Basildon Park
Basildon Park is a country house situated 3 kilometres (2 mi) south of Goring-on-Thames
Goring-on-Thames is a large village and civil parish on the River Thames in South Oxfordshire, about south of Wallingford.-Geography:...

 and Streatley
Streatley, Berkshire
Streatley is a village and civil parish on the River Thames in Berkshire, England.-Location:Streatley is about from Reading and from Oxford. It is in the Goring Gap on the River Thames and is directly across the river from the Oxfordshire village of Goring-on-Thames...

 in Berkshire
Berkshire is a historic county in the South of England. It is also often referred to as the Royal County of Berkshire because of the presence of the royal residence of Windsor Castle in the county; this usage, which dates to the 19th century at least, was recognised by the Queen in 1957, and...

, between the villages of Upper Basildon
Upper Basildon
Upper Basildon is a small village in the civil parish of Basildon, near to Pangbourne, in the English county of Berkshire. It has a church, dedicated to St. Stephen, built in 1964 in the shape of the Christian secret symbol of a fish.-External links:*...

 and Lower Basildon
Lower Basildon
Lower Basildon is a small village in the civil parish of Basildon, near to Pangbourne, in the English county of Berkshire. It is the location of the parish church of St Bartholomew. The National Trust property, Basildon Park, is just above it....

. It is owned by the National Trust
National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty
The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty, usually known as the National Trust, is a conservation organisation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland...

 and is a Grade I listed building. The house was built between 1776 and 1783 for Sir Francis Sykes and designed by John Carr in the Palladian style at a time when Palladianism was giving way to the newly fashionable neoclassicism
Neoclassicism is the name given to Western movements in the decorative and visual arts, literature, theatre, music, and architecture that draw inspiration from the "classical" art and culture of Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome...

. Thus, the interiors are in a neoclassical "Adamesque"
Robert Adam
Robert Adam was a Scottish neoclassical architect, interior designer and furniture designer. He was the son of William Adam , Scotland's foremost architect of the time, and trained under him...

 style. Never fully completed, the house passed through a succession of owners. In 1910 it was standing empty and in 1914, it was requisitioned by the British Government as an army convalescent hospital. It was again sold in 1929 and quickly sold again.

In 1929, following a failed attempt to dismantle and rebuild the house in the USA, it was stripped of many of its fixtures and fittings and all but abandoned. During World War II, the house was again requisitioned and served as a barracks, a training ground for tanks, and finally a prisoner of war camp—all activities unsuited to the preservation of an already semi-derelict building.
In 1952, a time when hundreds of British country houses were being demolished
Destruction of country houses in 20th-century Britain
The destruction of country houses in 20th-century Britain was a phenomenon brought about by a change in social conditions during which a large number of country houses of varying architectural merit were demolished...

, it was said of Basildon Park "to say it was derelict, is hardly good enough, no window was left intact and most were repaired with cardboard or plywood."
In 1978, the Iliffes gave the house, together with its park and a large endowment for its upkeep, to the National Trust in the hope that "The National Trust will protect it and its park for future generations to enjoy."
Today, Basildon Park is as notable for its mid 20th century complete renaissance and restoration, by Lord and Lady Iliffe
Langton Iliffe, 2nd Baron Iliffe
Edward Langton Iliffe, 2nd Baron Iliffe , generally known as Langton Illiffe, was a British peer. He was the son of Edward Iliffe, 1st Baron Iliffe and his wife, Charlotte, daughter of Henry Gilding....

, as it is for its architecture.

Early history

Basildon is first documented in 1311 when it was granted by the crown to Elias de Colleshull. During the 16th and early 17th centuries, the manor of Basildon was held by the Yonge family. In 1654, the Basildon estate was purchased by the 5th Earl of Bath
Henry Bourchier, 5th Earl of Bath
Henry Bourchier, 5th Earl of Bath was an English Peer of the Realm, Lord Privy Seal, and landowner in counties Limerick, Armagh, Devon and Somerset-Biography:Sir Henry Bourchier was probably born and was certainly brought up in Ireland...

 who died the same year. His widow, the former Rachael Fane, bequeathed the estate to her nephew Sir Henry Fane
Sir Henry Fane
Sir Henry Fane KB, JP was the only son and heir of George Fane of Hatton Garden, by his wife Dorothy daughter and heir of James Horsey of Honnington, Warwickshire....

. Little is known of Basildon during the Fane ownership, but a mansion house was built with Gothic lodges. These lodges survive and serve the present house. The manor remained a Fane possession until it was offered for sale in 1766.

The estate was purchased in 1771 by Sir Francis Sykes. Having made a fortune in India, Sykes returned to England to realise his social and political ambitions. For these to be fulfilled, Sykes required a grand estate conveniently close to London; he built Basildon Park to serve that purpose.

