Welcome toThe Rothschild Archive'swebsite

Sources for business history

Sources for art history: Catalogue of the pictures of Alfred de Rothschild 1901

Sources for yachting history: Plans for Nathaniel von Rothschild's yacht Veglia 1905

Sources for natural history: Walter 2nd Lord Rothschild and his zebra carriage: c.1910

Sources for global financial history: Map of lines of the Brazil Railway Company: c.1920

Sources for business history: index cards to bank files

Sources for social history: Rothschild Hospital Paris: 1920s

Sources for business history: detail of a Rothschild bond coupon

Sources for architectural history: Halton House: 1890s

Sources for the history of travel: Lionel de Rothschild's tours of Spain: 1909

Sources for local history: Tring Park: c.1900

Sources for Royal history: shooting party with Edward Prince of Wales: 1893

Sources for political history: Lionel de Rothschild: first Jewish MP: 1858

Sources for sporting history: St Amant winner of the Derby: 1904

Sources for local history: gardeners at Aston Clinton: 1899

Sources for Rothschild family history: Lionel de Rothschild's yacht Rhodora: 1927

Sources for London history: entrance to New Court: 1965

Sources for design history: plans for Lionel de Rothschild's Rolls-Royce: 1930

Sources for business history: Rothschild gold bars produced by the Royal Mint Refinery: 1930s

Sources for business history: letters of August Belmont Rothschild Agent in New York: 1860s

Ferdinand de Rothschild's 'Red Book', 1897

The collections of The Rothschild Archive London contain over two million pieces of paper, volumes, files, photographs, artefacts and art works. Archivist's Choice is a series a short articles each highlighting a treasure from the Archive collection, or celebrating an anniversary or special event. Browse through our library of Archivist's Choice articles to discover some of the fascinating stories behind our collections.

Ferdinand James de Rothschild, (1839-1898), the son of Anselm and Charlotte, was born in Paris on 17 December 1839 and educated in Vienna. His mother’s home country of England became his adopted home, even after the tragic death in childbirth of his wife Evelina whom he had married on 7 July 1865. 

Waddesdon Manor

Waddesdon Manor is perhaps the most well-known of all the great Rothschild houses in England. In 1874 Ferdinand bought “a lovely tract of land, [with] beautiful soil...and very pretty scenery” in the Vale of Aylesbury.  Inspired by the châteaux of the Valois, Ferdinand employed Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur to build him his own French-style country house. Destailleur submitted elaborate plans for a vast mansion, nearly twice the length of the house as built, with a ballroom and a winter garden. Ferdinand wanted the scale reduced and a new design was approved, although the architect warned him that ‘one always builds too small’, a mistake Ferdinand later rued. 

The 'Red Book' 

The ‘Red Book’ is a privately printed album of photographs and an essay by Ferdinand recording the building, interiors, and collections assembled at Waddesdon. The red leather binding has led to the name, the 'Red Book', but its cover is simply inscribed 'Waddesdon'. The Red Book is an important document reflecting Ferdinand's tastes, and the history of collecting and display. It is likely that Ferdinand had the album printed as presents for his friends and family; another copy remains in the collections at Waddesdon. The photographs record the lavish interiors, and the stunning collections of paintings, furniture, carpets and porcelain. Many of these items remain at Waddesdon today. Ferdinand hoped that his ‘labour of love’ would endure - "A future generation may reap the chief benefit of a work which to me has been a labour of love, though I fear that Waddesdon will share the fate of most properties whose owners have no descendants, and fall into decay.  May the day be yet distant when weeds will spread over the gardens, the terraces crumble into dust, the pictures and cabinets cross the Channel or the Atlantic, and the melancholy cry of the night-jar sound from the deserted towers."

Waddesdon has digitised its copy of the 'Red Book' - view the pages here »

Entertaining at Waddesdon

Waddesdon was built for entertaining, and opened between May and August for weekend house parties. Ferdinand spared no expense in creating the right atmosphere; twenty-four indoor staff looked after the guests. Electricity was installed in 1889, and this delighted Queen Victoria who requested to have the lights repeatedly turned on and off.

Dorothy de Rothschild (1895-1988), whose husband James de Rothschild (1878-1957) was later to inherit Waddesdon described the lengths that the Rothschilds would go to entertain their guests at the Manor itself and at Eythrope, on the estate:

“I had an old friend at Waddesdon who had  worked for the family for many years. One day I asked him what his first job had been. He said, as a boy of 12, he had been the 'cake-holder'. He explained that on cloudy days, the delectable tea provided at Eythrope for the approaching guests from Waddesdon, would be set out in the dining-room of the Pavilion. Then, just as the landaus were arriving, the weather might change, the sun would shine, and it was realised that the guests might prefer to go up river. Happily the Thames does not pursue a straight course through the meadows, but winds its way. This made it possible for the big iced cakes, the gingersnaps and wafer-thin sandwiches to be whipped off the table and packed into a pony-trap. This would be driven by a colleague straight across the fields to the tea-house at a speed which would enable the tea to beat the approaching launch by a short head. My old friend's task had been to stand in the trap, poised over the cakes, keeping them from over-setting and their fragile icing from damage, as they careered over the rough ground. Angel cakes, he remembered, had been particularly volatile and apt to bounce...”

Tea, coffee or a peach off the wall

A story that has appeared in many books about the Rothschilds and has been attributed to each in turn was, in fact, first told by Prime Minister Asquith after a visit to Waddesdon. It began as soon as the curtains were drawn in the morning. A footman followed by an underling with a trolley would query politely:

'Tea, coffee or a peach off the wall, Sir?'

'Tea, please.'  

'China tea, Indian tea, or Ceylon tea, Sir?'

'China, if you please.'

'Lemon, milk or cream, Sir?'

'Milk, please.'

'Jersey, Hereford or Shorthorn, Sir?'

RAL 000/880/21/1 

The elegant gardens at Waddesdon

The elegant gardens at Waddesdon

inside Waddesdon

inside Waddesdon