Emma Wells

Inside the Henley mansion that housed the Fords and the Kennedys

Inside the Henley mansion that housed the Fords and the Kennedys
Turville Grange (Image: Knight Frank)
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Turville Grange has many of the expected hallmarks of the top-end English country houses and estates on the market this spring. First comes its punchy price tag – in this case £18.75m – and lusted after location, the upmarket riverside town of Henley-on-Thames, in Oxfordshire. Then there are its classic good looks: built in Queen Anne style in the 1880s, the Grade II listed three-storey house sprawls across 8,000 sq ft of space, has five main bedrooms, five staff bedrooms, two guest bedrooms and five reception rooms. There’s even a scratch or two of graffiti as proof of the requisite royal visitors – Princess Victoria, younger sister of King George V, etched the dates 1915, 1917 and 1918 into a first- floor window with a diamond ring.

The Library room (Knight Frank)

But when it comes to truly iconic country house status, Turville Grange – for sale on the open market for the first time in five decades, with beauchamp.com and knightfrank.com – is hard to top. Past owners include America’s own versions of aristocracy, Princess Lee Radziwill (otherwise known as Jackie O’s little sister) and, more recently, industrialist Henry Ford II and his third wife Kathleen DuRoss Ford. With it, they brought heavyweight glamour, political intrigue and a roll call of A-list guests: the rural retreat, set in 50 acres of manicured lawns and grounds, has hosted royals, Hollywood stars, industry magnates, heads of state and socialites, including Princess Margaret, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, David Niven, Liza Minnelli, Peter Sellers and Harold Macmillan.

Visits by Jackie and her second husband, Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, however, cast the strongest celebrity spell. Between 1966 and 1974, the couple regularly came to stay with society doyenne Lee, who owned the home with her second husband, Stanislaw, a scion of the Polish princely house of Radziwill. Although there are two cottages in the grounds, they chose a 1,905 sq ft two-bedroom guest house, named The White House as a nod to Jackie’s past life as First Lady, as their private retreat. JFK Junior and sister Caroline made liberal use of the stabling, paddocks and swimming pool pavilion, built by Stanislaw, and the sisters and their families would hold extravagant black-tie Christmas and New Year celebrations on the estate.

The guest house in the grounds, used by the Kennedys and affectionately named The White House (Knight Frank)

When the Radziwills divorced in 1974, Turville Grange was sold to Henry Ford II – eldest grandson of the eponymous motor company founder Henry Ford – who was at the helm of the firm until the early 1980s. With Kathleen, a former model and photographer, they ushered in another era of high glamour and, behind its ornate wrought-iron gates (a smaller replica of those at the Sandringham estate, gifted to the house by Queen Alexandra in 1908), hosted legendary soirees and weekend shoots.

The hall of Turville Grange (Knight Frank)

Although the trophy estate can trace its origins back to the 1700s, was transformed by the Marquis and Marquise d’Hautpoul de Seyre (close friends of King George V and Queen Mary) in the early 20th century into a grand Edwardian residence, and was later remodelled by renowned country house architect Lionel Brett with a Georgian twist, it’s the stylistic stamps made by Lee and Kathleen that ultimately give it its star power.

Lee’s various homes, also taking in London, Paris and Manhattan, were the toast of aesthetes worldwide. The erstwhile actress, PR consultant, writer and editor, who died in 2019, hired avant-garde Italian interiors and set designer Renzo Mongiardino to revamp Turville’s entrance hall and main rooms in lavish floral motifs – 'I wanted a house of flowers, so that one wouldn’t notice the weather if it were dull,' Lee is quoted as saying, with the masterwork appearing in Vogue in 1971. She hired another big name, American landscape genius Lanning Roper, to design the grounds.

The American Eagle sculpture in the grounds with views over the Chiltern Valley (Knight Frank)

When Kathleen took over as mistress of the house, with its classic English rural views overlooking Turville Heath to the front and the Chiltern Valley to the rear, she brought in traditional British design house Colefax and Fowler to refresh the interiors, with boldly patterned fabrics and wallpaper offsetting the high ceilings, delicate cornicing and tall sash windows.

With Kathleen’s death in 2020 – her care in her latter years reportedly the subject of a court battle in the US – Turville Grange is now being sold by the Ford Family Trustees and needs a big-budget buyer. Recent auction house sales have dispersed her and Ford’s collection of impressionist paintings, European and American furniture and silver, and even Ford’s desk from Turville’s study, but the legacies of the big name owners are woven into the very fabric of the home.

The estate is destined, says Gary Hersham, founding director of Beauchamp Estates, to go to a family with a love of staying incognito. ‘The buyer is likely to be an American, particularly because of the property’s connection to Lee Radziwill and that glamorous Kennedy presidency period in history,’ Hersham says. ‘Equally, the quality and scale of the residence may also attract a European buyer.’

Whoever it is will want to choose their interior designer and party guests with care.