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
‘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