18th century

Basildon Park was built for Sir Francis Sykes. Born in the West Riding of Yorkshire
West Riding of Yorkshire
The West Riding of Yorkshire is one of the three historic subdivisions of Yorkshire, England. From 1889 to 1974 the administrative county, County of York, West Riding , was based closely on the historic boundaries...

 in 1732, the son of a yeoman farmer, he left his native country to make his fortune in India. He joined the British East India Company
British East India Company
The East India Company was an early English joint-stock company that was formed initially for pursuing trade with the East Indies, but that ended up trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent and China...

 and amassed a fortune in Bengal
Bengal is a historical and geographical region in the northeast region of the Indian Subcontinent at the apex of the Bay of Bengal. Today, it is mainly divided between the sovereign land of People's Republic of Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal, although some regions of the previous...

, at the court of the Nawab
Nawab of Bengal
The Nawabs of Bengal were the hereditary nazims or subadars of the subah of Bengal during the Mughal rule and the de-facto rulers of the province.-History:...

. He later became Governor of Kasimbazar and became what was then known as a nabob
A Nawab or Nawaab is an honorific title given to Muslim rulers of princely states in South Asia. It is the Muslim equivalent of the term "maharaja" that was granted to Hindu rulers....

, a title derived from the Indian "Nawab."
Returning to England in 1769, possessed of vast wealth (estimated at between £250,000 and £500,000) he purchased Ackworth Park in his native Yorkshire
Yorkshire is a historic county of northern England and the largest in the United Kingdom. Because of its great size in comparison to other English counties, functions have been increasingly undertaken over time by its subdivisions, which have also been subject to periodic reform...

. In 1770, he acquired the Gillingham Manor estate, Dorset, an estate of some 2200 acres (8.9 km²). This purchase enabled him to become Member of Parliament for the constituency of Shaftsbury. To further his political aspirations he required a house suitable for entertaining and indicative of his wealth conveniently nearer to London than the distant counties of Yorkshire and Dorset.

Basildon fitted Sykes' requirement well, not only politically, but also socially. At this time this area of Berkshire was home to so many of the newly rich returned from India that it was referred to as "the English Hindoostan." Sykes' close friend Warren Hastings
Warren Hastings
Warren Hastings PC was the first Governor-General of India, from 1773 to 1785. He was famously accused of corruption in an impeachment in 1787, but was acquitted in 1795. He was made a Privy Councillor in 1814.-Early life:...

 was already resident in the area, and another friend, the 1st Lord Clive
Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive
Major-General Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive, KB , also known as Clive of India, was a British officer who established the military and political supremacy of the East India Company in Bengal. He is credited with securing India, and the wealth that followed, for the British crown...

, (better known as Clive of India) had himself attempted to buy Basildon in 1767.

From the moment Sykes purchased the Basildon site in 1771, his good fortune changed. The commencement of work on the house was delayed until 1776 as a result of the crash of the East India Company's shares, which caused Sykes to lose £10,000 in a single day. Shortly afterwards, his and Clive's activities as part of the Bengal Administration were investigated by Parliament. Sykes as the Bengali Tax Collector had levied unjust taxes and was publicly censured. Two years later, in 1774, while Sykes was still a subject of public opprobrium, his finances suffered further when allegations of corruption pertaining to his constituency were made against him. As a result he lost his parliamentary seat and was forced to pay £11,000 in compensation.

Finally, in 1776, work on Basildon began and lasted for the remainder of Sykes' life. Although his finances continued to dwindle and he was throughout his life to be vilified as an "archetypal nabob", he managed to regain his political and social lives. He was created a baronet in 1781, and became MP for Wallingford in 1784. As Sykes aged, work on Basildon slowed. This may have been for financial reasons or just because of a lack of momentum due to family disappointments. A younger son was drowned in 1786 and Sykes' heir proved to be dissipated and a further drain on Sykes' resources.

Sykes died at his London house on 11 January 1804. His body was returned to Basildon for burial in St Bartholomew's Church, Lower Basildon
St Bartholomew's Church, Lower Basildon
St Bartholomew's Church is the redundant Church of England parish church of Basildon in the English county of Berkshire. It is located in the hamlet of Lower Basildon and is now owned by the Churches Conservation Trust...

. and placed in a previously owned 14th century chest tomb. At Basildon Park, the principal rooms remained unfinished.

19th century

On Sir Francis Sykes' death, Basildon was inherited by his son, Sir Francis Sykes (2nd Baronet) who died a few weeks later. The house then passed to his grandson, the five year old Sir Francis (3rd Baronet). By this time, the Sykes fortune was almost spent and Basildon was already mortgaged. The family finances suffered further as a result of the 3rd Baronet's association with the extravagant Prince Regent
George IV of the United Kingdom
George IV was the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and also of Hanover from the death of his father, George III, on 29 January 1820 until his own death ten years later...

. Aged just 14, he entertained the Prince at Basildon. As a result of the Prince's occupation of the North side of the second floor, where the best bedrooms are located, for many years afterwards this range of rooms were known as "The Regent's Side" as opposed to the family's less formal rooms on the South side of the floor.

