Back to the future
Bringing a historic house to life can be fulfilling, whatever stage it’s at
Launched in last week’s Country Life at a guide price of £6 million through Savills (020–7016 3820), historic, Grade Iilisted ash house at Iddesleigh, north Devon—the family seat of the Mallets of ash from the early 1500s to 1881 —is the most exciting small Devon country estate to hit the market so far this year. Set in some 125 acres of lush pasture, parkland and woodland overlooking Dartmoor, with the north Devon surf beaches a mere 25 miles away, the classic Devon manor —with its elegant, well-organised interior, loads of bedrooms, enchanting gardens, stabling, swimming pool and tennis court—has everything a sporting family could ever want.
Looking at its gleaming Georgian façade, it’s easy to imagine this elegant manor house, built, according to its listing, in the early to mid 18th century, as home to some of north Devon’s most prominent families. Less obvious is the fact that, for well over a century —from the late 1800s until 2004— the building’s essential Georgian character, unaltered during the Mallet family’s tenure, was largely obscured by a number of Victorian additions, which were eventually removed in the course of a painstaking restoration programme carried out by the present owners and their predecessor.
In 1879, the ash estate was put up for sale by the mother of Sir claude coventry Mallet and bought, two years later, by the influential ‘Squire’ Smythosbourne, a JP, Deputy Lieutenant of the county and high Sheriff of Devon in 1900. no sooner had he taken possession than he began making alterations to the house, installing a new mansard roof and, later, two prominent bay windows and a conservatory on the south front. Various outbuildings and a service wing were also added to the rear of the house.
For the Smyth-osbourne family, life at ash house appears to have revolved around horses and hunting, a tradition that continued with their successors, the carleton cowpers—serious livestock farmers, who owned the property from 1947 to 1972. The house remained unchanged during the tenure of subsequent owners until, in 2000, IVF pioneer Ian craft bought ash house and set out to re-create the sober Palladian mansion of the Mallets’ day.
It was a mammoth undertaking, which progressed slowly for almost a decade, by which time, the outer shell was complete. By then, however, Prof craft had become seriously ill and, in 2009, his family sold the estate to the current owners. Thereafter, they quickly assembled a team of building, conservation and gardening experts and oversaw oper-