Pursue a Dorset dream
The county’s substantial properties offer architectural style in spades
Following the death in May last year of the distinguished lawyer and former Vice Chancellor of oxford University, Lord neill of Bladen, his Dorset family home, Blackdown House Farm at Briantspuddle, 10 miles from Dorchester, has been launched on the market at a guide price of £2.45 million through Strutt & Parker (01722 344010) and Symonds & Sampson (01305 261008).
The sale of the picturesque, 245-acre farm with its substantial Arts-and-crafts house built in the 1920s, represents the final unravelling of the once-great Bladen estate created by Lord neill’s wife’s grandfather, Ernest Debenham, in the run-up to the First World War.
The pretty thatched village of Briantspuddle stands alongside water meadows in Purbeck’s tranquil Piddle Valley Conservation Area, some eight miles east of the county town of Dorchester. The village takes its name from Brian de Turberville, its 14thcentury lord of the manor, and, in 1683, was owned by William Frampton, who united the manors of Throop, Briantspuddle and Affpuddle into a single estate. The lands remained in Frampton family hands until 1914, when financial problems forced the sale of part of the estate, including the village of Briantspuddle, to the visionary businessman Ernest Debenham, grandson of William Debenham, the founder of the Debenhams department-store empire.
During his 35 years at the helm of the family firm between 1892 and 1927, Sir Ernest oversaw a rapid expansion of its operations and, by the early 1900s, was a very wealthy man when he decided to adapt modern business methods to farm- ing. His dream was to create a large-scale, self-sufficient agricultural enterprise that would help to regenerate the rural economy by introducing new technology and centralising production and distribution, thus enabling a larger number of workers to live on the land.
Following his initial acquisition of some 3,500 acres across the villages of Briantspuddle, Affpuddle and Turnerspuddle, Debenham continued to buy land and, at its peak in 1929, his Bladen estate—named after
the old form of Blagdon or Blackdown, the hill above Briantspuddle—was farming some 10,000 acres in and around the Piddle valley and providing employment for about 600 workers.
On retiring from business in 1927, Sir Ernest devoted the rest of his life to running his south Dorset estate, the dairy side of which was a notable success, going on to become part of Express Dairies. In 1931, he was awarded a baronetcy for his services to agriculture and, in particular, his work on model farms.
A sleepy hamlet of no more than a dozen thatched houses when Sir Ernest first bought it, Briantspuddle expanded considerably after the First World War, when 40 new thatched cottages—many designed in the Arts-and-crafts style by Halsey Ricardo and Macdonald Gill—were built to house lucky Bladen estate workers. Each cottage boasted a bathroom, an indoor lavatory, electric lighting, pumped water, a quarter of an acre of garden and a pig pen, so workers could produce their own food.
Alas, the postwar years were difficult for both business and farming and the estate needed regular injections of fresh funds to keep it afloat, so when recession hit, the funds dried up and the estate went into terminal decline. In 1943, 19 farms were sold off and, by the time Sir Ernest died in 1952, most of the rest had also gone, as had Briantspuddle’s former workers’ houses—all now much-prized, privately owned family homes.
Blackdown House, which is unlisted, stands in a commanding but private position on the edge of the village, overlooking mature gardens, parkland currently farmed in hand and, reflecting the Debenham family’s well-known passion for forestry, interspersed with small woodland glades and larger blocks of woodland.
Although little changed since it was first built and now in need of updating, the appeal- ing, eight-bedroom house offers 5,200sq ft of cheerful, light-filled living space, with impressive fireplaces and wooden flooring in the main ground-floor rooms. It comes with a detached two-bedroom stable flat, traditional stabling, garaging and office space, a selection of working farm buildings with separate access, together with pasture and amenity and commercial woodland— some for sale separately in up to five lots.
A guide price of £2.5m is quoted by the Wimborne office of Savills (01202 856800) for Norburton Hall at Burton Bradstock,
near Bridport, another unlisted Arts-andCrafts-style house, which stands in five acres of lovely landscaped grounds on the northern edge of the village, less than a mile from Dorset’s famous Jurassic coastline.
It, too, has its roots in the county’s rich soil, having originally been a fortified farm dating back to the 1640s and known as Squire Brown’s buildings in 1902, when its owner, Edward Toronto Sturdy, commissioned his uncle, the Arts-and-crafts architect R. A. Sturdy, to carry out a major refurbishment.
The project included the conversion of a former dairy to an annexe on the west side of the house and of a former threshing barn to a residential barn on the north side, plus the addition of a wing incorporating the impressive main hall with its carved staircase and leaded light windows.
Classic Arts-and-crafts elements include some wonderful fireplaces, plus lots of wood panelling and joinery, coloured glass and mullioned windows.
The current owners, who bought the handsome stone house in 2005, have skilfully but unobtrusively adapted Norburton Hall to the requirements of a thriving selfcatering and B&B business, converting the buildings surrounding the eight-bedroom main house into five holiday cottages, although the complex could easily be restored to single or even multiple family accommodation, the agents say.
The scenic Blackmore Vale in west Dorset has changed little since Thomas Hardy immortalised it in his Wessex novels more than a century ago. The same timeless quality is part of the enduring charm of Grade Ii*-listed Chetnole House in the pleasant village of Chetnole, eight miles south-west of Sherborne, a classic Queen Anne-style village house set in some eight acres of delightful gardens and paddocks running down to the River Wriggle, within the village’s heavily protected Conservation Area.
Philip Ribon of Jackson-stops & Staff in Sherborne (01935 810141) quotes a guide price of ‘excess £2.5m’ for the house (also known as The Court), which was his grandfather’s family home for 50 years before being sold to the current owners, who have cleverly brought it up to modern standards and are now looking to downsize.
Built, according to its listing, in the mid 18th century and extended at either end in the early 1800s, the house boasts 6,520sq ft of living space, including an elegant entrance hall, four reception rooms, a family kitchen/breakfast room, master and guest suites, three further bedrooms and three beautifully converted attic bedrooms.
A purchaser will have the option of converting the exquisite, detached red-brick coach house that incorporates the original stalls, a large open-fronted garage and a twobedroom cottage.
Set in 245 acres, Arts-and-crafts Blackdown House Farm at Briantspuddle, was part of the once-great Bladon estate. £2.45m
Handsome stone Norburton Hall at Burton Bradstock currently includes a successful holiday let and B&B business. £2.5m
Queen Anne-style Chetnole House at Chetnole has delightful grounds running down to the River Wriggle. ‘Excess £2.5m’