Pokin’ ’round Cliveden

First published on my website, Looking into the Dark Places, in September 2001.

You might also like to read, Pokin’ ’round Burnham Beeches


Front of ClivedenOwners of Cliveden have been a politician, diplomat, poet, playwright, amateur chemist, gambler, satanist, adulterer and a murderer… and that is just one of them, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham who first had a ‘house’ built here beginning in 1666 (Year of the Great Beast and the Great Fire of London). It has close connections to Scotland and monarchy, especially the Stewarts.
Cliveden is pronounced Cleaveden. Purportedly it is named from the chalk cliffs that hang over the River Thames (Thames means Time – Cronos – Satan -Old Father Thames) at that spot. Clive Rear of clivedenmeans cliff. Why don’t they pronounce it like it’s spelt, Clive-den?

If we look at the El-ite pronunciation we extract Cleave-den: Cleave = Cloven. Den – a lair, a hideaway, a place of crime.
Lair of the Cloven?

This is only a thought, but it seems appropriate to a number of the owners of this large, oppressive feeling, secluded manor.

Duke of Buckingham

Buckingham married Mary, daughter of Lord Fairfax (1) (the middle name of former West Australian premier, Richard Fairfax Court and the surname of John Fairfax, the Australian media baron). However he took a mistress, Anna Brudenell, the Countess of Shrewsbury whose husband Buckingham later ‘ran through’ in a duel near Putney.

Buckingham, (real name George Villiers) had a son with the Countess, though how that is known is hard to tell because she was well known for ‘putting it about’. Anyway Buckingham died in April 1687 without an heir. (2)

Buckingham was brought up with the children of Charles 1st (Stewart-Stuart) after his father the 1st Duke was assassinated at Portsmouth. He fought for the Royalists during the civil war, had his lands confiscated and returned (twice) and twice fled to Holland. In 1650 he joined Charles II in Scotland and rode with the Scottish army to the Battle of Worcester where they were routed. Buckingham legged it back to the Netherlands, returning 7 years later after falling out with Charles and after he thought the dust had settled. It hadn’t and he was banged up in the Tower for a year and a bit.

Only earthworks around the grounds can be ascribed to Villiers time. According to the National Trust, ‘There are no surviving papers to shed light on the Duke’s building works at Cliveden.’

Buckingham died in his brother-in-law’s house at Kirkbymoorside, Yorkshire in 1687. After flogging his horse to exhaustion he fell orff, dropped asleep in the wet grass and caught a fever.


(1) In 1660 Lord Fairfax head-hunted Charles II to take up the job of future sacrificial sun-king after his father’s executioner, Cromwell had died.
(2) Lady Shrewsbury was an altogether nasty piece of work. Whilst Buckingham dispatched her husband she stood by holding Buckingham’s horse. On another occasion she issued a contract to kill a former lover, Harry Killigrew. Although Killigrew just about survived his man-servant was not as fortunate.


After the duel Pepys wrote:

‘This will make the world think that the king hath good councillors about him, when the Duke of Buckingham, the greatest man about him, is a fellow of no more sobriety than to fight about a whore.’


Lord George Hamilton

The next owner of Cliveden was a career soldier who the same year (1696) had been created the Earl of Orkney. George Hamilton, son of the 1st Earl of Selkirk (this one didn’t have a sun tan) had been born the same year that Buckingham had commenced building Cliveden in 1666 (year of the Great Beast 666).

Hamilton had married a cousin of Buckingham’s, Elizabeth Villiers who had been a bedmate of the puppet-king, William of Orange. Whereupon he had advanced his career and status.(3)

Lady Orkney’s reviews are a mixed bunch. The author, Jonathan Swift remarked that she squinteth like a dragon but apart from that she was the wisest (snakeist?) person he knew. The Lord High Chancellor, Francis Godolphin said,

” …she was extremely meddlesome in state affairs and that between her and another gossip, Lord Shrewsbury, ’tis hard to determine which is the greater politician.”

The most cutting comments though come from Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who was a Hell-Fire Club priestess:

“She exposed behind a mixture of fat and wrinkles, and before a considerable pair of bubbies a good deal withered, a great belly that preceded her; add to this the inimitable roll of her eyes and her grey hair which by good fortune stood directly upright, and ’tis impossible to imagine a more delightful spectacle.” (4)

During Hamilton’s time at Cliveden he lowered the height of the house from 4 storeys to 3 and added wings to the east and the west. The garden was landscaped to include what was said to be Blenheim battle positions and an octagonal temple was erected on the Thames river bank in the south-west of the rear garden.

