The power and the glory

If these walls could talk: his­tory is built into the very fab­ric of three houses that have come to the mar­ket

Country Life Every Week - - Property Market - Penny Churchill

‘Gems of ma­sonry tucked away among steep pas­tures’

THE last time that The Chanters House at Ot­tery St Mary, Devon, was of­fered for sale on the open mar­ket was in May 2006, when ‘ex­pres­sions of in­ter­est’ from po­ten­tial pur­chasers were sought by Knight Frank on be­half of the Co­leridge fam­ily, whose Devon seat it had been for more than 200 years. Hav­ing seen his fore­bears strug­gle for years to keep the 22,100sq ft, Grade Ii*-listed house go­ing by run­ning it on a semi-com­mer­cial ba­sis as a venue for wed­dings, film shoots and other events, the present Lord Co­leridge—the sev­enth Co­leridge el­dest son to be born at Chanters—and the es­tate’s trustees, re­gret­fully put the prop­erty on the mar­ket, hop­ing to find a buyer who would keep house and con­tents in­tact. It was a plan that al­most suc­ceeded bril­liantly.

Within a mat­ter of months, an in­ter­na­tional buyer with a pas­sion for old houses had bought the prop­erty, in­clud­ing the con­tents of the vast Co­leridge li­brary of some 18,000 books, which oc­cu­pies the en­tire ground floor of the west wing—to which has been added an­other 4,000 vol­umes from the own­ers’ own print­ing and pub­lish­ing archive.

The Co­leridge fam­ily’s links with The Chanters House date from 1796, when Sa­muel Tay­lor Co­leridge’s el­der brother, James, a suc­cess­ful ca­reer sol­dier who mar­ried a lo­cal heiress, bought one of Ot­tery St Mary’s grand­est houses, thereby be­com­ing,

as Sa­muel slyly ob­served, ‘a re­spectable man’. But long be­fore that, the house, built as a chantry in the 1340s, and the largest of a close of build­ings grouped around the great 14th-cen­tury church of St Mary on the edge of the vil­lage, had been the set­ting for some defin­ing mo­ments of West Coun­try his­tory, the most notable of which was prob­a­bly its oc­cu­pa­tion, in 1645, by Oliver Cromwell and Sir Thomas Fairfax, as the head­quar­ters from which they di­rected their New Model Army’s op­er­a­tions in the West.

Fast-for­ward to 1838, when The Chanters House passed to James Co­leridge’s se­cond son, Sir John Tay­lor Co­leridge, a High Court judge. He and his son, John Duke Co­leridge, to­gether planned the first mod­est ex­ten­sion to the house, re­build­ing the draw­ing room and adding a new ser­vice range, a coach house and sta­bles and ex­tend­ing and land­scap­ing the orig­i­nal 30 acres of grounds. John Duke Co­leridge was a bril­liantly suc­cess­ful bar­ris­ter who was made a judge and a peer in 1873 and, in 1880, Lord Chief Jus­tice of Eng­land.

Even at the height of his glit­ter­ing ca­reer, he re­mained true to his Devon roots and, fol­low­ing the sud­den death of his wife, Jane Fortes­cue Sey­mour Co­leridge, in 1878, he com­mis­sioned Wil­liam But­ter­field, one of Queen Vic­to­ria’s favourite ar­chi­tects, to cre­ate —at vast ex­pense—a grand new fam­ily seat around the ker­nel of the orig­i­nal me­dieval build­ing, partly as a me­mo­rial to his late spouse.

The 1840s ser­vice wing was re­placed by ex­ten­sive new sta­bles and ser­vice quar­ters and the en­trance moved to the east; the old south-fac­ing main façade, with an extra storey added, be­came the gar­den flank. The vast li­brary—90ft long, 33ft wide and 40ft high—built to house Lord Co­leridge’s his­toric book col­lec­tion, is said to be the largest of any grand house west of Sal­is­bury.

By com­par­i­son, the 11 short years it has taken the present owner to trans­form The Chanters House from a faded sepia por­trait of an age long gone into a vi­brant, cost­ef­fec­tive, small coun­try es­tate of­fer­ing

ev­ery fa­cil­ity that a mod­ern fam­ily could wish for rep­re­sents an ex­tra­or­di­nary achieve­ment on the part of its present own­ers.

