Prop­erty Mar­ket

The ex­u­ber­ant gar­dens of a pas­sion­ate plantswoman sur­round a house that is the epit­ome of el­e­gant liv­ing

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Penny Churchill finds a small slice of par­adise at Duns­bor­ough Park

AS Sur­rey sets the pace in the coun­try-house mar­ket with the re­cent launch onto the mar­ket of high-pro­file con­tenders such as Fred­ley Manor at Mick­le­ham, Shoot­lands House at Abinger Com­mon and Chinthurst Hill at Won­ersh—priced at £4 mil­lion, £3.5 mil­lion and £18.5 mil­lion re­spec­tively—to­day’s Coun­try Life goes pub­lic on the sale of the iconic Duns­bor­ough Park es­tate at Ri­p­ley, near Wok­ing, at a guide price of £17 mil­lion through Sav­ills in Wey­bridge (01932 838004) and Lon­don (020–7016 3780).

Duns­bor­ough Park was orig­i­nally part of the sub­stan­tial land hold­ings of nearby Ne­wark Priory, founded by Au­gus­tinian canons in the early 12th cen­tury and sacked on the orders of Henry VIII at the dis­so­lu­tion of the monas­ter­ies in 1538. The Duns­bor­ough lands were granted by the King to a lo­cal no­ble­man and, soon af­ter­wards, a modest Tu­dor farm­house with a sin­gle, cen­tral chim­ney was built on the site.

Ex­tended by a suc­ces­sion of wealthy own­ers over the cen­turies, that sim­ple build­ing forms the core of grand, Grade Ii-listed Duns­bor­ough House, which to­day stands in 108 acres of park and pas­ture, dot­ted with fine trees and wood­land and skirted by the me­an­der­ing River Wey.

In the 18th cen­tury, the es­tate was ac­quired by Ge­orge Onslow, 1st Earl of Onslow, a well-con­nected politi­cian who was made sur­veyor of the king’s gar­dens in 1760 and, a year later, suc­ceeded his fa­ther as MP for Sur­rey. Dur­ing their ten­ure, he and his fam­ily car­ried out a se­ries of ex­ten­sions and al­ter­ations to the main house, which was refaced in the 18th cen­tury, with the ad­di­tion by Lady Onslow of the for­mal morn­ing room and draw­ing room. Duns­bor­ough’s first for­mal gar­dens were laid out at about the same time.

Fur­ther sig­nif­i­cant al­ter­ations were car­ried out by the avi­a­tion pi­o­neer, air­craft en­gi­neer and Con­ser­va­tive politi­cian Oliver Sim­monds, who bought Duns­bor­ough with 90 acres of land in the 1930s and had the Tu­dor-style gate­house built at the en­trance to the park. He also added the oc­tag­o­nal pump house, the pic­turesque bridge over­look­ing the lake, the pav­il­ion, the green­houses and the ha-ha. In 1948, fol­low­ing the col­lapse of the avi­a­tion in­dus­try af­ter the Sec­ond World War, Sim­monds sold his Bri­tish in­ter­ests and moved to the Ba­hamas.

Duns­bor­ough Park was bought the same year by the ir­re­press­ible Charles Hugh­es­don, de­scribed in his Daily Tele­graph obit­u­ary on his death, at the age of 104, in April 2014, as ‘a dare­devil avi­a­tor, cham­pion ball­room dancer, in­surance bro­ker and air­line ex­ec­u­tive who mar­ried the film star Florence Des­mond, and boasted of af­fairs with Shirley Bassey and Mar­got Fonteyn’.

Mar­riage to Florence, who starred along­side Ge­orge Formby and Douglas Fair­banks Jr in the 1930s and 1940s, brought a stream of celebrity house guests from the worlds of en­ter­tain­ment, film, pol­i­tics and busi­ness for ri­otous week­ends at Duns­bor­ough Park.

Florence died in 1993, af­ter which Charles mar­ried their long-time friend Carol Havers, mother of the ac­tor Nigel Havers. A year later, in 1994, he and his new wife moved to Berk­shire and Duns­bor­ough Park, with 64 acres, was sold to the cur­rent ven­dors, Baron Dolf and Baroness Caro­line Sweerts de Lan­das Wy­borgh.

The new own­ers were less at­tracted by the house, which was in a state of quite se­ri­ous dis­re­pair, than by its lo­ca­tion 26 miles from cen­tral Lon­don and the po­ten­tial of the es­tate’s his­toric for­mal gar­dens as a show­case for the Baron’s vast col­lec­tion of an­tique gar­den stat­u­ary and arte­facts.