In 1714 George I appointed Lord Orkney governor of Virginia; a post he held until his death in 1737 even though he never set foot in the place. After his death he was succeeded by his daughter, Anne but as she already had a home Cliveden was let to Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales who was the son of George II and the father of George III.

(3) Hamilton became second in command to the Duke of Marlborough at the famous victory over the French at Blenheim. (After which Marlborough was given Blenheim Palace ‘a gift from a grateful nation’.)
(4) Letter to Lady Mar, October 1727, in Robert Halsband, ed., The Selected Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, London, 1986,p.152. Lady Mar’s husband was a prominent Jacobite and Freemason.


Prince Frederick

It appears that little was done to the house during the prince’s tenure. Mainly, the house was used as his country retreat where he made himself useful by playing cards and cricket, drinking, listening to music and entertaining. The prince was a freemason and a close friend of another freemason and satanist, Sir Francis Dashwood. (5) At Cliveden during his tenancy the famous British chest thumper ‘Rule Britannia’ was played in public for the first time which must have made his Hanoverian heart swell with pride.


When Britain first at Heaven’s command,
Arose from out the azure main,
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sung this strain:
‘Rule Britannia, rule the waves;
Britons never will be slaves.’


Unless of course the refrain doesn’t really refer to Britain the country. There is enough symbolic language for it to apply to someone and somewhere completely different; from out of this world in fact.

Fred was born 1707 in Hanover, came to England in 1728, moved to Cliveden in 1737 and remained until 1751 when he was bowled out at 44. A cricket ball hit him on the head.

Following the ‘return to base’ of Prince Frederick, the Countess of Orkney resumed Cliveden but only lived in it sporadically. She died in 1756 and her husband died in 1777. Their deaf and dumb daughter, Mary, inherited their estate until she died in 1791.

(5) The Hellfire Club (The Monks of Medenham) was only a short carriage ride away on Sir Francis Dashwood’s estate at Wycombe.


Cliveden burns

On 20th May 1795 the house burned down supposedly after a servant knocked a candle over. At the time the widowed 3rd Countess of Orkney was living at Cliveden. The house was destroyed except for the two wings. Though Lady Orkney contemplated rebuilding, the main house remained derelict for 26 years. The Grand Pile (of rubble) was eventually purchased in 1821 by Sir George Warrender.


Sir George Warrender

Warrender’s purchase of Cliveden (For £39,500) could not be completed until 1824 due to legalities. Sir George was a Member of Parliament and heir to an Edinburgh fortune.

Edinburgh architect, William Burn was chosen to be the architect of the new mansion. His design was dictated by the remaining two wings and the foundations. The new house had only two storeys and was used mostly for entertaining.

In 1849 Sir George died and the house was again placed on the market.

The next two owners of Cliveden were really the same family under different names, so interlocked through marriage were they. The Sutherlands and the Grosvenors were at the time the two richest families in the country. Both had vast interests in Scotland and of course England. Stafford House in St James and Grosvenor House in Park Lane were the London Headquarters of the Sutherlands and the Grosvenors respectively.

The first of these El-ite families to purchase Cliveden was the Sutherlands.


The Sutherlands

The odious Sutherlands’ inhuman treatment of their tenants in the early 1800’s is permanently etched in the Scottish memory. During this time, although the family was raking enormous profits from its coal mining and industrial predation they decided that their Scottish dependants were a drain on their resources-so they kicked them out. With nowhere to go many were forced to emigrate, mainly to America.

But this policy seems to have originated with George Granville 3rd Earl Gower. Not content with his wife’s dowry of virtually the whole County of Sutherland.

Not long after this vile escapade in 1833, his son upon succeeding to the dukedom, wrote to his mother:

“We are all so well off that there can be no cause of uneasiness in any respect to any of our worldly goods, of which there is such a plentiful abundance.”

Cliveden astroThe family surname is Leveson-Gower but in common with many of these aristocratic Hyacinth Bouquet’s (Bucket’s) the name is pronounced ‘funny’. You have to say Looson-Gore. An American politician by the name of Al Gore has a close friend called Frank Sutherland, editor of the Tennessean newspaper.). Looson-Leveson is possibly ‘Sons of Levi’. (who were Gershon, Kohath, and Merari?)

Anyway back to Cliveden:

In 1849 George Granville’s son George, the 4th Earl Gower, 2nd Duke of Sutherland bought Cliveden for his wife Harriet Howard, paying £30,000 including nearly 10 grands worth of furniture and pictures.