‘Not only has the fam­ily car­ried out a metic­u­lous restora­tion of the main house, its an­cil­lary build­ings and out­build­ings with huge at­ten­tion to his­toric de­tail, they have also re­dis­cov­ered for­got­ten Vic­to­rian trea­sures in the gar­dens and grounds, where ex­ten­sive land­scap­ing and restora­tion works have been car­ried out,’ says James Craw­ford of Knight Frank (020–7861 1065), who, fol­low­ing the tri­umphant com­ple­tion of the project, is han­dling the re­launch onto the mar­ket of The Chanters House, set in some 21 acres of won­der­ful gar­dens, park­land, wood­land and wa­ter over­look­ing the Ot­ter Val­ley.

The agents quote a guide price of ‘ex­cess £7 mil­lion’ for what is ar­guably the best coun­try house cur­rently for sale in the West: it boasts 10 be­d­rooms, 11 bath­rooms and 5–8 beau­ti­fully ren­o­vated re­cep­tion rooms. Among the most sig­nif­i­cant are the Cromwell Fairfax room—the present din­ing room —where, in the au­tumn of 1645, Cromwell con­vened the peo­ple of the town and neigh­bour­hood, de­mand­ing of them men and money for the Civil War, and the twinaspect draw­ing room over­look­ing the gar­dens, with its dis­tinc­tive square bay win­dow and hand-painted vaulted ceil­ing in­laid with gold leaf. The con­tents of the house are also for sale, by sep­a­rate ne­go­ti­a­tion.

Aware that mod­ern coun­try life is for liv­ing, but not at any cost, ad­di­tional ameni­ties and fa­cil­i­ties in­clude an in­door swim­ming pool, a swim­ming lake, sta­bling, a ten­nis court and state-of-the art ser­vices, in­clud­ing a biomass en­ergy sys­tem us­ing wood­chips pro­duced on site.

Such is the charisma of hand­some, Grade Ii*-listed The Palace House, set in 9½ acres of en­chant­ing walled gar­dens and grounds in the Hampshire vil­lage of Bish­ops Waltham, that the sale went to ‘best and fi­nal of­fers’ when it last came to the mar­ket in 1987, re­veals Andrew Rome of Knight Frank’s Winch­ester of­fice (01962 850333), who quotes a guide price of £3.5m this time round.

The house stands on the out­skirts of Bishop’s Waltham on the edge of the Eon Val­ley, 11 miles from Winch­ester, and in­cor­po­rates within its grounds the ru­ins of the an­cient Palace of Waltham, built from 1135 by Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winch­ester and younger brother of King Stephen, and orig­i­nally sur­rounded by a park of al­most 1,000 acres.

Ac­cord­ing to English Her­itage, in the Mid­dle Ages, Bishop’s Waltham Palace was one of the finest res­i­dences of the Bish­ops of Winch­ester, who were among the rich­est church­men in Europe. The com­plex was re­mod­elled and ex­tended in the 14th and 15th cen­turies and Henry V stayed there

be­fore set­ting off for Agin­court. In the 16th cen­tury, Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell and Car­di­nal Wolsey of­ten stayed, but, fol­low­ing the Ref­or­ma­tion, the Bish­ops for­feited the palace—it was re­stored to them by Queen Mary in 1558—which was se­verely dam­aged dur­ing the Civil War and much of the in­te­rior de­mol­ished.

The site re­mained the prop­erty of the Bish­ops be­fore be­ing trans­ferred to the Ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal Com­mis­sion­ers in 1869, who, in 1889, sold the site to the em­i­nent physi­cian Sir Wil­liam Jen­ner.

The ru­ins then passed to Ad­mi­ral Cun­ning­ham (later Viscount Cun­ning­ham of Hyn­d­hope), one of Bri­tain’s most dis­tin­guished naval com­man­ders dur­ing the Se­cond World War, who re­turned to Palace House when on leave from ac­tive ser­vice. He trans­ferred the palace ru­ins to the Min­istry of Works (later English Her­itage), which sta­bilised the ru­ins and un­cov­ered sev­eral pre­vi­ously buried struc­tures, such as the chapel crypt and the foot­ings of the clois­ter. Palace House and the walled gar­dens sur­round­ing it re­mained in pri­vate hands.

