THE LADY BAILLIE YEARS
The 20th Century
By 1925, one hundred years after Wykeham Martin’s restoration and rebuilding, the family were forced to sell the property to pay death duties. Described by agents Knight, Frank and Rutley as comprising ‘six spacious entertaining rooms, twenty principal bedrooms and plenty of room for servants’, it was acquired by the Anglo-American heiress the Hon. Olive Paget, then Mrs Wilson-Filmer, who was looking for a country retreat in Kent. She saw the castle’s potential and had the style, imagination and funds to carry out the necessary modifications.
Lady Baillie, as she was to become after her third marriage, decided to recreate a largely medieval castle and initially commissioned architect Owen Little. The ground floor of the New Castle was reorganised, with the creation of an inner hall, the construction of the stone staircase and the transformation of the great hall into a library. For the even more challenging work required in the Gloriette and the upper floors of the New Castle, Lady Baillie turned to Armand-Albert Rateau (1882-1938) noted particularly for his work in the Art Deco style.
He created a glorious Gothic fantasy for her. The Banqueting Hall previously divided into china closet, kitchen and scullery, was restored to its full size; the Chapel was completely dismantled and became a music room; a handsome newel staircase brought in from France, was constructed against the south wall of the fountain court and hidden behind a fine screen; the upper floors were rearranged to allow the introduction of modern plumbing; and the service quarters were completely modernised.
During the 1930s, Leeds Castle became one of the great country houses of England and a centre of lavish hospitality for leading statesmen, European royalty and film stars.
As her tastes changed, Lady Baillie entrusted the design of her interiors to Stephane Boudin (1888-1967), president of Maison Jansen, a leading design firm in Paris. He was considered the foremost designer of grand interiors in the French taste and his other clients included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Jacqueline Kennedy. The glamourous and luxurious interiors that he created at Leeds Castle from 1932 onwards can still be seen today. A high point of his work is Lady Baillie’s bedroom suite, with its delicate Louis VIX style panelling.
External work included the transformation of the Maiden’s Tower from Brewhouse to comfortable bachelor apartments and a cinema; the renovation of the gatehouse; the construction of tennis courts, a squash court and a swimming pool, complete with wave machine; and the re-landscaping of the park – there were even llamas and zebras in the grounds.
World War II
When war erupted in 1939, Lady Baillie did her best to continue life at Leeds Castle as normal. The house parties continued although the family moved into the Gloriette and the New Castle was used as a hospital. Many of the ill-fated expeditionary forces repatriated after the retreat from Dunkirk were treated at Leeds Castle, and it was also used for the rehabilitation of severely burned pilots treated by Sir Archibald McIndoe at East Grinstead Hospital.
Weapons research was secretly carried out in the grounds, including emergency flame weapons to counter the feared German invasion. The government minister responsible for this work, Geoffrey Lloyd, was a regular visitor during Lady Baillie’s lifetime, and later would become the first Chairman of the Leeds Castle Foundation.
1950s and 1960s
After the war Lady Baillie continued to improve her interiors still with the help of Boudin. The war had interrupted their progress, so they resurrected their plans and in 1948 a new dining room and adjoining library were created.
In the Gloriette, a new bedroom suite was created for her son Gawaine and a new Boudoir for Lady Baillie herself showcased the best of her French furniture and art. The Maiden’s Tower was transformed into a family home for her daughter Susan and her growing family.
Lady Baillie died in 1974 and left the castle and grounds to a specially created charity called the Leeds Castle Foundation, whose main aim was, and still is, to preserve the castle for future generations to enjoy.