Today on my way to do an interview at the BBC I dropped into Basildon Park, a glorious 18th century house in Berkshire. Back in 1796 when the architect took his nieces to to see the house one of them wrote: “Very singular and beautiful. You ascend into the principal storey by a double flight of steps under a beautiful Loggio of Columns.” It does make the visitor feel very special to be ascending those stairs just as an 18th century guest would have done! Beyond the doors are a series of rooms designed for grand entertainment, all richly and fabulously furnished and decorated. Basildon feels very opulent but at the same time quite intimate for a grand house. It has a lovely warmth to it and as I strolled through the Library, the grand dining room and the stunning Octagon Drawing Room I could easily imagine myself at home there!
The house had originally been built for Sir Francis Sykes, a nabob who had amassed a fortune working for the East India Company. However it was never completely finished as Sykes faced a series of corruption charges relating to his time with the Company and it quickly started to show signs of decline. Sykes died in 1804 and the two succeeding baronets had little interest in the place, letting it to a series of tenants. In 1829 it was put up for sale but because the family refused to sell for less than £100 000 it was not bought until 1838 by which time it was “in a wretched condition.” The house and grounds were restored by James Morrison, who had made his money in the haberdashery trade. It remained in the Morrison family throughout the 19th century but once more fell into decline in the early 20th, to rise like a phoenix under the care of Lord and Lady Iliffe. Today, surrounded by its pleasure gardens and with a delightful parterre it is once again as stunning as it must have been in its earlier heyday.
Basildon Park was the setting for Netherfield in Pride and Prejudice and also features in Julie Cohen’s fabulous book The Summer of Living Dangerously. I have a charming giveaway of National Trust bluebell soap and hand lotion plus lots of other little National Trust gifts to give to one commenter on the blog today. All you have to do to enter is to tell me your favourite flower (I’m still thinking of the gorgeous rose gardens at Basildon!) and please make sure I have your contact details in case you win!