The South Facade from a circa 1920 postcard
Cover of Philip Sassoon's 1929 old English silver exhibition catalog
Pages from Philip Sassoon's 1929 old English silver exhibition catalog
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 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. 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 stle garden with a swimming pool at its center. The original Estate included two lodges, a cottage, and two houses: Danehurst and the French House. As of 2007, the Estate comprises 600 acres.
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
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
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
Book Type: Hardback
Title: Country Life: 100 Favourite Houses
Author: Green, Candida Lycett
Year Published: 1999
Publisher: London: Boxtree
Book Type: Hardback
House Listed: Grade II*
Park Listed: Grade II
Seat of: Aspinall family
Past Seat of: Sir Philip Sassoon, 1912-39. Hannah Gubbay, 1939-46. Colonel Waite, 1946-1970s.
Current Ownership Type: Charity / Nonprofit
Primary Current Ownership Use: Mixed Use
Ownership Details: Today Howletts & Port Lympne Wild Animal Park, owned by The Aspinall Foundation. The seat of the Aspinall family since 1973.