Lower Basildon, Berkshire
The masterpiece of John Carr of York, this Palladian villa was built for Sir Francis Sykes between 1776 and 1783. It is a beautifully balanced building of warm Bath stone consisting of a main central block joined to individual pavilions by single-storey linkages.
Sykes was the youngest son of a Yorkshire yeoman farmer who made a fortune working for the East India Company on the great Sub-Continent. He held many important posts including Factor & Chief of Kasimbazara and resided at the Court of the Nawab of Bengal, until ill-health forced him to return to England in 1768. He bought Basildon from the estate of Viscount Fane, three years later. Sykes was a close friend of Warren Hastings, the Governor-General of India, who lived at nearby Purley Hall and, along with a number of other 'nabobs' resident in the vicinity, he helped give Berkshire its reputation of being the "English Hindoostan". He was created a baronet in 1781.
Basildon was inherited by Sir Francis' grandson and namesake in 1804, when parts of the house were still incomplete. Unfortunately, Sir Francis Junior inherited massive debts from his spendthrift father and, in 1838, the estate was sold to James Morrison MP, one of the richest of the early Victorian merchant princes. He was a famous art-lover who became instrumental in the setting up of the National Gallery. He exclaimed of Basildon, "What a casket to enclose pictorial gems!". His architect, John Papworth, undertook a number of sympathetic alterations at the house between 1837 and 1842, after which the family took up full residence in the best of Victorian traditions.
The last of the Morrisons died in 1910, after which Basildon often stood empty. It was used as a convalescent home for Berkshire regimental soldiers during the Great War, but subsequently fell into an increasing state of dilapidation. The estate was purchased by the 1st Lord Iliffe in 1928 in order to expand his Yattendon lands and the house was sold on to a George Ferdinando. This man had planned to have the place systematically demolished and re-erected in the United States! A scheme which, fortunately, never came to fruition, though many of the decorative fittings can now be seen in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
Miraculously, in 1952, Basildon was repurchased by Lord Iliffe's son and his new bride who set about restoring the place to its present splendour. Many fixtures and fittings were bought from other country houses whose fate was not so fortunate.
Basildon Park is the property of
the National Trust and is open to the public throughout the Spring, Summer
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