From the late 1820s, Sykes was suffering serious financial problems, and in 1829, the estate was placed on the market. The house was not quickly sold, as Sykes refused to accept any price less than £100,000. During this period, the house was often let. However, Sykes and his family were in residence between 1834 and 1835 when the future Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli was a house-guest at Basildon. Disraeli, who was the lover of Sykes' wife Henrietta, immortalised her along with some descriptions of Basildon and its rooms in his novel, Henrietta Temple: A Love Story. Another romantic attachment of Lady Sykes was to result in her husband being immortalised in a novel, this time in a less flattering light. Lady Sykes had been conducting an affair with the painter Daniel Maclise
Daniel Maclise
Daniel Maclise was an Irish history, literary and portrait painter, and illustrator, who worked for most of his life in London, England.-Early life:...

. Her husband publicly denounced Maclise, causing an unacceptable high society scandal. As a result, Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity and fame than had any previous author during his lifetime, and he remains popular, having been responsible for some of English literature's most iconic...

, a friend of Maclise, then writing Oliver Twist
Oliver Twist
Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress is the second novel by English author Charles Dickens, published by Richard Bentley in 1838. The story is about an orphan Oliver Twist, who endures a miserable existence in a workhouse and then is placed with an undertaker. He escapes and travels to...

, based his villainous and cruel character Bill Sikes
Bill Sikes
William "Bill" Sikes is a fictional character in the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.He is one of Dickens's most vicious characters and a very strong force in the novel when it comes to having control over somebody or harming others. He is portrayed as a rough and barbaric man. He is a career...

 on Sir Francis.

In 1838, as Oliver Twist was published, Sykes, out of funds and publicly humiliated, finally sold Basildon Park for just £3,000 less than the £100,000 he had been seeking.

Basildon's interiors were now finally completed and the estate had a seventy-year period of security. The new owner was James Morrison, a Hampshire born, self-made millionaire. From humble beginnings as an employee of a London haberdasher, he had married his employer's daughter, entered into partnership with his father-in-law and expanded the business. By 1820, Morrison was possessed of a fortune he was investing wisely to become one of Victorian England's wealthiest men. A politician, between 1830 and 1847, he was one time MP for St Ives
St Ives (UK Parliament constituency)
St. Ives is a county constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It elects one Member of Parliament by the first past the post system of election.-History:...

, Ipswich
Ipswich is a large town and a non-metropolitan district. It is the county town of Suffolk, England. Ipswich is located on the estuary of the River Orwell...

 and the Inverness
Inverness is a city in the Scottish Highlands. It is the administrative centre for the Highland council area, and is regarded as the capital of the Highlands of Scotland...

A burgh was an autonomous corporate entity in Scotland and Northern England, usually a town. This type of administrative division existed from the 12th century, when King David I created the first royal burghs. Burgh status was broadly analogous to borough status, found in the rest of the United...


In addition to Basildon, Morrison owned several estates, including Fonthill
Fonthill or Font Hill may refer to:*Fonthill Bishop, is a village in Wiltshire, England*Fonthill Gifford, is a villages in Wiltshire, England**Fonthill Abbey, Fonthill Lake and Fonthill Grottoes are located between Fonthill Bishop and Fonthill Gifford...

and Islay
-Prehistory:The earliest settlers on Islay were nomadic hunter-gatherers who arrived during the Mesolithic period after the retreat of the Pleistocene ice caps. In 1993 a flint arrowhead was found in a field near Bridgend dating from 10,800 BC, the earliest evidence of a human presence found so far...

. The mansions provided a setting for his huge art collection, which included works by Constable
John Constable
John Constable was an English Romantic painter. Born in Suffolk, he is known principally for his landscape paintings of Dedham Vale, the area surrounding his home—now known as "Constable Country"—which he invested with an intensity of affection...

, Turner
J. M. W. Turner
Joseph Mallord William Turner RA was an English Romantic landscape painter, watercolourist and printmaker. Turner was considered a controversial figure in his day, but is now regarded as the artist who elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivalling history painting...

 and many Italian and Dutch old masters. Basildon was to be the setting for some of his finest works.

In order to create that setting, Morrison employed the architect John Buonarotti Papworth
John Buonarotti Papworth
John Buonarotti Papworth was a prolific architect, artist and a founder member of the Royal Institute of British Architects....

. At Basildon, Papworth combined the roles of architect and interior decorator, helping to create what Morrison described as a "a casket for my pictorial gems." Many of Papworth's more ambitious plans were not realised; the demolition and replacement by colonnades of the yards, the conversion of a courtyard into a sculpture gallery, and the creation of a carriage ramp to the piano nobile
Piano nobile
The piano nobile is the principal floor of a large house, usually built in one of the styles of classical renaissance architecture...

 on the East front were all declined by Morrison. However, the house was fitted up with a hot water system and fire precautions, and the decoration of the principal reception rooms was completed in suitably classical styles.

