My Heritage Open Days: Halton House

As a prestigious building that's normally closed to the public, Halton House in Buckinghamshire was always going to be a popular one for Heritage Open Days. Yet I'd be the first to admit it's not a building I'd heard of before.

© Callum Reilly - Halton House: towers and turrets.

Lots of people look forward to exploring landmark buildings in their neighbourhood: Liverpool's Royal Liver Building, Gloucester Cathedral or dozens of town halls across the country. These are the kind of buildings everyone knows about.

But a building that's remained completely hidden from public view doesn't take away the beauty of Heritage Open Days – it only adds to it. For me, Halton House was one of these fantastic secrets.

A home away from home in the Chilterns

Although normally hidden from public eyes, the building has a not-so-unassuming origin as Alfred de Rothschild’s country retreat, completed in 1883. By this time, the Rothschilds had already made a name for themselves as one of the wealthiest banking families in England.

They even had an architectural style in their name! Halton House is a perfect example of this chateau-inspired look (le goût Rothschild), along with Waddesdon Manor. Since 1918, Halton House has enjoyed a no less prestigious role as the Officers’ Mess for RAF Halton.

Guests of honour

We arrived at the site with military precision, thanks to the helpful guidance and warm welcome from the SATTs (servicemen awaiting trade training) on site. My first glimpse of the house was the impressive fairytale-style turrets, shortly followed by the grand porte-cochère entrance, with its three archways.

I later found out that this allowed a horse and carriage to stop directly outside the front door, like a drive-through taxi service. Passengers could then enter the house without the risk of getting wet when it rained. For any distinguished guests of the Rothschilds, only the very best service would do!

Inside I was greeted by delightful décor, including the beautifully panelled billiards room, a favourite of film crews. I learned that Halton House is something of a film star, appearing in the likes of The King’s Speech and Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

The dutiful room guides were also keen to point out that the impressive looking chandelier in the central hall was in fact an electrolier. After all, a house in frequent use needs all the mod cons. Even though the building is still put to use in such a grand way, it felt wonderfully homely – as if it were still home to Alfred de Rothschild.

Tea on the lawn

It was brilliant to see so many people, young and old, engrossed in exploring the house – and all for free! The autumn sun shining on the beautiful gardens and lawn completed my morning nicely. That’s not to forget the delicious cup of tea I enjoyed, an all-important part of the Heritage Open Days experience.

All of these little things and big things combined to make for a perfect day out, with hopefully many more to come!

Did you visit a Heritage Open Days site this year? If so do tell us how it went, add a coment to the directory, post a picture on our scrapbook or fill in the visitor survey – your comments can help us make it even better next year!