A closer look at the Surrey Hills could reveal beautiful houses with intriguing pasts
Penny Churchill finds gold deep in the Surrey Hills
One of the first areas in england to be designated an AONB back in 1958, the 163sq mile Surrey Hills AONB covers a quarter of the county, from close to Farnham in the west to Oxted in the east and from Leatherhead in the north to Ockley in the south. Despite the millions of tourists who flock annually to beauty spots such as Box Hill near Leatherhead, or Leith Hill, near Dorking—at 965ft above sea level, the highest summit of the Aonb—their wooded slopes hide many architectural gems that no stranger ever sees, tucked away as they are at the end of their long treelined drives.
‘The slopes hide many architectural gems’
Two such houses are Grade IIlisted Fredley Manor at Mickleham, near Dorking, at the northern edge of the AONB, and Shootlands House at Abinger Common, just over five miles to the south as the crow flies, both of which have come to the market through Surrey agents Grantley (01483 407620) at guide prices of £4 million and £3.5 million respectively.
The present Fredley Manor was originally a cottage on the ancient Fredley Manor estate, which was sold many times between 1571 and 1803, when the son of the then owner, David Jenkinson, described as a ‘lottery agent’, died and the estate was sold off in three parts. The cottage and the lands surrounding it, then known as Fredley Farm, were bought by Richard Sharp, who made his fortune as a hatter and West Indies trader in London. A man of many clubs and societies, his ready wit and social talents earned him the nickname ‘Conversation Sharp’ and the friendship of the leading literary and political lights of the day.
Sharp divided his time between his Park Lane house in London and his gentrified ‘cottage home’ at Fredley, where, between 1797 and 1835 —the year he died—he entertained an eclectic mix of writers, poets, scientists, politicians and legal giants, among them Sir Walter Scott, William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, Michael Fara- day, Sir Humphrey Davey, Lord Macaulay and the unforgiving Lord Chief Justice Jeffries, to name but a few.
In the early 1800s, Sharp, who never married, adopted Maria Kinnaird, who was born on the Caribbean island of St Vincent and orphaned by a volcanic eruption. She went on to inherit the bulk of Sharp’s property, including a fine house in London and the estate at Fredley, where she died in January 1891.
Given every social, educational and cultural advantage by her adoptive father, Maria married army surveyor Thomas Drummond in 1835 and went to become a leading Society hostess, following Sharp’s tradition of entertaining the great and the good at Hyde Park Gardens and at Fredley in the years between 1843 and 1891.
The good times rolled again between 1970 and 1990, when the Australian-born novelist, film director and producer James Clavell owned Fredley Manor. When in England, the much-travelled author of bestsellers such as King Rat, Tai-pan, Shogun,
Noble House and Whirlwind, entertained generously at his Surrey country manor. Film and TV legends such as Roger Moore and Larry Hagman were regular visitors, as were high-powered executives from major Hollywood film studios, who reputedly enjoyed some wild times within Fredley’s secluded grounds.
The current owners of Fredley Manor, James and Cherry Fuller, who bought the house with 20 acres of gardens, paddocks and woodland in 1995, tactfully describe its condition at the time as being ‘not bad’. Since then, however, they have carried out a substantial renovation and extension of the house, which offers 5,464sq ft of stylish living space, including five good reception rooms, a kitchen/ breakfast room, a family room, a study, and six bedrooms on two floors (four with en-suite bathrooms).
The gardens—mrs Fuller’s area of special interest—have been transformed from a wilderness into a wonderful landscape of large lawned areas, stone-flagged terraces, box hedging and herbaceous borders, all affording spectacular views of Box Hill. Leisure amenities include a sheltered outdoor pool, a hard tennis court and a grass tennis court/croquet lawn.
‘An oasis in the middle of the woods’ is owner Margaret Yule’s description of Shootlands House at Abinger Common, her much-loved Surrey Hills home of the past 40-odd years. She and her late husband bought the house with 3½ acres of gardens and grounds from her cousin in 1975, when the latter acquired the surrounding 100-acre farming estate with a view to establishing a rare-breeds operation. In 1990, they managed to buy a precious, additional 26 acres of land around the house when her cousin went off to Scotland to breed red deer.
Shootlands House, which is unlisted and may have been built as a hunting lodge for a member of the Norfolk family, was designed in 1933–34 by the prolific country-house architect Oswald Partridge Milne. Articled to Sir Arthur Blomfield from 1898 to 1901, he remained as his assistant until 1902, when he joined the office of Edwin Lutyens.
Arguably the most successful of all Lutyens’s assistants, Milne’s work includes Hunterscombe Place in Oxfordshire, Sprowston Court in Norfolk and Coleton Fishacre in Devon—the latter for the D’oyly Carte family, for whom he worked at both The Savoy and Claridge’s.
The following description of Shootlands appeared in The Builder on September 7, 1934: ‘The house is built on an attractive site, high up, near Leith Hill. The outside is local stone, dug on the site. Sash windows are generally used. Some of the rooms are panelled in pine. The roof is of handmade red tiles. The Builders were Messrs Mills & Sons of Farnham. Mr Oswald P. Milne is the architect.’
As selling agent Michael Oury points out: ‘A fine example of the modern, streamlined, neo-georgian style, Shootlands has remained unchanged apart from the conservatory added by the current owners, and projects a perfect, stylish 1930s interior.’
Set at the end of a long sweeping drive, the house offers some 5,400sq ft of elegant, uncluttered living space on three floors, with southerly or dual-aspect views over the gardens, paddock and woodland from all the main reception rooms and bedrooms. The ground-floor accommodation includes a splendid drawing room with an adjoining music room, a formal limed-panelled dining room, a sitting room, a kitchen/breakfast room and a conservatory.
A panelled hall and staircase lead to the master suite and four further firstfloor bedrooms. The second floor houses two further bedrooms, a bathroom and a 29ft games room.
During her tenure, Mrs Yule has ‘deformalised’ the gardens at Shootlands, which now require minimal maintenance, while allowing maximum appreciation of its magnificent woodland views.
If walls could talk: elegant Fredley Manor at Mickleham has played host to the great and the good of several ages. £4m
‘An oasis in the middle of the woods’: Shootlands House, at Abinger Common, makes the most of its spectacular views. £3.5m