However at this time George was edging towards financial embarrassment, as they say, due to his and his wife’s zealous building mania. His gestapo-model chancellor and lawyer, James Loch, who had overseen the displacement of the Duke’s tenants, was dead set against it and issued dire warnings against making the purchase.

In 1849, the same year L.Gore bought it, Cliveden burnt down again. Of course it wasn’t the owners fault this time either. The blame was immediately put on the decorators. The day of the fire (Thursday 15th November) was a national thanksgiving holiday called to mark the ending of a cholera epidemic that had killed 13,000 Londoners between June and October. The fire took hold whilst the family and staff were at church.

The Duke, it is said, was much annoyed that the fire was not spotted earlier. A national holiday? No excuse for the blasted builders to have a day orff , what?

The blame was quickly shifted from the decorators (because they weren’t there) to the builders (who weren’t there either), but plan…sorry, plan reason 2 was that the builders left a joist protruding into the fireplace which caught alight.

One of the first to spot the fire was some nosey woman from Windsor, Victoria somebody or other.

The Sutherlands hadn’t paid any premiums on their insurance but surprise, surprise, they were covered.

The new house which took two years to build is by perhaps some remarkably good fortune the same one we see today. It ended up costing a great deal more than the insurance money though, due to his wife’s fervent expenditure.

In 1850 the Duke was ruefully admitting that he wished it had been Stafford House (his house) rather than Cliveden (which he had presented to his wife) that had burnt. ‘.the saving in running costs would have been great.’

The architect who was commissioned to rebuild Cliveden was Charles Barry who also designed the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament). The Duke tried to dodge paying Barry for a couple of years, well 7, if we want to be pedantic.

clivedonbelltowersmallclivedonbelltowertop2smallThe Duke paid up, but because of the cheek of the man the Duke left instructions that should Sir Charles (who was knighted in 1852) call, he was not to be admitted.

This didn’t stop the Leveson Gowers and new architect, Henry Clutton from nicking Barry’s (watch) tower design (which he had used at Trentham- another of L. Gore’s houses) to use for a water tower. (Completed in 1861) But this tower became a monument to the 2nd Duke because on 28th February 1861 he died.

After the old man died, Harriet remained at Cliveden, but she was also given the run of Chiswick House by her cousin and brother-in-law, the Duke of Devonshire. The Duchess died in 1868, but during her widowed years she entertained Tennyson, Gladstone, Sir Joseph Paxton, Marochetti and Garibaldi. Queen Victoria was amused at Cliveden in the early summer of 1866.

In April 1852 George’s daughter, Lady Constance, who was Queen Victoria’s favourite had married Hugh Lupus (meaning wolf), Earl Grosvenor at Cliveden. After the old Duch had died, her son, the 3rd Duke flogged Cliveden to them.


The Grosvenors

With the purchase of Cliveden by Lupus (The Cloven den by the wolf?) in 1868 the name on the deeds changed but in reality the Sutherlands and the Grosvenors were so connected by marriage the house remained in the same hands.

In fact Earl Grosvenor’s wife had grown up at Cliveden, the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland. Hugh Lupus’ own mother had been Elizabeth, the second child of George Granville Leverson-Gower, 1st Duke of Sutherland.

The Grosvenors called Cliveden ‘home’ throughout the 1870’s whilst their main residence, Eaton in Cheshire, underwent £600,000 worth of rebuilding.

Grosvenor employed Henry Clutton to see to a few improvements around the place but he had at the same time to completely remodel the state rooms at Grosvenor House in Park Lane.

In Gladstone’s Dissolution Honours of 1874, Grosvenor was created Lord Westminster.

In 1880, Grosvenor’s horse, Bend’ Or, won the Derby, but that same year, in December, Constance, his wife, died, aged 45. In 1882 he married Katherine, the youngest daughter of Lord Chesham, who at 24 was half his age.

In 1886 Lord Westminster had Sir Robert Edis design and build a ‘Flemish Renaissance’ style remodelling of the east wing of Cliveden. It was to be balanced by the same treatment to the west wing, but in 1893 he decided to sell Cliveden to an American. Much to Her Majesty’s displeasure:

“…it is grievous to think of it falling into these hands!”

‘These hands’, belonged to William Waldorf Astor.