Morrison died at Basildon on 30 October 1857. His bequest to his wife was in excess of £6000,0000.

20th century

Basildon Park was occupied by James Morrison's unmarried daughter, Ellen, until her death in 1910. Her demise marked the beginning of a downward turn in Basildon's history. The house and estate were inherited by a nephew, James Morrison. Initially, he improved the estate and its buildings, commissioning the architect Edward Lutyens to design workers' cottages in the neighbouring villages. However, he never occupied the house, using it only for occasional shooting parties. In 1914, the house was requisitioned by the British Government and used as a convalescent home for injured soldiers, suffering the attendant damage which accompanies institutional use.

During the war Basildon's owner served with distinction, obtaining the DSO
Distinguished Service Order
The Distinguished Service Order is a military decoration of the United Kingdom, and formerly of other parts of the British Commonwealth and Empire, awarded for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces during wartime, typically in actual combat.Instituted on 6 September...

 and, according to Harold Macmillan
Harold Macmillan
Maurice Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton, OM, PC was Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 10 January 1957 to 18 October 1963....

, always "insisted on walking rather than crawling under enemy fire." Surprisingly, considering the form in which his courage manifested itself, Morrison survived the war. However, his love of shooting, a lavish lifestyle and three marriages led to such a serious decline in his fortunes that in 1929, he was forced to sell the Basildon estate.

The new purchaser was the 1st Lord Iliffe. He wished to expand and consolidate his estate at nearby Yattendon, where he had built a new house. He immediately annexed the estate from house and park back, stripped the mansion of some doors and fireplaces for his London house, and placed the house back onto the market.

Thus it was that in 1929 Basildon Park was purchased by a property developer, George Ferdinando. Ferdinando immediately attempted to make a profit on his investment by stripping the site. Encouraged by the then current fashion amongst wealthy American citizens for inhabiting ancient European houses and palazzi, Ferdinando produced a sales brochure advertising Basildon to any American citizen for $1,000,000. For this sum, he promised to "carefully take it down" and "re-erect in America", thus providing an opportunity to "Any patriotic American wishing to benefit his native state by presenting this imposing building … ready for occupation as a private residence, museum, college building or public library." Fortunately for Britain's architectural heritage, 1929 was a bad year for patriotic Americans, and Basildon remained unsold and in situ.

As described, in order to recoup some of his losses Ferdinando sold many of the house's fixtures and fittings to a firm selling architectural antiques. In this way elements from the Dining Room have been reused in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
The Waldorf-Astoria is a luxury hotel in New York. It has been housed in two historic landmark buildings in New York City. The first, designed by architect Henry J. Hardenbergh, was on the Fifth Avenue site of the Empire State Building. The present building at 301 Park Avenue in Manhattan is a...

 in New York and doorcases designed by John Carr are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a renowned art museum in New York City. Its permanent collection contains more than two million works, divided into nineteen curatorial departments. The main building, located on the eastern edge of Central Park along Manhattan's Museum Mile, is one of the...

, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Louisiana State University Museum of Art. However, Ferdinando never realised his plan to remove Basildon from its English landscape; he lived in a corner of the house until it was requisitioned in 1939.

World War II saw Basildon used as a billet for troops, while the park became a training ground for troops deployed in tank and ground warfare. At the conclusion of the war, the Ministry of Defence's caretaker stole the lead from the roofs. Following a fire on the principal floor it seemed inevitable that Basildon would become a statistic, joining the thousands of country houses demolished in the latter half of the 20th century.


In 1952, out of curiosity, Mrs Langton Iliffe visited the derelict Basildon. She was the daughter-in-law of the 1st Baron Iliffe (Sir Edward Iliffe) who had bought the house in 1929, stripped it of its estate and quickly re-sold it later. At the time she and her husband were looking for a much smaller country house in the area. However, encouraged by the potential she saw in the mansion, she persuaded her husband to buy it. This was the beginning of Basildon Park's salvation and renaissance.

Under the direction of the Iliffes (later the 2nd Baron and Lady Iliffe
Langton Iliffe, 2nd Baron Iliffe
Edward Langton Iliffe, 2nd Baron Iliffe , generally known as Langton Illiffe, was a British peer. He was the son of Edward Iliffe, 1st Baron Iliffe and his wife, Charlotte, daughter of Henry Gilding....

), Basildon was completely restored and refurnished. This was achieved over a period of 25 years. Many fixtures and fittings were purchased from similar houses in a greater state of dereliction prior to their demolition. While often the Iliffes found great bargains, obtaining 18th-century mahogany doors and marble fireplaces, at other times their luck was less favourable; Lady Iliffe recalled attending the Mentmore Towers
Mentmore Towers
Mentmore Towers is a 19th century English country house in the village of Mentmore in Buckinghamshire. The house was designed by Joseph Paxton and his son-in-law, George Henry Stokes, in the revival Elizabethan and Jacobean style of the late 16th century called Jacobethan, for the banker and...

 auction of 1975 with the intent of buying marble topped console tables for Basildon, but through economic necessity returning with only a coal-scuttle.

