Tag: Mirador

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





Old Portrait of Nancy Lancaster

Rich Life: Ronnie Tree’s First Wife

      Nancy of the Virginia Langhornes


Nancy Perkins Field Tree Lancaster




By Megan McKinney


The next personality in our series A Rich Life with the Trees is Ronnie Tree’s first wife, the great 20th century interior designer Nancy Lancaster. A bearer of multiple surnames, she began life as Nancy Perkins, daughter of Elizabeth, eldest of the five fabled Langhorne sisters of Virginia.

Nancy’s glamorous aunts included the feisty Lady Astor, who married William Waldorf Astor and became the first woman seated as a member of the British Parliament.

Another Langhorne sister, Irene, was the original Gibson Girl. She married the celebrated illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, who created the legendary ideal woman of the period, and Irene was his muse. With her strong dimpled chin, Irene personified the outdoorsy essence of feminine perfection of the 1890’s. The Gibson Girl lasted through World War I, to be replaced by the flapper of the 1920’s.

After attending the horsey Foxcroft School near Middleburg, Virginia, Nancy Perkins stayed in New York through the debutante season with Irene and Charles Dana Gibson, in their new Stanford White-designed house at 127 East 73rd Street.

This is the way the lovely Upper East Side townhouse looks in the 21st century.

Although the Langhorne niece, remembered today as Nancy Lancaster, was Ronnie Tree’s first wife, Ronnie was not her first husband. In 1917, when she was 19, Nancy married Henry Field, younger son of Marshall Field Jr, and one of the nation’s great heirs. The marriage would last five months.

In July 1917, after undergoing an elective tonsillectomy, 21-year-old Henry Field tragically suffered a pulmonary embolism and died, shattering his young bride, who would continue to be unstable for much of the remainder of her long life.

In November, immediately following the Armistice, Nancy and her sister, Alice, sailed on the RMS Mauretania for England to spend Christmas with their aunt, Lady Astor, at the Waldorf Astor estate, Cliveden, below.

On the ship was Ronnie Tree, another of Marshall Field’s grandsons, who was said to have immediately “fallen in love” with his cousin’s widow and thrilled to have the long leisurely days of a trans-Atlantic passage to woo her.

Woo her he did and in 1920 they married.  During the first year of their marriage, the Trees rented the 7 East 96th Street house, designed and owned by architect and interior designer Ogden Codman Jr.

Above is the extraordinary Ogden Codman 96th Street dining room. Nancy’s keen “eye” would lead her become arguably the greatest interior designer of her time and, as this series progresses, we will explore her various splendid dwellings in America and England. However, throughout her life, she loved one house above all others, Mirador, on her grandfather’s plantation in Albemarle County, Virginia.

The substantial Mirador, circa 1842, was purchased by the Langhorne family in 1892. When Nancy and Ronnie Tree acquired the estate in 1921, they brought in one of the nation’s premier architects of residential properties, William A. Delano, to update the handsome mansion. Together, Billy Delano and Nancy transformed the residence from a Federal plantation house to a Neo-Georgian Gilded Age estate. They added wings on either side, and the interiors were upgraded with Georgian motifs. However, their greatest achievement was turning a long, narrow ground floor central hallway into what you see below.

This is merely the beginning of the extraordinary design adventures upon which Ronnie and Nancy Tree would embark, together and later with others.


Join Classic Chicago Publisher Megan McKinney’s Great Chicago Fortunes next for more about the great estates of Ronnie Tree and his first wife, the fabulous interior designer Nancy Lancaster.



Edited by Amanda K. O’Brien

Author Photo: Robert F. Carl