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The history of Hedsor House

The tiny village of Hedsor may not be well known to many, but a mansion nestling nearby has been home to some world-famous names. Hedsor House, sitting in Hedsor Park, has developed into a prominent film and TV location, as well as a popular wedding and events venue. It is also rich in history dating back centuries. Reporter Kieran Bell spoke to Nick Shephard, owner and director, to find out more about what lies within the grounds.

If you're a fan of hit BBC drama Killing Eve or have seen George Clooney persuade us to enjoy a Nespresso coffee on television adverts, you'll probably recognise Hedsor House.

The family-owned mansion sits in the historic Hedsor Park and has a rich history, and has played host to a few rich names, too.

Nick Shephard is one of three brothers – along with Mark and Hamish – running the house in South Bucks, with about 25 members of staff.

Originally designed by Sir William Chambers, the architect of Somerset House in London, with the help of King George III and Queen Charlotte, the house we see today was eventually completed in 1868.

In fact, references to the manor of Hedsor can be found from 1166 when the estate was owned by the de Hedsor Family until 1305.

In 1865 the original house was blown up, with dynamite, and a new house was commissioned by Lady Augusta, wife of the 4th Lord Boston, who had ‘large ideas’ for it.

“What we are all about is celebrations,” co-owner and director Nick tells the Advertiser.

Home to 100 acres of private land, Nick and his family have developed the house into a renowned family-owned wedding and events venue.

“My great-grandfather bought it in 1934 as a rather generous wedding present for my grandparents,” Nick continues.

“It was taken over during the Second World War and used as a convent school.

“Then it was used as a top secret US Air Force base in the 1960s.

“It is very much a family place, my brothers and I were brought up there, having bonfires and camping, spending many weekends there.”

Hedsor House was leased out for 35 years from 1968 to 2003, to ICL International Computers, before coming back to the Shephard family.

Nick said: “We started promoting it in 2004 as a film location, and we have developed it into a successful wedding and events venue.”

The house is home to the largest bridal suite in Europe, with an original Onyx bathroom – topping out at 3,000 square feet.

It is also popular with a few people you might have heard of.

Nicole Kidman filmed fantasy adventure film The Golden Compass there; Bruce Willis for action comedy Red Two; Tom Hardy in crime thriller Legend; and the house was also on Michael Caine and Ray Winstone’s 2018 film King of Thieves.

It has made appearances on TV, too, including period dramas The Crown and Downtown Abbey, and shows like Fleabag and Killing Eve.

George Clooney even dropped by for the filming of a Nespresso advert.

“The girls in reception were very excited about that,” Nick remembers.

Big car makers BMW and Mercedes have launched new models there, and Porsche decided to use some of the 100 acres of land to test out their off-road abilities.

Music producer Mark Ronson decided Hedsor House would be the ideal place for his birthday party, too.

Nick explained why the big names are drawn to the South Bucks destination.

“It is very private, there is lots of space. They have got some very large rooms, high ceilings. We are very lucky to be able to do it.”

Nick confirmed that the house’s usage is now, roughly, about 50 per cent weddings, 40 per cent private events and celebrations, and 10 per cent filming.

It has been no stranger to a host of top awards, including Vogue’s ‘Dream Venue’, and it appeared in The Times’ Top 10 Wedding Venues in the UK.

“Fortunately we are near London, we have got great transport links, and people can come and make it their own for their special day,” Nick said.

“We have got a very capable team who are passionate about the house.”

Inside the 30,000 square foot mansion, Nick and his team have been tweaking things to make the space even more special for their visitors.

“We have refurbished 13 of the original bedrooms. We are constantly improving the place,” Nick explains.

As with many businesses across the world, the coronavirus pandemic has affected life at Hedsor.

The COVID-19 crisis has forced it to postpone its weddings and events, with life in the hospitality trade hitting firms hard.

“We have had to postpone all events and weddings during the crisis,” Nick, who lives in London, explained.

“We are looking to host those events as soon as possible. We have been really flexible but have been affected pretty seriously.

“We are actively still very much in discussion with couples who are still looking to book.”

He added: “We appreciate it is a really emotional and difficult time for them having booked their day and then have it postponed.

“We will be fine in the end, but it is difficult.

“I just hope it doesn’t continue too much longer. Every further month is very damaging, very costly.”

Although Nick lives in the capital, he said that he and his brothers are ‘back and forth’ between London and Hedsor constantly.

His parents still live on the estate, with his father out on the grounds regularly to keep the parkland looking in tip-top shape.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in an announcement on May 10, said that parts of the hospitality trade could potentially reopen no earlier than July 4, so it remains to be seen when the house can throw open its doors to visitors again.

“It is a shame because the grounds are looking more beautiful than ever at the moment, including spectacular bluebell and rhododendron displays, and we have not got anyone really there,” Nick said.

“We have to abide by any sort of rules but we have a small team that are abiding by all the regulations.

“Fortunately the family are fully involved, we have a talented and committed team and we have a full-time groundsman.”

Nick was confident, though, that Hedsor would come out of the other end of this crisis and continue hosting big days and big names.

Visit www.hedsor.com for more information on Hedsor House.

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