Architectural appraisal

Basildon Park was begun in 1772; the architect, John Carr of York, was one of the leading architects in northern England. His work was initially influenced by the Palladian architects, the Earl of Burlington
Earl of Burlington
Earl of Burlington is a title that has been created twice, the first time in the Peerage of England and the second in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. The first creation was for Richard Boyle, 2nd Earl of Cork, on 20 March 1664...

 and William Kent
William Kent
William Kent , born in Bridlington, Yorkshire, was an eminent English architect, landscape architect and furniture designer of the early 18th century.He was baptised as William Cant.-Education:...

 and later by the neoclassicism of Robert Adam
Robert Adam
Robert Adam was a Scottish neoclassical architect, interior designer and furniture designer. He was the son of William Adam , Scotland's foremost architect of the time, and trained under him...

. At Basildon, Carr's most southerly commission, both these architectural influences can be discerned. It has been speculated that the principal facade, the West Front, was inspired by Palladio's Villa Emo
Villa Emo
Villa Emo is a patrician villa in the Veneto, northern Italy, near the village of Fanzolo di Vedelago. It was designed by Andrea Palladio in 1559 for the Emo family of Venice and remained in the hands of the Emo family until it was sold in 2004...

. Whatever the inspiration, it was one Carr relied on heavily in his work, and it can be seen again most evidently in his designs for Newark Town Hall.

The mansion consists of the three quite separate blocks, but indistinctly so. The three floored corps de logis
Corps de logis
Corps de logis is the architectural term which refers to the principal block of a large, usually classical, mansion or palace. It contains the principal rooms, state apartments and an entry. The grandest and finest rooms are often on the first floor above the ground level: this floor is the...

 contains the principal rooms, and two flanking pavilions of two floors each; the north designed to contain the Kitchen, Scullery and Housekeeper's Room and the south to contain the Laundry and Dairy. The upper floor of each pavilion contained accommodation for servants. This arrangement, of a central block flanked by pavilions, is original to Palladio's concept; however, in England Palladianism (a form of architecture based only loosely on Palladio's concepts) had evolved to a point that where Palladio had filled the distance between corps de logis and the flanking blocks with a void space or colonnade. The evolved 18th-century Palladianism usually filled the space with long wings containing enfilades
Enfilade (architecture)
In architecture, an enfilade is a suite of rooms formally aligned with each other. This was a common feature in grand European architecture from the Baroque period onwards, although there are earlier examples, such as the Vatican stanze...

 of rooms. At Basildon, the architect used windowed walls to create service courts in the void. This had the double advantage of not only unifying the facade, but also (in a comparatively small mansion) of creating a discrete space for utilitarian stores, lavatories
A toilet is a sanitation fixture used primarily for the disposal of human excrement, often found in a small room referred to as a toilet/bathroom/lavatory...

 and the drying of clothes.


The principal facade is the long West facade of the corps de logis and its flanking pavilions. Built of Bath stone
Bath Stone
Bath Stone is an Oolitic Limestone comprising granular fragments of calcium carbonate. Originally obtained from the Combe Down and Bathampton Down Mines under Combe Down, Somerset, England, its warm, honey colouring gives the World Heritage City of Bath, England its distinctive appearance...

, the three-storied rectangular corps de logis has a rusticated
Rustication (architecture)
thumb|upright|Two different styles of rustication in the [[Palazzo Medici-Riccardi]] in [[Florence]].In classical architecture rustication is an architectural feature that contrasts in texture with the smoothly finished, squared block masonry surfaces called ashlar...

 ground floor, with a piano nobile above and a bedroom floor above this. This block is of seven bays; the central three bays are behind a recessed Ionic
Ionic order
The Ionic order forms one of the three orders or organizational systems of classical architecture, the other two canonic orders being the Doric and the Corinthian...

A portico is a porch leading to the entrance of a building, or extended as a colonnade, with a roof structure over a walkway, supported by columns or enclosed by walls...

. Entrance to the mansion is by three segmented arches under the portico, or more formally, by climbing a double curved staircase behind the three arches. The stairs rise to an open loggia beneath the portico which gives access to the mansion's principal entrance. The fenestration is designed to indicate the status of their floor. Thus, small windows indicate the domestic ground floor and secondary upper floor, while the windows of the first floor piano nobile are tall and large. These larger windows are unified along the full length of the facade extending on to the pavilions by a balustrading beneath them which continues the line of the balustrading protecting the central loggia. The roofline is concealed by a high parapet
A parapet is a wall-like barrier at the edge of a roof, terrace, balcony or other structure. Where extending above a roof, it may simply be the portion of an exterior wall that continues above the line of the roof surface, or may be a continuation of a vertical feature beneath the roof such as a...

 concealing the roofs themselves and broken only by the portico's pediment. This pediment is echoed as a smaller pediment over both of the two-storied pavilions.

