It was January 1990 when we clambered around the lost, almost buried rock and water garden around the dairy buildings at the bottom of Waddesdon hill with Beth Rothschild. Beth was in her early twenties but already a serious botanist, a graduate of Kew, conservationist and trustee of Botanic Gardens Conservation International. Her father, Lord Rothschild, wanted his children involved at Waddesdon Manor, now part of the Rothschild Foundation, and at Beth’s suggestion he invited us to come to look at the ‘caves’, purportedly made for goats, in the fanciful late-nineteenth-century rock and water garden beside the, now derelict, model dairy. As part of an estate entirely conceived in the French manner, le style normand, the dairy was the epitome of this Francophile taste very closely associated with the Rothschild family, a vogue which one might argue originated with the Hameau de la Reine at Versailles built in 1783. Everything at Waddesdon is executed at a level of quality, perfection and bravura, which one can only admire. The ruined rock and water garden had been the height of fashion when it was built a hundred years earlier, and the collection of barns old and new, asbestos and brick, had been the perfect model dairy. In its heyday this had been the final port of call on a tour of the estate: after the collection, the parterres, the aviary, the stables, the Crystal Palace of glasshouses, the acres of kitchen gardens, came the rock garden and finally the dairy and the buttery. Here the pedigree herd of Jersey cows lived in immaculate stalls wearing Meissen name-tags, and guests would be presented with butter pats, stamped with the Rothschild ‘Five Arrows’ symbol, from the exquisite sunken, marble and tile-lined buttery.


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