Great fam­ily his­to­ries set in stone

It’s not of­ten im­por­tant houses like these come to the mar­ket

Country Life Every Week - - Property Market - Penny Churchill

The an­nounce­ment of the sale, for the first time since 1723, of the Sandys fam­ily’s Grade I-listed, Ge­or­gian Om­ber­s­ley Court at Om­ber­s­ley, six miles from Worces­ter, has ap­par­ently caused a flurry of ex­cite­ment and angst among con­ser­va­tion­ists, his­to­ri­ans and the prop­erty mar­ket at large.

The mag­nif­i­cent Ge­or­gian coun­try house is be­ing of­fered by Sav­ills (020–7016 3780) at a guide price of £3.5 mil­lion for the main house, its Grade Ii*-listed sta­ble block, out­build­ings and 39 acres of gar­dens and park­land over­look­ing the Malvern hills; a sep­a­rate four-bed­room cot­tage and a fur­ther 11¼ acres of land are avail­able for £450,000 and £175,000 re­spec­tively.

how­ever, ru­mours of the build­ing’s im­mi­nent con­ver­sion to a respite-care home (Town & Coun­try, Fe­bru­ary 1) have been greatly ex­ag­ger­ated, in­sists sell­ing agent James Walker, who points to the fact that no out­sider has been al­lowed inside the house since the early 1950s, when it was the sub­ject of three de­fin­i­tive ar­ti­cles by Arthur Oswald

in Coun­try Life (Jan­uary 2, 9 and16, 1953). ‘We are hope­ful that, ul­ti­mately, a part­ner­ship be­tween the es­tate’s trustees and ex­ecu­tors, English Her­itage, the lo­cal au­thor­ity and a new pur­chaser, will de­liver a pro­gres­sive and pos­i­tive fu­ture for the house and its his­toric con­tents—although the lat­ter are not part of the sale,’ he adds.

Once owned by Eve­sham Abbey, the manor of Om­ber­s­ley was ac­quired by the Sandys fam­ily in the early 1600s, when Sir Sa­muel Sandys, the el­dest son of Ed­win Sandys, Bishop of Worces­ter and later Arch­bishop of York, took a lease on the manor, be­fore re­ceiv­ing an out­right grant in 1614. The present house dates from the time of Sa­muel, 1st Lord Sandys, who, ac­cord­ing to county historian Nash, em­ployed Fran­cis Smith of War­wick to build ‘the house at Om­ber­s­ley, which is strong, hand­some and con­ve­nient’, be­tween 1723 and 1730.

In 1812–14, the ex­te­rior was sub­stan­tially al­tered by Mary Sandys, the widow of the 2nd Mar­quess of Down­shire, who in­her­ited Om­ber­s­ley on the death of her un­cle, the 2nd Lord Sandys, in 1797. In 1809, ‘the lit­tle Mar­chioness’, as she was known, com­mis­sioned the land­scape ar­chi­tect John Webb to sub­stan­tially al­ter both grounds and build­ings. The orig­i­nal brick house was clad in stone and a por­tico added, along with the large din­ing room and the sta­ble block. A ser­vice wing to the north, pro­vid­ing kitchen and staff ac­com­mo­da­tion, was de­mol­ished in 1964.

‘Septem­ber 13. We came to Lord Sandys’s at Om­ber­s­ley, where we were greeted with great ci­vil­ity. The house is large. The hall is a very noble room,’ wrote Dr John­son on vis­it­ing in 1774. Sur­rounded by an en­filade of seven fine re­cep­tion rooms, the Great Hall, with its dou­ble-height ceil­ings and ex­ten­sively de­tailed mould­ings and cor­nic­ing, is still the im­pos­ing heart of the house, which has re­mained largely un­changed since the late Lord and Lady Sandys moved there in the early 1960s.

A beau­ti­fully dec­o­rated stair­case with twisted balustrades and handrails leads to the first floor and six main bed­rooms, one of which is named after the Duke of Welling­ton, who stayed at Om­ber­s­ley Court as the guest of the 2nd Baron Sandys, who was one of Welling­ton’s aides-de-camp at the Bat­tle of Wa­ter­loo. In all, the main house has 27,500sq ft of liv­ing space on four floors, in­clud­ing a war­ren of rooms on the lower ground floor. The im­pres­sive, Grade Ii*listed sta­bles, ar­ranged around an open court­yard, sit con­ve­niently close to the house and in­clude for­mer loose boxes, more re­cently used to pro­vide garag­ing and stor­age. In 1964, plan­ning con­sent was granted to con­vert part of the first floor into three self-con­tained flats.

