Over the years Luton Hoo has counted many heads of state and members of royalty among its visitors including Queen Mary, Edward VII and Lord Mountbatten. In 1947, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh spent part of their honeymoon in one of the mansion’s vast state bedrooms, and returned to celebrate future wedding anniversaries.
There has been a house on the present site of Luton Hoo since at least 1601 when Robert Napier bought the estate. Today’s mansion house dates from the late 18th century when it was the seat of the 3rd Earl of Bute, then Prime Minister to George III. The famous landscape designer, Capability Brown, was engaged to redesign the surrounding parkland and gardens which now extend to 1,065 acres.
In 1903 Luton Hoo was bought by Sir Julius Wernher, a leading diamond dealer who commissioned Charles Mewes and Arthur Davis, the architects of the Ritz Hotel in London, to redesign the interior of Luton Hoo in a lavish Edwardian ‘Belle Époque’ style. After the death of Sir Julius, Harold Wernher inherited the estate from his father.
During the Second World War, the estate and mansion house was commissioned by Eastern Command and played an important role in wartime operations testing tanks before they were taken off to depots for war service.
On 26th June 1948, Sir Harold Wernher and his wife Lady Zia, Countess Anastasia Mikhailovna de Torby, hosted a memorable visit by Sir Winston Churchill when 110,000 people gathered to hear him address the crowd and thank them for their support during the Second World War.
Sir Harold and Lady Zia decided to exhibit Sir Julius’s art collection within the house in 1951 including several items of the now famous Fabergé collection. They also bred several well known race horses including Brown Jack, who won twenty five races in his ten year racing career and Charlottown, who won The Derby in 1966.
Sir Harold died in 1973 followed by Lady Zia in 1977 with the estate passing to their elder grandson, Nicholas Phillips, who together with his wife developed the living accommodation into facilities for corporate functions and filming, to support the maintenance of the art collection.
The house has been a very popular location with television and film makers, being used for films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Enigma, Eyes Wide Shut, Inspector Morse, Nicholas Nickleby, Vanity Fair and Bleak House to name but a few.
Following Nicholas Phillips’ death in 1991 the estate was put up for sale in 1997 and was finally purchased by Elite Hotels in 1999. The Hotel opened in October 2007 following an investment of more than £60 million and a painstaking restoration programme.