Cliveden, now a country house hotel, is on a vast scale. With its stepped terrace, designed in 1666 by the amateur architect ‘Captain’ William Winde (c.1645–1722), it commands a breathtaking view over the Thames valley. It was originally built for George Villiers (1628–1687), 2nd Duke of Buckingham. Its proximity to the royal castle of Windsor and the racecourse at Ascot have ensured its succession of rich and noble owners.
Evidently it was a grand enough mansion to be let to Frederick (1707–1751), Prince of Wales, estranged son of George II (1683–1760), and his wife Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha (1719–1772), from 1739. It was here he received a fatal blow from a cricket ball. In 1795 it was razed to the ground by fire and the grand pile we see today was designed by Sir Charles Barry in 1850 for George Leveson-Gower (1786–1861), 2nd Duke of Sutherland. It was subsequently owned by the very rich Duke of Westminster. It was sold by him in 1893 to the American multi-millionaire, William Waldorf Astor (1848–1919), 1st Viscount Astor, who had been US Minister in Rome for a decade, where he collected not only decorative and fine art and sculpture, both Antique and modern, but pieces of architecture including the travertine marble balustrade from the Villa Borghese in Rome.
He was succeeded by his eldest son Waldorf (1879–1952), 2nd Viscount Astor, who in 1906 had married the Virginian divorcee, Nancy Langhorne (1879–1964). She made Cliveden into a centre of society and was the first woman MP, as well as the sitter in one of John Singer Sargent’s most celebrated portraits. One of her closest friends was Philip Kerr (1882–1940), 11th Marquess of Lothian, who promoted the National Trust Act of 1937 that empowered the Trust to take on houses with their contents, and with endowments in land and financial assets exempt from tax. He bequeathed Blickling to the National Trust which probably inspired Astor to give Cliveden to the Trust in 1942.