They im­me­di­ately em­barked on a thor­ough ren­o­va­tion of Duns­bor­ough House, a ma­jor un­der­tak­ing that in­volved re-roof­ing, rewiring, re-plumb­ing and re­dec­o­rat­ing through­out. Orig­i­nal 18th-cen­tury fea­tures such as wood floors, pan­elling and fire­places were care­fully re­stored, walls in the for­mal re­cep­tion rooms were lined with silk rather than con­ven­tional wall­pa­pers and an artist was com­mis­sioned to paint the din­ing

room with a land­scape of trees and long grasses.

Suc­ces­sive own­ers of Duns­bor­ough Park had re­tained the tra­di­tional strict di­vi­sion be­tween fam­ily rooms and the ser­vants’ quar­ters, where no win­dows were per­mit­ted to over­look the gar­dens, in or­der to pro­tect the pri­vacy of fam­ily and guests. The Baroness did away with this ar­chaic ar­range­ment by mov­ing the kitchen from the east side of the house to its heart and con­vert­ing some old-fash­ioned do­mes­tic of­fices to one light, bright fam­ily room lead­ing to a large con­ser­va­tory over­look­ing the gar­dens.

Up­stairs, a war­ren of for­mer ser­vants’ bed­rooms was con­verted into suites for the chil­dren. In all, the house boasts 6,917sq ft of light and cheer­ful liv­ing space, in­clud­ing five re­cep­tion rooms, 7/8 bed­rooms, seven bath­rooms, a kitchen/break­fast room, a con­ser­va­tory, a fam­ily room and var­i­ous util­ity rooms.

Although Duns­bor­ough Park has been the happiest of fam­ily homes for the Sweerts and their four chil­dren—the el­dest is now 30 and the youngest, 24—for the Baroness, life re­volves around the es­tate’s spec­tac­u­lar for­mal gar­dens, of which only the ba­sic struc­ture re­mained when the cou­ple first bought the prop­erty.

They were re­opened to the pub­lic in 1997, fol­low­ing an ini­tial restora­tion of the walled gar­dens by Pene­lope Hob­house and the di­vi­sion by Si­mon Hob­house of the older walled gar­den into ‘rooms’ for the dis­play of stat­u­ary. The bor­ders were re­planted by Ru­pert Golby in 2005, to cre­ate the softer, blue-and-white colour scheme that is pre­ferred by the Baroness. Writ­ing in Coun­try Life (June 8,

2011), Gar­dens Edi­tor Kathryn Bradley-hole high­lights the im­por­tance, from a gar­den lover’s point of view, of this in­ten­sively cul­ti­vated area, within and around the high walls of which ‘Baron Dolf and Baroness Caro­line have spent nearly two decades and a great deal of in­vest­ment in cre­at­ing a se­ries of well­pro­por­tioned gar­den en­clo­sures, each with its own char­ac­ter’.

The re­sult, Mrs Bradley-hole finds, is ‘a pleas­ing blend of the Dutch aes­thetic for straight vis­tas, for­mal parter­res and re­strained av­enues with a more English sen­si­bil­ity for flo­ral abun­dance’.

The ‘English ex­u­ber­ance’ that is so much a part of the ethos of Duns­bor­ough Park is ex­pressed through­out the es­tate’s many gar­dens, no­tably in the four main ar­eas of the walled gar­dens, at the north­ern end of which is the Dutch gar­den with its vast ar­ray of tulips—a key el­e­ment of the an­nual Duns­bor­ough Park Fes­ti­val of Tulips, which, this year, takes place on Sun­day, April 16.

It’s also abun­dant in the de­light­ful Wa­ter Gar­den, in which large blocks of stone cre­ate shal­low pools with flow­ing wa­ter, all head­ing un­der­neath Brax­ton Sin­clair’s ro­man­tic folly bridge to Ock­ham Mill.

Gate­way to par­adise: the wis­te­ria-clad en­trance to Duns­bor­ough Park at Ri­p­ley, Sur­rey. £17m

Duns­bor­ough House (top) has been to­tally re­fur­bished by the cur­rent own­ers to cre­ate a stylish yet com­fort­able fam­ily home (above left). One of the main ar­eas of note in the spec­tac­u­lar gar­dens is the Dutch gar­den, which hosts a Fes­ti­val of Tulips each April (above right)

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