Although not grand, these three family houses boast a wealth of history
Penny Churchill finds a house needn’t be grand to have a history
ENGLAND’S great houses are not the sole custodians of the country’s past. This week, three lesser-known family houses reveal intriguing aspects of the country’s rich and varied history.
English history is the stock in trade of royal embroiderer Rhoda Nevins, whose feet have barely touched the ground these past few years, as she’s gone from working on one high-profile embroidery project to another. Having trained at london’s Royal School of Needlework, what started out as a hobby has led to the creation of a remarkable collection of the embroiderer’s art, including her pièce de résistance, the magnificent, 12-panel Magna Carta Embroidery designed to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta.
The project, completed in June 2015, involved the participation of 12 volunteers, most of whom she met while working on her Guildford Embroidery, which she presented to the city in memory of her late husband, Mike, who was mayor in 2007–8. To date, other career highlights have included being part of the team that embroidered The duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress and the Jubilee vestments created for the Bishop of Southwark and his area bishops.
The same level of creativity and attention to detail is evident throughout The Mill House at Pirbright, Surrey (Fig 1), the Nevins family home of the past 20 years, which is currently for sale through Knight Frank (01483 565171) and Seymours (01483 228723) at a guide price of £1.595 million. Mrs Nevins and her late husband shared a passion for the industrial heritage of their delightfully quirky house, listed Grade II, which dates from the 17th century, with 18th- and 19th-century alterations and additions, and was a working watermill until 1939.
Comprising three distinct parts— the original, central, timber-framed mill building refaced in 1780, the 18thcentury, red- and blue-brick miller’s house and a two-storey, 19th-century barn extension—the Mill House boasts a wealth of original features, including stone floors, exposed timbers, leaded-light windows and impressive fireplaces, many of them sourced by the Nevinses themselves.
At the heart of the building is the heavily beamed downstairs sitting room, which houses the cogs and wheels of the restored mill machinery, beyond which an inner hall accommodates the huge water wheel bearing the name of the manufacturer, Brooks and Shoebridge of Guildford, one of whose former chairmen was, coincidentally, the great-great-grandfather of the present owner. Still in mechanical mode, stairs rise around the mill wheel to the first-floor drawing room, where the top workings of the mill are another point of interest.
In all, the house offers 4,374sq ft of living space, including three reception rooms, a master suite, three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a mezzanine-level workroom/fifth bedroom in what was probably the original grain store. A further 1,123sq ft of period outbuildings includes a splendid Elizabethan barn, which could be adapted to a variety of alternative uses.
Although the house itself underwent a basic makeover by previous owners in the 1980s, the property’s 1.9 acres
‘The Mill House boasts a wealth of original features
‘on A sweet carving of a dog and stag the sill’
of enchanting gardens—a focal point of which is the former millpond, stream and waterfall—are entirely down to years of work and planning by Mr and Mrs Nevins, Tim Harriss of Knight Frank reveals.
Unlike many rural settlements in Suffolk, which dwindled or disappeared when the glory days of the medieval wool trade fell away, the pretty village of Parham, near Framlingham, ‘is thick with timber-framed houses, some much grander than others’, wrote the late Candida Lycett Green, who singles out Church Farm
(Fig 3) on the crossroads as being ‘particularly sumptuous’, with ‘a sweet carving of a dog and stag on the sill of one of its casement windows’.
Years earlier, an article in Country
Life (September 25, 1958) commented on the presence throughout the house of a remarkable collection of 17th-century painted over-mantels —something rarely seen in small village houses.
Rarer still is the fact that, since then, little has changed at Church Farm, which has been home to its present family for the past 60 years, and is now for sale through the Ipswich office of Jackson-stops & Staff (01473 218218) at a guide price of £650,000.
That figure takes account of the additional budget of £200,000 that would probably be needed to fully renovate and modernise the house, says selling agent Jonathan Penn, who maintains, however, that repairs carried out in the 1980s have made the house ‘perfectly habitable as it is’, at least in the short term.
Built, probably as a dower house, in about 1450 by the Willoughby family, who were lords of the manor of Parham, and embellished by later family members in the 17th and 18th centuries, Church Farm, listed Grade II*, stands in some two acres of secluded gardens and grounds that include a ‘spong’ (old Suffolk word for a narrow strip of land) of mature woodland running along the bank of the River Ore, which flanks the southern boundary.
The farmhouse’s 4,000sq ft of accommodation on three floors includes three ground-floor reception rooms, a large, central, first-floor drawing room with a fine moulded ceiling and wide oak floorboards, four bedrooms and two bathrooms, with a fifth bedroom and bathroom on the second floor. Lying alongside the main house is a range of traditional brick and timber buildings arranged around a covered yard, with potential for conversion to residential or office buildings, subject to listed-building and planning consent.
Surrounded on all sides by the rolling acres of the Iliffe family’s Yattendon estate of which it was once a part, historic Manstone Farm at Yattendon, Berkshire (Fig 2), dates from the 17th century, when it was reputedly the scene of a Civil War skirmish in the aftermath of the Second Battle of Newbury.
For the past 33 years, the immaculate complex of period farm buildings— which includes the four-bedroom main farmhouse, a separate two-bedroom guest cottage, a magnificent tithe barn with planning consent for conversion to a five-bedroom house and a further open barn—has been the family home of its current owner, who is now looking to downsize.
For sale through the Hungerford office of Knight Frank (01488 682726) at a guide price of £2m, the pretty, 2,720sq ft farmhouse—cleverly extended by the owners—has ‘views to die for from every window’.
Its location, within easy reach of Newbury, Pangbourne and Reading, makes it an ideal target for growing families moving out of London for schooling or lifestyle reasons.
Fig 1 above and below: The Mill House at Pirbright in Surrey reflects the creativity and eye for details of its owners, especially in how they have incorporated the former mill’s machinery. £1.595m
Fig 2: With ‘views to die for’, Manstone Farm, at Yattendon, Berkshire, is ideally located for families. £2m