In contrast to the Palladianism of the West front, the East front is austere in its neoclassicism. It projects from the flanking pavilions, which on this side of the house are partially screened by planting. The fenestration which is concentrated on the broad bay at the centre of the facade provides the essential rhythm and relief. Above the second floor, a balustrade not only hides the roof, but unites the projecting bay with its flanking bays.


The corps de logis (central block) is built on the three floors. In the 18th century, such floors (known, because of their outer brickwork, as "the Rustic") would have been used by both the owners and their servants. The Rustic contained the wine cellars, Servants' Hall, estate offices, and secondary reception rooms. This is very much the case at Basildon where the former Servants' Hall is now the ground floor visitors' tea room and the former Summer Breakfast Room (beneath the Octagon Drawing Room) which later saw service as a billiard room, is now a lecture room for the mansion's paying visitors. The lower hall, beneath the first floor hall, was the everyday entrance to the mansion for the family.

The first floor

The first floor was designed to be a piano nobile
Piano nobile
The piano nobile is the principal floor of a large house, usually built in one of the styles of classical renaissance architecture...

 (meaning literally a "noble floor"); as its name suggests, it contains the principal rooms of the house. During the 1770s, when Basildon was built, a domestic and architectural movement from formality towards informality was in progress. Thus, while the exterior of Basildon is pure symmetry, this symmetry is not reflected in the interior layout of the rooms as would have been the case just a few years earlier. In any case, the builder of Basildon was not eminent enough to require a suite of state apartments on the piano nobile in permanent expectation of a royal visit. Thus, in keeping with this newly found spirit of informality Basildon has no formal and symmetrical enfilade
Enfilade (architecture)
In architecture, an enfilade is a suite of rooms formally aligned with each other. This was a common feature in grand European architecture from the Baroque period onwards, although there are earlier examples, such as the Vatican stanze...

 of rooms of increasing splendour, but two separate first floor suites, one feminine and one masculine, were placed on either side of the hall. The library (10 on plan), considered a masculine room, was placed next to the owner Sir Francis Sykes' dressing room (9) while on the opposite side of the hall (11 and 12) were the bedroom and dressing room of Lady Sykes. Sir Francis appears not to have had a bedroom on this floor, an arrangement not uncommon in the 18th century, when a dressing room served as a study and reception room combined—the owner would descend from his bedroom above to the dressing room and receive business callers while the finishing touches were made to his dressing by a servant. Lady Sykes' dressing room or boudoir (11 on first floor plan), also used as private sitting room by the late Lady Iliffe, is now known as the Sutherland Room; it is currently used to display some of the studies by the 20th-century artist Graham Sutherland
Graham Sutherland
Graham Vivien Sutherland OM was an English artist.-Early life:He was born in Streatham, attending Homefield Preparatory School, Sutton. He was then educated at Epsom College, Surrey before going up to Goldsmiths, University of London...

 for his tapestry "Christ in Glory" at Coventry Cathedral
Coventry Cathedral
Coventry Cathedral, also known as St Michael's Cathedral, is the seat of the Bishop of Coventry and the Diocese of Coventry, in Coventry, West Midlands, England. The current bishop is the Right Revd Christopher Cocksworth....


The principal receptions are a communicating circuit of rooms designed for entertaining. This was a late 18th-century feature, first introduced by the architect Matthew Brettingham
Matthew Brettingham
Matthew Brettingham , sometimes called Matthew Brettingham the Elder, was an 18th-century Englishman who rose from humble origins to supervise the construction of Holkham Hall, and eventually became one of the country's better-known architects of his generation...

 in 1750.

The Hall is the principal entrance to the house which would have been used by any eminent guests; entering the house by climbing the double staircase beneath the portico the guest immediately sees, through a gilded doorcase, a short enfilade through the staircase hall to the Octagon drawing room. While the hall in its use was not comparable with the Great Hall
Great Hall
Great Hall may refer to* Great hall, the main room of a royal palace, nobleman's castle or large manor house* Great Hall of the People, Tiananmen Square, Beijing* Great Hall of the University of Sydney, Australia* Cooper_Union#The_Great_Hall, New York...

 of earlier manor houses, it was still more than a mere entrance vestibule; in the 18th century, it was considered than any house of note required three principal reception rooms when entertaining: one for dancing, one for supper and one for cards. Thus, the hall, dining room and Octagon Drawing Room would fulfil those roles.

The hall retains more of its original neoclassical decorative features than many other rooms in the house; the walls' plasterwork panels and ceiling are all original, as are the Spanish mahogany doors (these had been removed during the 1920s, but were returned to the house in 1954). Only the white marble fire place is not original to the house, but salvaged from the now demolished Panton Hall. The furniture in the room, against the walls in 18th-century fashion, is in the style of William Kent
William Kent
William Kent , born in Bridlington, Yorkshire, was an eminent English architect, landscape architect and furniture designer of the early 18th century.He was baptised as William Cant.-Education:...


