The Manor's history started as one man's vision, and became something to be enjoyed today by thousands.

Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898) bought the Waddesdon Estate - originally nothing but farmland - in 1874.  He wanted a country retreat built in the style of a Loire châteaux and soon engaged the French architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur.  The foundation stone was laid in 1877.  The completion of the Bachelors' Wing in 1880 and the main part of the house in 1883 were celebrated with house parties of twenty guests.

Waddesdon was created as a place to entertain guests at Ferdinand's famous 'Saturday to Monday' house parties. They enjoyed all the modern comforts of running water, central heating and electricity.  Ferdinand's guests included figures from the social circle around the Prince of Wales, politics, and culture.

After a few years, Ferdinand discovered that the house was too small for the number of guests and added a wing at the west end of the house. The large Morning Room on the ground floor and two bedroom suites above it were finished in 1891.

Ferdinand’s sister, Alice (1847-1922), inherited Waddesdon on his death. She saw her role as the protector of his creation and is best remembered for her strict housekeeping rules that ensured the preservation of the collection. She was a passionate gardener and was responsible for the three-dimensional bedding still seen at Waddesdon in the summer. 

When she died, the estate passed to her Parisian great-nephew James de Rothschild (1878-1957) and his English wife, Dorothy (1895-1988). Changes on the estate reflected their particular interests with the construction of a golf course and a stud for racehorses.  During the Second World War, the Rothschilds moved into the Bachelors' Wing, leaving the main House to children evacuated from London.

After the war, James was increasingly ill and he began to consider Waddesdon’s fate after his death. Having no descendants, and with the end of the era of grand country house entertaining, he decided to leave the Manor, its collections of national importance and 165 acres of garden and park to The National Trust. To maintain the bequest, he set up the largest endowment the Trust has ever received and ensured the family’s continued involvement by naming his wife as the chairwoman of the management committee.

Dorothy de Rothschild oversaw the complicated arrangements for opening the ground floor to the public in 1959, with additional areas added over the next 30 years. In 1984 she began the Centenary restoration with essential repairs to the fabric of the Manor.

This restoration programme was greatly expanded when Lord Rothschild took over the management of Waddesdon after her death. The Manor was closed from 1990 to 1994 for an extensive interior and exterior restoration to update the services and create exhibition and entertainment spaces on the first and second floors, and the Wine Cellars.

Attention was also paid to the garden.  The Parterre was restored and other 19th century garden features were recreated.  More recently the Aviary has been renovated and the Coach House and the Stables converted into a gallery for the exhibition of contemporary art.