The Astors

The Astors are said to be one of the 13 Illuminati bloodlines. Here

In 1783 aged 20, John Jacob Astor I had left his home in the village of Walldorf in Germany and travelled to London. Staying only a short while in Great Britain he moved on to New York where a fur trader gave him work. In a short while he started up on his own. The 1830’s saw Astor as the owner of the two biggest concerns on the continent, namely the American Fur Company and the Pacific Fur Company. He had also accumulated an enviable property portfolio in New York. The family continued to prosper and became enormously wealthy. Considering the c.v.’s of the former owners of Cliveden, the Astor family were naturals for the place. Like the Sutherlands, the Astors showed little regard for the welfare of their tenants. Their squalid, rat-infested tenement buildings in New York were home to many unfortunates who frequently died of ill -health but the Astor’s cared little, if at all.

The new purchaser was the great-grandson of John Jacob Astor I and the only child of John Jacob Astor III.


William Waldorf Astor

William Waldorf Astor had married Mary Dahlgren Paul in 1878 and 4 years later they moved to Rome for Bill to perform the duties of the US ambassador. Here he began a life-long interest in ancient sculpture and art, using his knowledge to write two fictional novels, Valentino and Sforza and a book of short stories, Pharaoh’s Daughter.

Before shelling out for Cliveden Astor initiated the family’s British press galaxy with the purchase of the Pall Mall Gazette in 1892.

In 1894, not for the first time , the lady of Cliveden died at a young age. Mary was 36.

One of Astors first projects was to enclose the whole estate with a wall, much to the chagrin and suspicion of locals.

”Waldorf by name and walled-orff by nature,” they moaned.

Another was the demolition of the Duke of Westminster’s east wing ‘ Tudor aberration’. He engaged the services of Truro Cathedral architect, John Loughborough Pearson ( a man in his mid-seventies) to work on Cliveden and his Victoria Embankment offices (2 Temple Place). Pearson’s son Frank, re-designed Leoni’s Octagon Temple (Built for Lord Orkney in 1735 on the banks of the Thames to the south-west of the house.) converting it into a family chapel.

William Astor commissioned some striking work at the Cloven-den, which included W. S. Frith’s historical  wood-carvings and the placement of the imported balustrade, which came from the Villa Borghese in Rome.

clivedonballus6small clivedonballus4small clivedonballus3small clivedonballus5small clivedonballus1smallclivedonballus7smallclivedonballus2small





The travertine and brick tile balustrade from the Villa Borghese, Rome by Guiseppe Di Giacomo and Paulo Massini. Commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese.in 1618-19, they feature the House of Borghese Eagles and Dragons and what could possibly be the demon, Asmodeus.

Astor had purchased the Borghese Balustrade around 1892 and through some nifty footwork (and one suspects a bit of loose Lira) managed to persuade the Italian government that the nearly 300 year-old masterpiece was neither a Work of Art nor an Antiquity.

William Astor had purchased the ballustrade after the sale of the Villa Borghese in 1892 even though the Italian government had ordered the Borghese family not to remove it. Needless to say the Italian government want it back.

In the North Forecourt.are 8 elaborately carved Roman sarcophagi dating from AD c100 to c250. Some of the sarcophagi portray some seemingly gruesome scenes which may very well be symbolic of Roman conflicts or victories.




Others include:
The Triumph of Bacchus‘ where a lion-skin garbed Heracles leads a procession including two Indian prisoners, one on an elephant and the other on a camel. At the rear is Bacchus riding in his panther-drawn chariot. This sarcophagus came from the Villa Borghese, though via the Morelli collection, Florence. AD c230

The ‘sarcophagus with Endymion’ shows Luna, Hymenaeus, Endymion, Somnus, Tellus, the four seasons and the chariots of the sun and the setting moon. Also from the Villa Borghese. AD c230

A ‘sarcophagus with cupids’ is an apparently ‘stock’ item from the Roman undertaker. AD c100
This one came from the Villa Taverna, Frascati.

The ‘Sarcophagus with Theseus‘ represents scenes from the tale of Theseus and Ariadne. The characters also included are King Minos, the Minotaur and Daedalus. It was discovered in 1883 at the site of ancient Fidenae (now Castel Guibileo). AD c240-250

An ‘Oblong fluted sarcophagus1 includes Cupid, Psyche, Victory and Griffins. On the reverse armorial shiels flank a Renaissance nobleman which according to the Cliveden guidebook suggests that it was reused, maybe in the fifteenth century. AD c150-200

Oblong fluted sarcophagus2 includes Bacchus, Pan, a panther, a satyr with a wine-skin and a maenad playing a flute. AD c150-200

William Astor brought a vast collection of sculpture to England, much of which is still scattered around the garden and house. Mountains of it went to his next home Hever Castle in Kent, his offices in London and to various other abodes.

