Great family histories set in stone
It’s not often important houses like these come to the market
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