The Staircase Hall is at the centre of the house and is considered to be one of Carr's "most monumental interiors." Typically of this period, the double height room is lit by a clerestory
Clerestory is an architectural term that historically denoted an upper level of a Roman basilica or of the nave of a Romanesque or Gothic church, the walls of which rise above the rooflines of the lower aisles and are pierced with windows. In modern usage, clerestory refers to any high windows...

 while the wide cantilever
A cantilever is a beam anchored at only one end. The beam carries the load to the support where it is resisted by moment and shear stress. Cantilever construction allows for overhanging structures without external bracing. Cantilevers can also be constructed with trusses or slabs.This is in...

ed staircase, the Great Staircase, rises in flights around three of the four walls, to a gallery. The balustrading of the staircase and landing is of gilded wrought iron adorned with medallions with classical motifs which were heavily restored in 1952. The groundfloor walls beneath the gallery are decorated with some of Carr's neoclassical plasterwork depicted in white against the eau de nil colour of the walls. Recent analysis of the paint has shown that the walls were originally a pale stone colour and the staircase balustrade was painted blue with gilded figures on the (blue) plaques.

The Great Staircase, which rises only between the first and second floors, is just one of three staircases all within metres of the other at the centre of the house. A narrow spiral stair, concealed in one of the cut off corners of the Octagon Drawing Room rises from the ground floor to the roof, while "the backstairs" is another large staircase lit by the same clerestory as the Great Staircase; this rises from the ground floor to the second floor.

The Octagon Drawing Room (7 on first floor plan) completes the short enfilade beginning at the front door. It is the principal room of the house. Unfinished by Carr, the room has an ornate gilded ceiling with recessed panels in the Italian Renaissance style, installed in 1840. Of the room's eight sides, three have windows forming a large bay, at the centre of which is a large Venetian window echoing the Palladian inspiration of the mansion. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries this room was used to display the finest art its owners possessed. Today, hung with red felt, it contains works by Pompeo Batoni
Pompeo Batoni
Pompeo Girolamo Batoni was an Italian painter whose style incorporated elements of the French Rococo, Bolognese classicism, and nascent Neoclassicism.-Biography:He was born in Lucca, the son of a goldsmith, Paolino Batoni...

 and Giovanni Battista Pittoni. The room contains fine neoclassical furniture, including items made to designs by Robert Adam, and curtains originally made for the state rooms of Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace  is a monumental country house situated in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, residence of the dukes of Marlborough. It is the only non-royal non-episcopal country house in England to hold the title of palace. The palace, one of England's largest houses, was built between...

The Dining Room (marked 8 on first floor plan) is one of the rooms most frequently changed since the completion of the mansion. Yet today it closely resembles its original form. Sited on the first floor of the corps de logis, some distance from the original kitchen (on the ground floor of the North Pavilion), the Dining Room is decorated in a neoclassical style inspired by the work of Robert Adam. The ceiling is divided into geometric panels by ornate plasterwork. Each panel originally contained a painted lunette
In architecture, a lunette is a half-moon shaped space, either filled with recessed masonry or void. A lunette is formed when a horizontal cornice transects a round-headed arch at the level of the imposts, where the arch springs. If a door is set within a round-headed arch, the space within the...

 or medallion by Theodore de Bruyn, depicting a classical scene in grisaille
Grisaille is a term for painting executed entirely in monochrome or near-monochrome, usually in shades of grey. It is particularly used in large decorative schemes in imitation of sculpture. Many grisailles in fact include a slightly wider colour range, like the Andrea del Sarto fresco...

. The walls too have plaster panels which contained medallions, matching those of the ceiling.

In 1845, the room was redecorated by the architect David Brandon
David Brandon (architect)
David Brandon was a British architect. In partnership with Thomas Wyatt, he worked mostly in the Gothic style.Brandon worked at a number of English country houses and churches, these include: Badminton House, Basildon Park, Bayham Abbey, Benenden House, Chilham Castle, Fonthill Abbey, Hemsted...

, who replaced Bruyn's paintings with polychrome depictions of Dante's Divine Comedy. The walls to which Brandon added mirrors, however, retained much of their 18th-century plasterwork. In 1929, the owner, George Ferdinando, stripped the dining room of its painted panels, mirrors, fireplace and doors and sold them to a firm of architectural antique dealers, Crowther's. The Dining Room's former decorations then crossed the Atlantic. Today, they form the Basildon Room of New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

In 1952, the new owners, Lord and Lady Iliffe, had the now bare room painted by the decorator John Fowler
John Beresford Fowler
John Beresford Fowler was an English interior decorator. He was educated at Felsted School.-References:*Stephen Long, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography...

 and transformed it to a drawing room. During the late 20th century, the artist Alec Cobbe was employed to redecorate the room in a style similar to the original scheme by de Bruyn. Much of Carr's "loops and bows" plasterwork had survived, and this, coupled with a fireplace and doors salvaged from Panton Hall
Panton, Lincolnshire
Panton is a village in the civil parish of East Barkwith, in the district of East Lindsey, Lincolnshire, England. It is northeast of Lincoln.Panton was mentioned in Domesday Book of 1086 when it had 32 households and 40 acres of meadow and a church....

 and very similar to those which crossed the Atlantic, allowed the room to return to its original neoclassical form.

