Tag: Alexandre Serebriakoff

Tree’s Great English Houses

Tree’s Great English Houses

                Starring Ditchley Park


Nancy’s Chinese Room at Kelmarsh Hall




By Megan McKinney


Ronnie Tree’s paternal grandfather, Lambert Tree, had wished a career in American public service for the young man; for this reason, English-born Ronnie had been happy to remain in the United States and to join his wife, Nancy, in buying and maximizing Mirador. Although their partnership in the renovation of the Langhorne family estate, with the guidance of Billy Delano, was a delightful experience, Mirador would not remain their permanent home.

With Ronnie’s English birth, his Anglo upbringing and inescapable British accent, he would soon realize that an American elective position was not likely. So, it was back to England.

The Tree’s first adventure was with Kelmarsh Hall, a circa 1730 Georgian house in Northamptonshire, designed by James Gibbs and owned by the Lancaster family.

The Great Hall at Kelmarsh has recently been restored to Nancy’s 20th century design. The Trees move to the hunt country of England was a great success; while Nancy dove into decorating another fine house, Ronnie became Joint Master of the Pytchley Hunt.

Celebrated English artist Sir Alfred Munnings painted Ronnie as Pytchley Hunt Master.

Sir Alfred also painted this image of Nancy and a son on horseback.

In 1933, Ronnie was elected Member of Parliament for Harborough in Leicestershire. He was at last was in the public service his paternal grandfather, Lambert Tree, had wished for him, although in England, rather than Lambert’s America. The Trees were continuing to live well but the best was yet to come. They both fell in love with Ditchley Park, a great house in Oxfordshire, near Blenheim Palace.

Although run down when they first came upon it, the 18th-century house, also designed by James Gibbs, had great bones with amazing proportions. The Trees pooled recent inheritances to buy the estate. Although Marshall Field did not believe in leaving large sums to women–and his formal estate plan, drawn up by William Beale of Chicago’s Isham Lincoln & Beale, was based more or less on primogeniture–he had indulged his only daughter, Ethel, through the years. At her death the legacy she left Ronnie, the eldest of her sons, was sizable, making it possible to spend an immense amount in fitting out Ditchley Park.

Ronnie Tree commissioned watercolors of the restored rooms by Alexandre Serebriakoff. The above is the artist’s rendition of Ditchley’s Great Hall.

The handsome White Drawing Room is shown in a photograph.

The Ditchley Library was another great room interpreted by Alexandre Serebriakoff.

Above is Serebriakoff’s watercolor of the Ditchley Saloon.

This rendering of the Blue and White Bedroom was among Serebriakoff’s handsome watercolors. Ronnie and Nancy would have two sons, Michael and Jeremy.  Michael married Lady Anne Cavendish, daughter of the Duke of Devonshire and, in 1949, he inherited one of the greatest Palladian properties in England from his uncle Peter Beatty.

Credit: Robert Whitfield

Mereworth Castle was designed by Colen Campbell and built in the 1720s for the 7th Earl of Westmorland; it is almost an exact copy of Palladio‘s Villa Rotunda near Venice.

Mereworth’s red rotunda

Credit: Country Life

Although Nancy continued throughout her life to be the talented interior designer we remember; she became increasingly unstable. As a result, Ronnie spent less and less time at home. During his long absences, Colonel Claude “Jubie” Lancaster would take his place. (Lancaster had been the Tree’s landlord at Kelmarsh and would eventually become Nancy’s third husband.)


Join Classic Chicago Publisher Megan McKinney’s Great Chicago Fortunes next for a  segment about Ronnie Tree and his American second wife, Marietta Peabody FitzGerald, as he continues to own and be otherwise associated with some the most stunning houses in the English-speaking world.


Edited by Amanda K. O’Brien

Author Photo: Robert F. Carl





A Rich Life: The Lambert Trees




By Megan McKinney



Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire, England

Chicago’s Tree family lived well, so well that it will take the next eight or so weeks for us to adequately view their enviable dwellings and remarkable lives. It started off relatively modestly in the 19th century, but, as their story progresses, you will explore with us, for example, the house about which the May 2018 issue of Town & Country magazine asked, Is Heron Bay in Barbados the Most Exquisite House in the World?

Credit: Architecture & Design in Barbados

Before Heron Bay, Ronnie Tree’s mid-20th century Palladian house in Barbados, there would be many other glorious Tree dwellings throughout the English-speaking world.

We will have such residences as the Ogden Codman French Renaissance Revival style town house on New York’s Upper East Side.

As well as this grand entry carved into an antebellum Virginia plantation house and such English estates as Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire, below, with Nancy Lancaster’s sumptuous interiors.

An Alexandre Serebriakoff watercolor of The Blue Drawing Room, Ditchley Park

During the early years of World War II. when the “moon was high,” Winston Churchill’s country retreat, Chequers, became visible to enemy aircraft. On these weekends, the Prime Minister would stay as guest of third generation Trees at Ditchley Park, smoking his cigars late at night in the room above. But we will come to that in a later issue.

The family patriarch was Judge Lambert Tree, a Washington D.C. native with a law degree from the University of Virginia. After moving out to Chicago, he married, in 1859, Anna Josephine Magie, daughter of Chicago pioneer H. H. Magie.

A distinguished Chicago citizen, Judge Tree’s great wealth came from real estate and his name continues to be known through the Tree Studio complex on Chicago’s Near North Side.

The Lambert Trees and their only child, Arthur, lived in the mansion above at 94 Cass Street, now Wabash. Among their neighbors were the Joseph Medills, Edward T. Blairs and Cyrus Hall McCormicks. Arthur Tree would marry a Chicago contemporary but not a North Side neighbor.

Growing up in elegance at another fashionable Chicago address,1905 South Prairie Avenue, was Ethel Field, daughter of department store tycoon Marshall Field.

Although the Field parents were at war with each other, they indulged Ethel and her brother, Marshall Jr. In 1886, when the Fields hosted the Mikado Ball for 17-year-old Marshall Jr. and 14-year-old Ethel, it was the most elaborate private event Chicago had seen. The party was catered by Sherry’s of New York and required two private railroad cars to bring in linen, silver and gourmet food at a cost of $75,000. More than 400 guests attended the ball and received party favors designed by the painter James McNeill Whistler.

Albertine Huck

Marshall Jr. married Chicagoan Albertine Huck in 1890 and they settled in an English country estate, spending only a few months a year in their Chicago house at 1919 Prairie Avenue.

On January 1, 1891, Marshall Field Jr’s 17-year-old sister Ethel married Arthur Tree in an opulent ceremony held at the Fields’ Prairie Avenue house. Although Ethel and Arthur were both Chicagoans, they had met during a foxhunt in England. Both preferred that country to their own and, after their marriage, they commissioned English architect Edward Goldie to design Ashorne Hill, a Warwickshire estate neighboring that of Marshall Jr. and Albertine.

Ashorne Hill  

The Arthur Trees’ first two children, Gladys and Lambert, died in infancy, leaving only Ronald Arthur Lambert Field Tree, known throughout his life as Ronnie.


Ronnie Tree is the central figure in Megan McKinney’s Classic Chicago series, A Rich  Life: The Trees . He will lead us into the coming segment, sub-titled Marshall Field’s Unruly Daughter.


Edited by Amanda K. O’Brien

Author Photo: Robert F. Carl