High Wycombe, outside London Today we visited Hughenden, once home to the 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, better known as Benjamin Disraeli, and even better known by those in the know as “Dizzy.”
One of the leading statesmen of the 19th century, Disraeli was twice Prime Minister, and played a central role in the creation of the modern Conservative Party. At the risk of offending any readers or muddling up British history, I will spare you what I understand to be his politics, and focus on his housing.
But first, two facts that arise again and again in his story. The anti-semitism of his day was always with him. Born a Jew into a family that didn’t practice Judaism, and converted to the Anglican Church, he was always considered Jewish, and much disliked for that reason. Evidently, Queen Victoria was initially repulsed by him, calling him a “dirty little Jew.” However, she grew to value him and – fact two – he became her favorite prime minister and she was distraught when he died.
However, it may have been more than his integrity and stature that won her heart. He was known to say that flattery was essential in charming women, and when it came to dealing with royalty, one must “lay it on with a trowel.” He seemed to have learned that lesson well, as Queen Victoria was a frequent visitor to Hughenden, and graced him with many gifts during his lifetime. (Perhaps it was having her named “Empress of India” that earned him BFF status.)
Acquired in 1848 on the death of his father, the manor house then was redone, going from a Georgian style to what has been called – not admiringly – “baronial gothic.” There are three floors, and an Edwardian wing built by Disraeli’s nephew and heir. More about that later.
We came in through the stable yard, which holds the café and gift shop next to the walled garden. Always a good place to begin any adventure.
The house is not overwhelmingly large, and seems like a cheery place. The main rooms are furnished by many Disraeli family pieces and seem quite livable – if one discounts the fact that the house had no running water or electricity.
The second floor holds bedrooms and Disraeli’s office, including his red ministerial box.
There is a coda to the war story of Bletchley Park that has to do with the Edwardian wing of Hughenden. The building was requisitioned during WWII and was used as the headquarters of the top secret map-mapping program, known as Hillside, that augmented the intelligence coming out of Bletchley Park. Only recently has the story come to light, when the Official Secrets Act was withdrawn for those who participated in the program.
So Hughenden has had quite a history, much of which revolved around service to England. We ended our visit by walking down the hill to St. Michael’s and All Angels church, which must be lovely. However our view was preempted by a funeral in progress. We contented ourselves with a respectful nod to Disraeli’s tomb, contributed by Queen Victoria as a singular sign of her favor.
Don’s Food Corner
Keeping with our promise of sampling every version of fish and chips and steak and ale pie as we encounter them, we found today’s version at a pub near where we are staying. This was a rather upscale pub and perhaps verging toward more of a restaurant. I mean how many real pubs have a “drinks menu.” Cocktails in a pub? No. Beer and whiskey, OK. Mojitos and Cosmos? I don’t think so.
But The Albany had the old-timey favorites on the menu, so we ordered.
Very decent fish and chips. Not up to the highest standard we had the other day in Whitstable, but, considering that London is somewhat further inland from the sea, it was almost as good. There were mushy peas, so that was a plus. But would a traditional pub have ever served a grilled lemon? Perhaps a little too effete for a pub.
The richly favored steak and ale pie came encased in its own flaky pastry container. Good amount of meat in there and no filler of little onions or carrots. Just the meat and sauce. There was an added pitcher of rich gravy to pour all over the pie as well as the accompanying potatoes.
This place was handy and we will probably return.