Current Ownership Use: Hotel
Ownership Details: Today Luton Hoo Hotel, Golf and Spa