Claydon House

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Externally Claydon House in Buckinghamshire is a rather sober place. Its symmetrical west front of seven bays in cut stone suggests conformity to an austere Georgian style of architecture — and no bad thing. Inside, however, if there is such a thing as high rococo, its most extreme form is to be found here at Claydon. Take your smelling salts! You have been warned!

What’s inside Claydon is both bizarre and wonderful. Spiritual cousin to Brighton’s Royal Pavilion, it’s an opium den vision of impossibly flamboyant detail. High ceilings have elaborately-moulded domes — often in wood rather than plaster; chimney-pieces have overmantels that rampage outwards; niches and mirrors are bedecked with ho-ho birds, urns and swags; walls curve towards the ceilings they support using friezes of winged putti heads. Flowers and garlands abound. A magnificent mahogany marquetry staircase with a black and gold balustrade of great beauty is too fragile to be used by the public. Various rooms lie empty; a museum crammed to bursting, which houses the family’s collection of curiosities, is on the top floor. An upstairs Chinese room has a wildly elaborate alcove. It’s extraordinary, exuberant and exquisite. The craftsmanship on display is of the highest order. There is nothing like this anywhere else in Britain. Claydon is a Grade I listed building, and so it should be.

When it was being re-built in the mid-1700s, Claydon was an attempt to rival nearby Stowe. The project took off with such velocity that it nearly broke the owner and resulted in his niece demolishing two-thirds of it to save money. What one sees today is what is left. Every inch of the place is a delight. Go there!

1/13 Claydon House, the west front viewed from the path to the Church of All Saints
Claydon House, the west front viewed from the path to the Church of All Saints
2/13 Claydon House, the west face

Claydon House, the west face

3/13 Claydon House, the saloon's carved chimneypiece, illustrating the invention of the Corinthian order

Claydon House, the saloon’s carved chimneypiece, illustrating the invention of the Corinthian order

4/13 Claydon House, the saloon's tabernacle-like doorcase below its deep-coffered plaster ceiling

Claydon House, the saloon’s tabernacle-like doorcase below its deep-coffered plaster ceiling

5/15 Claydon House, the doorway from the saloon into the hallway

Claydon House, the doorway from the saloon into the hallway

6/13 Claydon House, upstairs through-view from Miss Nightingale's room

Claydon House, upstairs through-view from Miss Nightingale’s room

7/13 Claydon House, rococo door case of the Chinese room - all carved in wood

Claydon House, rococo door case of the Chinese room — all carved in wood

8/13 Claydon House, views of quintessential English landscape

Claydon House, views of quintessential English landscape

9/13 Claydon House, stairwell skylight ringed with nautically-themed wood carvings, supported on deep plaster coffering

Claydon House, stairwell skylight ringed with nautically-themed wood carvings, supported on deep plaster coffering

10/13 Claydon House, staircase landing floor in mahogany marquetry

Claydon House, staircase landing floor in mahogany marquetry

11/13 Claydon House, rococo wood-carving on a North Hall niche

Claydon House, rococo wood-carving on a North Hall niche

12/13 Claydon House, the carved alcove in the Chinese room, arguably laying claim to be the most extraordinary room in the country

Claydon House, the carved alcove in the Chinese room, arguably laying claim to be the most extraordinary room in the country

13/13 Claydon House and the Church of All Saints, parish church of Middle Claydon

Claydon House and the Church of All Saints, parish church of Middle Claydon