DiCamillo Companion

Mentmore Towers

  • Built / Designed For: Baron Mayer Amschel de Rothschild

    House & Family History: Mentmore, very likely modeled on Wollaton Hall, Nottinghamshire (see "Images" section), was built by Baron Mayer de Rothschild in an over-the-top Victorian manner that was typical of the Rothschild style. The Great Hall contained a huge chimneypiece of white and black marble that was purchased from Rubens's house at Antwerp (the chimneypiece can be seen to the right in the photo of the Great Hall in the "Images" section). Carved and gilded chairs from the Ducal Palace in Venice filled the rooms, many of which were hung with the finest Gobelins tapestries. From the ceiling of the Great Hall hung three huge carved and gilded lanterns taken from the barge of the Doges of Venice. The dining room walls were covered with boiseries taken from the Hôtel de Villars in Paris, the first example of this type of decoration to be used in an English house. (The fragments of the boiseries not used at Mentmore were later installed at nearby Waddesdon Manor by Baron Mayer's cousin, Ferdinand de Rothschild). Lady Eastlake said, after a visit to Mentmore, "I do not believe that the Medici were ever so lodged at the heights of their glory." After Baron Mayer's death in 1874, his daughter, Hannah (married in 1878 to the 5th Earl of Rosebery), inherited the house and its collections. It was the passing of her son, the 6th Earl of Rosebery, who died in 1974 at the age of 92, that prompted the sale of Mentmore and all its contents in 1977. The Labour government of James Callaghan refused to accept the contents in lieu of inheritance taxes (offered for £2 million to the government; the sale of the contents realized £6 million), which would have turned the house into one of England's finest museums of European furniture, objects d'art, and Victorian era architecture. (The larger Mentmore Estate, excluding the house, had been sold in 1944 to the Society of Merchant Venturers of Bristol, acting as trustee for the St. Monica Trust). The house itself was sold in 1977 for £220,000 to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement in the United Kingdom. It was also through the Maharishi that Mentmore became the British national headquarters of the Natural Law Party in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1999 Mentmore was sold and slated to be converted into a hotel, though court challenges in 2004 prevented its conversion. In March 2005 the High Court ruled that Aylesbury Vale District Council's decision to grant planning permission to the developers was legally sound and Mentmore's owner, Syrian-born billionaire Simon Halabi, moved ahead with plans to convert Mentmore into a 101-suite country house, via his company, Anglo-Swiss Holdings, as part of his "six-star" members-only PM Club venture, along with the old "In and Out Club" at 100 Piccadilly, London (with membership fees of £250,000 for 30 years). In 2009, with Simon Halabi's property empire in financial trouble due to the collapse of the housing market, the Mentmore project was put in jeopardy and English Heritage placed the house on the At Risk Register (it needs urgent work on the roof and chimneys). During the house's heyday in the 19th century Napoleon III stayed at Mentmore. Château de Ferrières, located in Ferrières-en-Brie, in Île-de-France, is the largest and most luxurious 19th century château in France (see "Images" section). It was built between 1855 and 1859 for Baron James de Rothschild and was designed by Mentmore's architect, Joseph Paxton (Paxton designed Mentmore for Baron James's cousin, Mayer Amschel de Rothschild). On seeing Mentmore, Baron James is reputed to have summoned Paxton and ordered "Build me a Mentmore, but twice the size."

    Collections: The contents of Mentmore were auctioned by Sotheby's during a great sale that took place on May 25 and 26, 1977. (Many objects were removed to Dalmeny House, the Earl of Rosebery's Scottish seat). The failure to save Mentmore for the nation was one of the major factors that led to the seminal 1974 exhibition "The Destruction of the Country House" at the Victoria & Albert Museum, and, ultimately, to the creation of the modern country house movement and the foundation of the preservation organization SAVE Britain's Heritage. The Sotheby's auction catalog of 1977 says of Mentmore: "There can be no doubt whatever that the art collections at Mentmore were amongst the most outstanding of their kind anywhere in the world." There was even an entire room devoted to a collection of amber. A fabulous German Rococo secretarie and cabinet that was made for Augustus, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, was probably the most important piece of German furniture in England. A circa 1700 Italian gesso and gilt wood console table, formerly at Mentmore, is today in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (see photo in "Images" section).

    Comments: Mentmore is considered one of the most important examples of the Victorian Jacobean Revival style.

  • Garden & Outbuildings: The park is home to Mentmore Golf and Country Club, established in 1992 with two 18-hole golf courses: the Rothschild Course and the Rosebery Course.

  • Architect: Joseph Paxton

    Date: 1850-55
    Designed: House for Mayer Amschel Rothschild

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    Architect: George H. Stokes

    Date: 1850-55
    Designed: Assisted Paxton in design of House

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  • Title: Sotheby's Auction Catalog: Mentmore: Volume Four: Paintings, Prints and Drawings
    Author: NA
    Year Published: 1977
    Reference: pgs. vii, viii, x, xi
    Publisher: London: Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co.
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Waddesdon Manor: The Heritage of a Rothschild House
    Author: Hall, Michael (Text); Taylor, John Bigelow (Photographs)
    Year Published: 2002
    Reference: pgs. 37
    Publisher: New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
    ISBN: 0810932393
    Book Type: Hardback

  • House Listed: Grade I

    Park Listed: Grade II

  • "Brazil" (1985). "Slipstream" (1989). "Inspector Morse" (1992 - TV series, in episode "Cherubim and Seraphim," as Swanwick Park, the venue for the last party). "Incognito" (1997). "Eyes Wide Shut" (1999 - as exterior of mansion where the orgy takes place). "The Mummy" (1999). "Quills" (2000 - as Dr. Royer-Collard's mansion). "The Mummy Returns" (2001). "Ali G Indahouse" [aka "Ali G in da House"] (2002). "The Inspector Lynley Mysteries" (2002 - BBC TV series, episode 1.3, "Payment in Blood," as the Scottish house of Sir Stuart Stinhurst). "Johnny English" (2003 - as house in opening fantasy sequence). "Batman Begins" (2005 - as Wayne Manor).
  • Past Seat / Home of: Baron Mayer Amschel de Rothschild, 1854-74. Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery and 1st Earl of Midlothian, 1874-1929.

    Current Ownership Type: Corporation

    Primary Current Ownership Use: Unoccupied

    Ownership Details: Owned by Mentmore Towers Ltd.

  • House Open to Public: No

    Historic Houses Member: No