5 things you didn’t know about Upton House

This March, the National Trust is re-opening Upton House, Oxfordshire ready for their ‘Banking for Victory’ season – transforming the property from Millionaire’s play house to WWII Country Bank. The house has just re-opened for the season and we took a look at how preparations are going.

Upton House

1. Upton House was owned by the Bearsteds, who made their money from the Shell Transport and Trading Company, later known as Royal Dutch Shell.  In 1927 Marcus Samuel, 1st Viscount Bearsted, was knighted after the Shell tanker, SS Pecten, helped rescue the salvage of HMS Victorious which was grounded under questionable circumstances.

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2. Walter Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted bought the Upton estate in 1927 extensively remodelling the house to provide space for his art collection and all the necessary entertainments for 1930s including an open-air swimming pool, billiard room and squash court.


3. You can tell that the family did a lot of entertaining at Upton simply by the sheer size of their double oil-burning Agas. At the moment, these are currently inoperable as modern oil is incompatible with the Aga’s inner-workings, but renovations continue at the house and soon AGA will be swapping one oven with a working model. Upton’s Aga will feature in the company’s museum.


4. In 1939 as WWII broke out, the Bearsteds moved out of their London family home and moved to Upton – bringing with them their family-owned bank, M. Samuel & Co. Ltd. The whole company, staff, furniture and assets, the whole kit’n’kaboodle, moved in, protected from London air raids. The typing pool girls worked at their type-writers in the Long Gallery with renaissance masterpieces hanging either side.  From March onwards, visitors will only be entering via the back door – just as bank staff did during the 1940s.


5. Walter Samuel, the avid art collector, donated his collection (and the House) to the National Trust in 1948 but Walter’s granddaughter, Hon. Mrs R Waley-Cohen, lived at Upton until 1988. She organised over 1083 surplus items to be auctioned off at Christies.

Good to know: 

  • The full ‘Banking for Victory’ experience will be open from mid-March. See the National Trust website for full details.
  • If you’d really like to get your retro on – Upton House will be staging a 1940s Weekend on May 30th & 31st. 
  • Also make sure you stop at the Garden’s information board to find out about this season’s highlights – now there’s a lovely bloom of Aconites and snowdrops.




1 Comment

  1. Freya
    March 3, 2015 / 9:56 am

    Great blog Jess – there’s obviously loads going on at Upton House, I think we only scratched the surface. Definitely one to return too! Lovely photos too.

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