A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to a sneaky preview of the latest attraction at Waddesdon Manor. Not, as you might think, a new piece of art bought by the renowned collector Jacob Rothschild, whose family built the manor – but instead a glorious new building. Designed by Stephen Marshall Architects, the cynical might suggest that such a breathtaking location and, presumably, budget, ought to bring out the best in any architect worth his salt, but whatever your viewpoint – inside, outside, aesthetic, architectural, structural – it is a triumph of the kind only a love of the English landscape, combined with skill and vision, can create.
Add to its already charmed pedigree items from Lord Rothschild’s modern art collection and the fact it will be open to the public and available for hire and you can see why the art world, architectural world and the plain nosey are excited that Windmill Hill opens this weekend. It will house the Waddesdon archive and has a reading room, complete with artworks from the former BP building, recycled glass sculptural lighting and a benevolent gorilla on guard outside.
It was blowing a gale and the rain was falling in sheets the day I was taken around with three other journalists – yet the weather could do nothing but emphasise the building’s harmony with the landscape. The water polished the flagstones and ribbons of rain trickled down the windows, while the grey drifts drenched the hillsides beyond. If you’re visiting Waddesdon Manor over the summer, make time to get up to Windmill Hill. I promise you won’t be disappointed.