Monday, 19 March 2018

Visit to home of the unlikely prime minister

ON a gloriously sunny day in July, members of Wargrave Local History Society visited Hughenden Manor, the home of Benjamin

ON a gloriously sunny day in July, members of Wargrave Local History Society visited Hughenden Manor, the home of Benjamin Disraeli, who was prime minister in the 1870s.

In the library, they were given an introductory talk about the house and Disraeli, who, it was explained, was a most unlikely person to have risen to high political office.

At that time, it was considered necessary to have been educated at a well-known public school and either Oxford or Cambridge, to have come from landed gentry and to be a paid-up member of the Church of England to take up a career in politics.

Disraeli came from a Jewish family who were not large landowners, was educated at a school in Walthamstow and did not attend university. Although he had converted to Christianity as a child, many still viewed him as a Jew.

He became quite a dandy and made a living as a very successful novelist. His writings, however, often upset the establishment.

Although Hughenden Manor is referred to in the Domesday survey of 1086 (as Huchedene), it is thought that this was just an area of land and there was no house there. There may have been a farmhouse on the site later but the origins of the present manor are a house built in 1738. It was three storeys with the exterior covered in white stucco. When it was offered for sale in 1846, Disraeli borrowed the £39,000 for its purchase and furnishing.

He then had the status to rise in the political world, although even those of his own party viewed him with suspicion. Disraeli was very fond of the Carolean/Jacobean era and had work done on Hughenden to “restore” it to that style.

The stucco was removed, revealing the blue and red brickwork, the straight parapets replaced with stepped ones with pinnacles. The fact that the house had not existed in the 17th century did not seem to matter!

In politics, Disraeli was disapproved of by Queen Victoria but he knew how to flatter her so gained her thanks when, for example, his speeches in Parliament ensured that the Albert Memorial was provided.

In due course, the Queen and Disraeli developed a mutual respect and support for each other. She visited Hughenden and would send him personal gifts and when Disraeli died, she made a personal pilgrimage to Hughenden church to pay her respects.

The group explored the rooms in the house, many restored by the National Trust, which took over the house in 1947. Disraeli’s study — with the original furniture — looks just as it did in the 1880s. The dining room is set ready, under a large portrait of Victoria, which she presented to Disraeli in 1876.

The next meeting will be on Tuesday, September 10 when Mildred Cookson, a leading member of the Mills Archive Trust, will recall The Life and Times of a Miller at Mapledurham. The meetings start at 8pm in the old pavilion on the Recreation Ground. For more information, call Peter Delaney on 0118 940 3121 or visit

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