DiCamillo Companion

Port Lympne (Belcaire)

  • Built / Designed For: Sir Philip Sassoon

    House & Family History: Port Lympne was built for Sir Philip Sassoon during the "Long Golden Afternoon" of Edwardian England before the Great War. In 1912 Sir Philip engaged the fashionable architects Baker & Wilmott to design a house on an H-plan in the architects' South African Cape Dutch, or Dutch Colonial, style. The house was built of russet-colored brick with Dutch gables and owed a debt in its design to architecture of the 17th century. Port Lympne was originally called Belcaire; Philip changed its name to Port Lympne in honor of Portus Lemanis, the area's ancient Roman name (there was a 3rd century AD fort here, originally built to house Roman legions in their battles against the Saxons). A room was decorated with murals by Catalan artist Jose-Maria Sert (painted over in the 1930s) and there are mural and trompe l'oeil paintings by Rex Whistler. Sert is most noted for his murals at the Cathedral at Vich, near Barcelona, commissioned in 1927 by the king of Spain. Sert also painted murals at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and at Rockefeller Center, where he replaced the work of the controversial Diego Rivera. Sir Philip's Moorish Court and Tent Room are well-preserved today at Port Lympne. The iron balustrade to the stairs was copied from the principal staircase at Caroline Park in Edinburgh. Sir Philip Albert Gustave David Sassoon, 3rd Baronet (1888-1939), was a scion of the Jewish-Baghdadi mercantile family who were known as the "Rothschilds of the East." The Sassoons emigrated from Bombay (where they made the core of the family fortune) to London in the 1850s. The family firms, David Sassoon & Co. and E.D. Sassoon & Co., continued to function until just after World War II. Philip's father was Sir Edward Albert Sassoon, 2nd Baronet, MP, and son of Albert Abdullah David Sassoon; his mother was Aline Caroline Rothschild, daughter of Baron Gustave de Rothschild. His sister was Sybil Sassoon, who married the Earl of Rocksavage, later the 5th Marquess of Cholmondeley. Philip was also a second cousin of the poet Siegfried Sassoon. Philip served as private secretary to Douglas Haig during World War I and as parliamentary private secretary to Lloyd George after the war. He was an MP for Hythe for the first time in 1912, again between 1924 and 1929, and again from 1931 until 1937, when Sir Philip also served as under-secretary of state for air. In 1937 he became first commissioner of works, a post which he held until his death two years later. Philip was one of the great esthetes of the early 20th century. He was a magnificent collector, a trustee of major museums in Britain, the organizer of ten influential exhibitions, and a patron of John Singer Sargent, among other artists. Sir Philip usually displayed his exhibitions at his London home at 25 Park Lane, the March 1929 "Loan Exhibition of Old English Plate" being a prime example (see photos of this exhibition catalog in the "Images" section). He usually also financed luxurious catalogs to accompany the exhibitions. Sir Philip was an entertainer of the rich and famous; among the guests at Port Lympne were Emerald Cunard, Lord Duveen, Winston Churchill, Lady Astor, Sibyl Colefax, Neville Chamberlain, Lord Hugh Cecil, and Anthony Eden. At his death in 1939 Sir Philip left Port Lympne to his cousin, the connoisseur Hannah Gubbay. During World War II the house was requisitioned as a residence for Czech pilots, who treated it very badly during their occupation. Colonel Waite, an Australian who was a son-in-law of Lord Austin (of the car company) purchased in the estate in 1946. Port Lympne was acquired by John Aspinall in 1973 and turned into a wild animal park (Howletts & Port Lympne Wild Animal Park) that opened to the public in 1976, with the family occupying part of the house. Mr. Aspinall, who made his money from gambling, primarily as the owner of London's Clermont Club in the 1960s, was a known anti-Semite and admirer of Adolf Hitler. He has also been linked with the 1974 disappearance of the 7th Earl of Lucan, a frequent gambler at Aspinall's establishments and possible model for the fictional James Bond. Port Lympne is today owned by a charity (The Aspinall Foundation) and houses the largest breeding herd of black rhinos outside Africa, as well as Siberian and Indian tigers, monkeys, Malayan tapirs, Barbary lions, and many other rare and endangered species. "The Palace of the Apes" is the world's largest gorillarium and home to a complete family group of gorillas. In 2016 the first biography of Sir Philip was published to great acclaim: "Charmed Life: The Phenomenal World of Philip Sassoon" by Damian Collins.

    Comments: Peter Stansky, writing in "Sassoon: The Worlds of Philip and Sybill": at Port Lympne "...Sassoon created one of the most striking country houses of the century."

  • Garden & Outbuildings: After the Great War Philip engaged Philip Tilden to add a patio in the Moorish style, in addition to colonnaded wings, and a Roman style garden with a swimming pool at its center. Fourteen stone terms, purchased by Sir Philip in the 1920s from Stowe House, are incorporated into the forecourt walls. The original estate included two lodges, a cottage, and two houses: Danehurst and the French House. As of 2007, the estate comprises 600 acres.

  • Architect: Philip Tilden

    Date: Early 20th century
    Designed: Moorish Patio, colonnaded wings, neo-Roman garden w/Neoclassical swimming pool, and gardens, all for Sir Philip Sassoon.

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    Architect: Baker & Wilmott

    Date: Edwardian
    Designed: House for Sir Philip Sassoon

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  • Country Life: LIII, 678, 714 plan, 1923. LXXIII, 116 [Rex Whistler Room], 1933.

  • Title: Landmarks of Britain: The Five Hundred Places that Made Our History
    Author: Aslet, Clive
    Year Published: 2005
    Reference: pg. 85
    Publisher: London: Hodder & Stoughton
    ISBN: 0340735104
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Sassoon: The Worlds of Philip and Sybil
    Author: Stansky, Peter
    Year Published: 2003
    Reference: pgs. 1, 3, 6, 10, 44-46, 162
    Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press
    ISBN: 0300095473
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Loan Exhibition of Old English Plate at 25 Park Lane, London, 1929
    Author: Sassoon, Philip (Foreward)
    Year Published: 1929
    Publisher: London: Country Life
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Country Life: 100 Favourite Houses
    Author: Green, Candida Lycett
    Year Published: 1999
    Publisher: London: Boxtree
    ISBN: 0752213334
    Book Type: Hardback

  • House Listed: Grade II*

    Park Listed: Grade II

  • Past Seat / Home of: Sir Philip Albert Gustave David Sassoon, 1912-39. Hannah Gubbay, 1939-46. Colonel Waite, 1946-1970s. John Aspinall, 1973-2000.

    Current Ownership Type: Charity / Nonprofit

    Primary Current Ownership Use: Hotel

    Ownership Details: Since 2014 Port Lympe Hotel & Reserve, owned by The Aspinall Foundation.

  • House Open to Public: By Appointment

    Phone: 01303-264-647

    Fax: 01303-264-944

    Email: [email protected]

    Website: https://www.aspinallfoundation.org

    Historic Houses Member: No