Deciding on an afternoon out and the difference between an £18 entrance fee or that of £5.50, I stumbled across Buscot Park in my copy of Hudson’s Historic Houses. So on a fine sunny day last month I travelled through some of the more quaint areas of English countryside to make my first ever visit to this intriguing house and its pleasure gardens.
My first impressions were that this National Trust property was well-organised, yet amiable and undemanding. A feeling the National Trust are seeking to achieve ever more with their properties these days. From the ticket office, it was a steady walk to the house (which can only be caught as glimpses through the banks of trees) through the walled garden and up the stepped path to the open lawns of the south front.
Buscot Park south front (author's own image, 2011)
The house in its original form was built for Edward Loveden Loveden between 1780 and 1783. Small additions were made to the house after these dates but after Loveden’s death in 1822, his successors cared more for cultivating lands elsewhere particularly those already belonging to the family in Wales. By 1866, Buscot was eventually put on the market and was bought by the Australian Tycoon Robert Tertius Campbell whose own wealth had been made in the gold trade. Over-ambitious, Campbell died in 1889 leaving the Buscot estate in great debt, and it was then sold to Alexander Henderson, later 1st Lord Faringdon (1850-1934) a financier and politician. His son, Gavin Henderson, 2nd Lord Faringdon was member of the ‘Bright Young Things’ with staunch socialist ideals. During his ownership of Buscot Park the house was regularly used as a venue for fellow politicians and formidable art collectors.
Indeed, most of the pictures at Buscot were purchased by the second Lord Faringdon and make up the larger part of The Faringdon Collection
– the combined collections of the first and second Lords Faringdon at Buscot and at a separate London property. By far the most popular of pieces in this collection are the Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833-1898) paintings depicting the Legend of the Briar Rose
in the Saloon.
Panel from The Legend of the Briar Rose (copyright the Trustees of The Faringdon Collection)
The beauty of these paintings are magnificently displayed as Burne-Jones intended with their extra inserted panels and gilded frames. Moreover, their drama instantly gave Burne-Jones the reputation he sought as a painter of medieval legend. At the time of their purchase and installation for Buscot in 1895, Burne-Jones was staying at Kelmscott Manor a few miles away (the home of his dear friend William Morris) so his involvement at Buscot and the placing of these paintings are a key creative connection.
There are a good sample of rooms open to the public, each with information folders on the objects and art on display. Buscot has a great atmosphere throughout, and the staff were fantastic and approachable – even when my mobile phone made its presence clear on the stone staircase and I had to turn it off! The National Trust are eager to eradicate the past stuffiness of previous generations of guardianship at their properties, and at Buscot this was very prominent. But, recognition must be given to the staff and the present Lord Faringdon and his wife for the sense of continued pride in this property. This also extends to the grounds where the modern mixes well with traditional landscapes and concepts, and should be made a part of every visit if time is allowed! There are several tree-lined avenues to the east and the celebrated Harold Peto Water Garden leading to the Big Lake with its picturesque rotunda and bridge. At every turn there is something unusual set to catch the eye; perhaps a deliberate mechanism evoking those garden designs of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which sought to surprise the visitor. To the west are the walled gardens which mark the start and end of the visit to Buscot and serve to remind any visitor of the lengthy programme of care the present workers and owners are undertaking.
Buscot Park & the Faringdon Collection. Guidebook. The Trustees of the Faringdon Collection (2004)
The Pre-Raphaelites. Exhibition Catalogue. Tate Gallery/Penguin Books (1984)