Ac­cord­ing to its list­ing, the present Palace House dates from the early 18th and 19th cen­turies. It was ex­tended in about 1840 and again in the 1900s, yet re­tains a wealth of charm­ing orig­i­nal fea­tures. Dur­ing their 30-year ten­ure, the own­ers have car­ried out nu­mer­ous im­prove­ments to the house and gar­dens, but are now seek­ing to down­size and move to Winch­ester, hence the need for a ‘once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion re­fur­bish­ment’, Mr Rome sug­gests.

The house of­fers 6,060sq ft of pleas­ant fam­ily ac­com­mo­da­tion on three floors, inc- lud­ing five re­cep­tion rooms, a kitchen/ break­fast room, seven be­d­rooms, four bath­rooms and a one-bed­room cottage/an­nexe. Out­build­ings in­clude a gym­na­sium, a green­house and a listed gra­nary.

Al­most 100 years ago to the day, an ar­ti­cle in Coun­try Life by Avray Tip­ping (May

26, 1917) sought to set the record straight re­gard­ing the iden­tity of the builder of the mag­nif­i­cent Grade I-listed Plaish Hall at Plaish, near Church Stret­ton, south Shrop­shire, which comes to the mar­ket through the Shrews­bury of­fice of Strutt & Parker (01743 284200) at a guide price of £2m.

A clas­sic H-shaped, two-storey brick-and­stone manor house with gables and a Tu­dor front, it was al­most cer­tainly built in two stages, in about 1540 and 1580, for Sir Wil­liam Leighton, an un­for­giv­ing El­iz­a­bethan judge who was pre­sid­ing over a trial of pris­on­ers while the build­ing work at his man­sion was in progress.

Ac­cord­ing to lo­cal records, Sir Wil­liam ‘took oc­ca­sion to en­quire of the High Sher­iff “whether there hap­pened to be in these parts any man who could un­der­take the build­ing of or­na­men­tal chim­neys”’. The Sher­iff replied that the only per­son he knew who was ca­pa­ble was the very man that his lord­ship had just tried for a cap­i­tal of­fence and sen­tenced to be hanged.

‘Then he shall go and do my chim­neys first,’ an­nounced Sir Wil­liam, af­ter which the un­for­tu­nate con­vict had his ex­e­cu­tion de­ferred while he built the hall’s fa­mous or­na­men­tal chim­neys. He was then sent back to prison, where his death sen­tence was duly car­ried out.

Hap­pily, these are kinder days at Plaish Hall, where the cur­rent own­ers, who bought this lovely house, set in 12¾ acres of Tu­dor gar­dens and park­land, some 35 years ago, are now seek­ing to down­size, hav­ing car­ried out a metic­u­lous ren­o­va­tion of the his­toric man­sion and its grounds.

Tran­quil­lity reigns through­out the house, which has 12,136sq ft of com­fort­able and prac­ti­cal liv­ing space, with five el­e­gant re­cep­tion rooms for large-scale en­ter­tain­ing, plus five main be­d­rooms, four bath­rooms and at­tics, all of which abound in pe­riod charm and char­ac­ter.

Red-brick The Chanters House at Ot­tery St Mary in Devon was once the sub­stan­tial seat of the Co­leridge fam­ily. Ex­cess £7m

In au­tumn 1645, the Cromwell Fairfax room was oc­cu­pied by the Lord Pro­tec­tor

The 9½ acres of grounds sur­round­ing The Palace House at Bish­ops Waltham in Hampshire con­tain the ru­ins of a palace. £3.5m

With many orig­i­nal fea­tures, the house is ripe for a ‘once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion re­fur­bish­ment’

It’s said that mag­nif­i­cent Plaish Hall at Plaish in south Shrop­shire was the first build­ing in the county to be made of brick. £2m

His­toric fea­tures abound in this com­fort­able and prac­ti­cal fam­ily home in Plaish

The house’s five el­e­gant re­cep­tion rooms are ideal for large-scale en­ter­tain­ing

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