In response to a previous post about the Roman sarcophagus at West Wycombe, a reader has asked about the sarcophagi at Cliveden, in Buckinghamshire. As he surmised, they were indeed brought to Cliveden by William Waldorf Astor, first Viscount Astor (1848-1919).
Astor had inherited a huge fortune based on New York real estate. In the 1880s he was appointed United States Minister to Italy, and while there he conceived a passion for art and architecture. In true plutocratic style, Astor was somewhat reclusive and prone to paranoia.
In 1891 Astor moved himself and his family to England, reputedly saying that ‘America is not a fit place for a gentleman to live.’ He purchased Cliveden from the first Duke of Westminster in 1893 and embellished it with numerous works of art and antique furnishings.
An amazing discovery has recently been made at Cliveden. As a group of volunteers went around cleaning the statues in the garden, they spotted tiny unfamiliar-looking snails that seemed to live in the crevices of the stone.
Snail guru Janet Ridout Sharpe was called in, and she identified the creatures as Papillifera papillaris. They have little spindle-shaped shells that are generally only 11 mm long. This snail has no English name, as it normally lives around the Mediteranean.
Most of the snails seemed to live on or near the Borghese balustrade, which sits between the terrace and the parterre. This balustrade was purchased by Astor from the Villa Borghese in Rome in 1896 and shipped to Cliveden. It seems that with his purchase Astor got some free snails thrown in – a natural import along with an architectural one. They have thrived at Cliveden in apparent harmony with the other wildlife there, and this species has now been dubbed the Cliveden snail.