In 1906 Astor moved to Hever Castle the ancestral home of the Boleyns, (of Ann Boleyn fame) giving Cliveden as a wedding gift to his son, Waldorf and his Virginian daughter-in-law, Nancy (nee Langhorne).

In 1916 he was awarded a barony and in 1917 was elevated to Viscount Astor.


Waldorf Astor

When the energetic Nancy moved into Cliveden she launched herself immediately into brightening up the sombre interior inherited from her father-in-law. Bernard Shaw commented that a stay with Nancy was like spending a Sunday with a volcano. (She really should have given up those fags.) Cliveden became once again a mecca for the political, literary and arts crowd. Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Balfour, Lord Curzon and Churchill came regularly. The comedienne and actress, Joyce Grenfell was a regular guest at Cliveden because she was Nancy Astor’s neice. (In 1936 Miss Grenfell came to live in a cottage on the estate and helped in the hospital.) In 1907 the King came to dinner.

The staff numbers were increased from the old man’s days to 20 in the house, 12 in the stables and 40 or 50 in the gardens. All of the footmen had to be at least 6 foot tall and sported striped red and yellow waistcoats under dark brown tailcoats.

Casualties of the First World War came to Cliveden when the Canadian Red Cross built a military hospital over the tennis courts and the bowling alley. During the Second World War the Canadians built a larger hospital on the same site which remained in use until the 1980’s.

Upon his father’s death in 1919, Waldorf became 2nd Viscount Astor which meant he had to abdicate from the Commons where he was the member for Plymouth.

Less than a week after her father-in-law’s death Nancy Astor announced that she would be contesting her husbands vacated seat. She won and was the first woman ever to sit in the House. (Was she the first American?)

In 1931 the Astors travelled to Russia with George Bernard Shaw. Charlie Chaplin visited often. When Joseph Kennedy finished his term as US Ambassador to London Lady Astor persuaded the King to join them in a farewell dinner.

During the Second World War, Waldorf Astor was coalition Lord Mayor of London and oversaw the controversial redevelopment plan after the Blitz.

The Astor’s son, Michael said that during the 30’s Cliveden was like a club attached to the Red Cross Hospital with cricket matches, estate dances and parties, it was like living in a hotel.

This club was looked at askew in the late 1930’s. Several newspaper articles called the ‘Cliveden set’ an intellectual centre for Appeasement against Hitler. The German Ambassador, Ribbentrop was a guest at Cliveden. Neville Chamberlain’s overtures to the Fuhrer were applauded by the Astors to the point where Nancy Astor went head to head with her friend Churchill during the Munich Crisis of 1938. (Perhaps she was confusing Adolf with their mate Charlie Chaplin, could happen to anyone. Charlie’s the one with the bowler hat Nancy. Adolf shouts a lot. Charlie seems a quiet chap.)

During the dark days of the Second World War, when it seemed to the world that England would buckle under the terrible onslaught of the Nazis, the Astors presented Cliveden to the National Trust with an endowment. (The National Trust is a private company. The leading founder of the National Trust was….Lord Westminster, the person who sold Cliveden to the Astors.)

Waldorf Astor died in 1952 and his son William Waldorf became the 3rd Viscount. Nancy Astor died in 1964 at her daughter’s (also Nancy) house at Grimsthorpe in Lincolnshire although the Astor family continued to live at Cliveden until 1966 when the 3rd Viscount died.

Five years earlier, in 1961 at Cliveden, the osteopath Stephen Ward introduced the Secretary of State for War John Profumo to a certain Miss Christine Keeler. That Keeler still had an ongoing tryst with a Soviet ‘army officer’, Captain Ivanov ended Profumo’s political career and mortally wounded the Harold McMillan Conservative government.

After the 3rd Viscount died in 1966 the house was let to Stanford University of California, apparently as their centre for English educational programmes. When their lease ended the manor house and grounds underwent substantial remedial work. A company, Cliveden Hotel Ltd became the new tenants of the house, negotiating a 100 year lease. The National Trust remains the owner and is committed to maintaining the rest of the property.


Ellis Taylor
25th September 2001


The National Trust
Letter to Lady Mar, October 1727, in Robert Halsband, ed., The Selected Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, London, 1986,p.152.

Related: Pokin’ ’round Burnham Beeches

A book about to be published (at the time of writing) that may be of interest to you regarding these themes: maggies hammer

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