To the rear of the house are an old pump room, ken­nels and fur­ther out­build­ings, in­clud­ing an ice-house, which is lo­cated in wood­land to the south-west of the house.

This week sees the launch onto the mar­ket, for the first time in more than 100 years, of the en­chant­ing, 450-acre Duchal es­tate near Kil­ma­colm, in the pic­turesque Gryfe Val­ley, 20 miles west of Glas­gow city cen­tre and 10 miles from Glas­gow air­port. The Ed­in­burgh of­fice of Knight Frank (0131–222 9600) wants ‘of­fers over £3.08m’ for the whole and ‘of­fers over £1.8m’ for lot 1, the A-listed, Ge­or­gian Duchal House with 199 acres of walled and land­scaped gar­dens, 105 acres of wooded park­land, six graz­ing pad­docks, var­i­ous farm build­ings, two es­tate cot­tages, a gate lodge and a range of sport­ing fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing stalk­ing, shooting and 2.2 miles of trout fish­ing on the River Gryfe and Green Wa­ter.

Duchal dates from the 13th cen­tury, when it was held by the de l’isle, later Lyle fam­ily, who built Duchal Cas­tle as a stronghold at the con­flu­ence of the Black Wa­ter and Green Wa­ter rivers. The fam­ily line died out in 1556, by which time, the cas­tle and most of its land had been sold to the

Porter­field fam­ily. They oc­cu­pied the fortress un­til the 18th cen­tury, when they de­cided to build a more com­fort­able home and, in 1768, con­structed Duchal House on a nearby site over­look­ing the Green Wa­ter.

In 1915, Joseph Pa­ton Ma­clay, the 1st Lord Ma­clay, bought the Duchal es­tate, much to the de­light of his fam­ily, re­veals his grand­son, the present Lord Ma­clay. He ex­plains: ‘My grand­fa­ther was a self-made man who started work at the age of 15 and ended up form­ing his own shipping com­pany, which, by 1896, con­sisted of a large fleet of 33 tramp ships. When, in 1917, Ger­many re­sorted to un­re­stricted sub­ma­rine war­fare in a bid to starve Bri­tain into sub­mis­sion, Lloyd Ge­orge set up a new Min­istry of Shipping to take con­trol of Bri­tain’s mer­chant fleet un­der Lord Ma­clay. One of his achieve­ments was to in­tro­duce the con­voy sys­tem, which led to the fail­ure of the Ger­man strat­egy.’

Lord Ma­clay con­tin­ues: ‘Duchal House has been a won­der­ful fam­ily home in which three gen­er­a­tions of the fam­ily have brought up their chil­dren. It has re­mained in its orig­i­nal state, other than in 1911, when a top storey was added to the wing and both parts of the house were joined up. The house is only one room wide and so has light stream­ing in from ev­ery quar­ter. It may ap­pear to be a large house, but is, in fact, very self­con­tained and gives no im­pres­sion inside of be­ing enor­mous. One of the most beau­ti­ful rooms in the house is the din­ing room, with its hand-blocked gera­nium-pat­tern wall­pa­per first is­sued by Wil­liam Wool­lams & Co in 1851. The draw­ing room is an equally el­e­gant room, with its high ceil­ings, beau­ti­ful pro­por­tions and views over the sur­round­ing coun­try­side.

‘Finally, the five-acre, 18th-cen­tury walled gar­den, which was cre­ated in 1768 at the same time as the house, is ap­proached via a foot­bridge over the River Green Wa­ter. For me, it’s a gar­den for all sea­sons, although, in the early days, some­body de­scribed it as “glo­ri­ous di­shevil­ment in a for­mal set­ting”. I was never quite sure whether to take this as a crit­i­cism or a com­pli­ment, but, over time, it’s moved on and is now a good mix of for­mal­ity and in­for­mal­ity, although I may per­haps be bi­ased.’

Ig­nore the ru­mours: mag­nif­i­cent Ge­or­gian Om­ber­s­ley Court in Worces­ter­shire looks set for a bright fu­ture. £3.5m

The Great Hall is still the im­pos­ing heart of the house, with its min­strels’ gallery

The in­te­ri­ors have re­mained largely un­touched since Lord and Lady Sandys ar­rived

Vis­it­ing in 1774, Dr John­son was im­pressed by the house’s en­filade of re­cep­tion rooms

On the mar­ket for the first time in 100 years: the 450-acre Duchal es­tate is ony 20 miles from Glas­gow. Of­fers over £3.08m

The light, el­e­gant draw­ing room has views over the sur­round­ing coun­try­side

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