Many words have been synonymous to Great Britain – royalty, colonialism, tea, Mr. Bean – but what really stuck with me was “Sherlock Holmes”. This character, this icon of deduction, was from a series of novels made by one Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The story of the “world’s only consulting detective” has captured the inquisitive hearts of many, its fame continuing on far after the author’s death. The enduring popularity of Sherlock Holmes led to the creation of hundreds of works based on the character – both adaptations into other media and original stories.
One of these adaptations is the 2009 film creatively named (yes, hear my sarcasm) Sherlock Holmes, directed by Guy Ritchie. In the film, Holmes (portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr.) and his partner/friend Dr. Watson (portrayed by Jude Law), with the help of former adversary Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), investigate a series of murders related to occult rituals. Lord Blackwood (played by Mark Strong), supposedly dead, has somehow returned with a plot to take over the British Empire using an arsenal of dark arts and new technologies. The wit of Holmes as well as the twists and turns of the plot, the mystery of the occult and science, thrilled me.
One scene in the film featured Cliveden House in Berkshire as the “Grand Hotel, Piccadilly Circus”, where Sherlock Holmes had an, ahem, interesting encounter with Ms. Adler. Needless to say, it ended with Adler leaving Holmes tied to the bed, naked, to eventually be found by the maid. Indecent exposure, indeed.
Cliveden is an Italianate mansion and estate at Taplow, Buckinghamshire, England. Set on banks 40 metres above the River Thames, its grounds slope down to the river. The site has been home to an Earl, two Dukes, a Prince of Wales and the Viscounts Astor. Cliveden was built more than 300 years ago by the Duke of Buckinghamshire, described as a “famous rake, a schemer and a wit”. His spirit must have cast a racy spell over this house, because it has been connected with power, politics and scandal ever since (which was rather appropriate for the scene in the film, hehe), an example being Profumo-Christine Keeler Affair – a great sex and politics scandal of the 1960s.
The house was originally built in 1670 by William Winde. It was badly damaged by fire in 1795, and was left to moulder for 30 years. It was eventually rebuilt, but another fire in 1849 destroyed much of the original structure. Sir Charles Barry designed a new Italianate building in 1850 for the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland.
Barry’s three-story central block curves outward to join 18th century wings designed by Thomas Archer. The interior was altered in the 1870s from Barry’s design, and the clock tower and stable block added.
The fame of Cliveden skyrocketed when it was purchased by William Waldorf Astor, in 1893 the richest man in America. The interior was remodelled yet again, to set off Astor’s fine furniture and tapestries. His aim was to make the interior as much like an Italian palazzo as possible, which would complement the exterior. The ceiling and walls were panelled in English oak, with Corinthian columns and swags of carved flowers for decoration, all by architect Frank Pearson. The room was and still is furnished with eighteenth-century tapestries and suits of armour. The French Dining Room is so called because the eighteenth-century Rococo panelling (or boiseries) came from the Chateau d’Asnieres near Paris. The second largest room on the ground floor, after the Great Hall, was the drawing room which today is used as the hotel’s main dining room. This room, which has views over the Parterre and Thames, was redecorated in 1995 by Eve Stewart, with terracotta-coloured walls, gilded columns and trompe l’oeil shelves of books. The ceiling is painted to resemble clouds and three Bohemian glass chandeliers hang from it.
Between the two world wars Cliveden was at the centre of political and social activity, and the 2nd Viscount Astor and Lady Astor made Cliveden a popular gathering place for influential people who became known as “the cliveden set”. In 1942 Viscount Astor gave Cliveden to the National Trust.
The house is surrounded by 375 acres of superb landscape gardens, including a Rose Garden designed by noted English garden expert Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe. The gardens also feature the Canadian War Memorial Garden, the Ilex Grove, Amphitheatre, River Walk and the Yew Tree Walk.
The grounds are also notable for their delightful statuary, with the most prominent feature being the sculpted “Fountain of Love”. Parts of the gardens date back to the 16th century, though most are of more recent vintage, and much of the statuary was added by the Astors.
The house itself is now run as a hotel, and only three rooms are open to the public, but the gardens are maintained by the National Trust.
Jessamyne Roux B. Ado