The Kitchen was originally in the North pavilion. The concept of placing kitchens in a separate block to the house (and dining room) was a practice which had begun in the 1680s in order to prevent kitchen smells pervading the main house. Thus, Palladio's idea of a villa flanked by pavilions (intended to house farm animals) suited this practice admirably. However, the need for symmetry meant a balancing second pavilion was required. Therefore it was common, as at Blenheim Palace, for the kitchen to be balanced by a chapel or an orangery, or for the less spiritual, a brewery or, as at a Basildon, a laundry. This meant that at Basildon, hot food "en route" to the dining room had to cross an open court yard in all weathers, be taken through the ground floor of the mansion up the back stairs, cross the second floor and then be laid behind a colonnaded screen in the dining room before being finally served. During the modernisations at Basildon in the 1950s, Lady Iliffe had a new and state of the art kitchen installed on the piano nobile in the former bedroom allotted to former ladies of the house (12 on first floor plan). This solved the problem of hot food. Interestingly, the new kitchen is now open to the public as a nostalgic 1950s set museum piece, containing kitchen appliances and food stuffs and packaging contemporary to the mid 20th century. This is shown in the same fashion as the remainder of the house.
The Green Drawing Room is between the Octagon Drawing room and the new kitchen. It had always previously been used as a breakfast room or small dining room, less formal than the Dining Room itself. When the National Trust took over management of the house, the room was refurnished and displayed as a drawing room. The room has a moulded plaster neoclassical ceiling and is hung with green silk which was formerly curtains at Englefield House, Berkshire. The white marble fireplace in this room is one of the few original to the house.

The second floor

The second floor was designed to be of considerably less importance than the piano nobile below, which is indicated externally by the smaller windows. However, unlike in a Baroque
The Baroque is a period and the style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, literature, dance, and music...

 house of just a few years earlier, it was not reserved for lesser guests, children and servants, as is evident by its approach from a monumentally grand staircase.

Basildon and its future

At the time of its building, the design of Basildon was already old-fashioned. From 1750s onwards large houses were being built without a rustic, and having the principal floor on the ground was becoming commonplace. Basildon, with its piano nobile, large portico denoting status, and main facade falsely elongated by fenestrated walls, was never innovative architecture, but, like many other houses, was built to bolster the status of its owner, the newly rich Sir Francis Sykes, keen for a political career.

Basildon is not one of the great houses of Britain; houses of similar style and size exist the length of the country. Neither is the mansion of great architectural importance. Its architect, described as "one of the most prolific of the 18th century" is far better known for his works elsewhere. Neither is Basildon remarkable for its contents. While it has some fine plasterwork, its contents, though high quality antiques, are not of the finest museum quality and its art collection consists mostly of mediocre paintings of the 17th and 18th century Italian schools, bought for their size and suitability for the decoration of the interiors rather than for their quality. Basildon is remarkable and notable for its survival against all odds in the 20th century. At a time when it was near ruin and its destruction seemed inevitable, it was saved. Since 1900, over 1,000 country houses, many of far greater architectural importance than Basildon, have been demolished. The destruction of many of these houses began as a trickle just prior to World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, but became a tidal wave in 1955, when one house was demolished every five days. The destruction did not halt until 1975, by which time the Iliffe's restoration work at Basildon was almost completed.

In 1978, the Iliffes gave the house, together with its park and a large endowment for its upkeep, to the National Trust, enabling the house to provide a paying public with not only an insight to the interior of a grand house during both the 18th and 19th centuries, but also a rare view of how such houses were adapted to suit a more modern life-style during the last half of the 20th century. In addition to being open to the public, the house has also served as a filming set. It was used as the location for Netherfield Park in the 2005 film Pride & Prejudice
Pride & Prejudice (2005 film)
Pride & Prejudice is a 2005 British romance film directed by Joe Wright. It is a film adaptation of the 1813 novel of the same name by Jane Austen and the second adaption produced by Working Title Films. It was released on September 16, 2005, in the UK and on November 11, 2005, in the...

as the location for the movie Marie-Antoinette, and also used as Lord and Lady Radley's house in the 2009 film Dorian Gray. It was Lord and Lady Iliffe's wish that "The National Trust will protect it and its park for future generations to enjoy." This, the National Trust continues to do.

External links


File:Basildon Room by Matthew Bisanz 41.JPG|The Basildon Room, The Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York
File:Basildon Room by Matthew Bisanz 19.JPG|detail from the Basildon Room.
File:Basildon Room by Matthew Bisanz 16.JPG|mantelpiece of the Basildon Room.
File:Basildon Room by Matthew Bisanz 30.JPG|ceiling of the Basildon Room.
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