Every house has a his­tory, some more so than oth­ers, but as CATHER­INE COURTENAY dis­cov­ers, it’s very of­ten the home­own­ers them­selves who cre­ate its unique iden­tity

Somerset Life - - PROPERTY -

Myles and She­lagh Wick­stead are trav­ellers and have spent many years liv­ing abroad, both be­fore they met and through­out their sub­se­quent mar­ried life; but they’ve al­ways felt that The Manor House at Nor­ton-sub­Ham­don was their true home.

I meet the Wick­steads for cof­fee in the se­cluded walled court­yard to the side of The Manor House; with the sound of bird­song and the wa­ter foun­tain, and sur­rounded by the honey coloured stone walls of the house, it’s a dreamy spot in which to sit.

We then walk around to the front gar­den and, look­ing up at the hon­ey­suckle and wis­te­ri­aclad prop­erty, Myles points out the var­i­ous sec­tions, trac­ing its his­tory back through the gen­er­a­tions. There’s a wing built in 1910, an 18th cen­tury top floor and a Tu­dor sec­tion at its heart. It’s hard to spot the changes to the build­ing, as each ad­di­tion ap­pears to have been sen­si­tively built to blend in with the orig­i­nal.

Be­fore go­ing in­side we visit the tree­house. It’s hid­den away, high up in one of the ma­ture trees at the back of the gar­den. Sculpted around the trunk and branches it speaks of child­hood ad­ven­tures - and no doubt a few sum­mer even­ing drinks on its bal­cony. It was made for the fam­ily by a lo­cal builder who used ideas taken from his time liv­ing in Africa.

It’s a fit­ting con­nec­tion be­cause the Wick­steads also have strong links to Africa;

Myles’ long ca­reer in the For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice in­cluded sev­eral years as Bri­tish Am­bas­sador to Ethiopia, Dji­bouti and the African Union.

Up the path, across a sweep of lawn, we en­ter through the low-key front door and ar­rive in the hall, at the heart of which lies an orig­i­nal old fire­place. It’s a per­fect house for Christ­mas par­ties, She­lagh tells me and yes, with its stone floors, beams strung with dried flow­ers and gen­er­ous pro­por­tions, it’s easy to pic­ture a cel­e­bra­tory fes­tive scene.

It was Myles who first dis­cov­ered the house. The cou­ple, who were in Kenya at the time, had wanted to find a home in the

coun­try, some­where a bit nearer to Myles’ par­ents.

At that time the manor was split into four flats, a change which had taken place un­der a for­mer owner in the 1950s. Myles had seen one of the flats ad­ver­tised in the back of a news­pa­per and went to in­ves­ti­gate. Smil­ing, he says he’ll never for­get the day he ar­rived in the vil­lage.

“I drove down, and had half an hour spare so I drove up to­wards Ham Hill and saw a cou­ple of foxes play­ing in a field.”

She­lagh says she could hear the ex­cite­ment in Myles’ voice when he called to say that he’d found the per­fect place.

It was 1995 when they moved in and over the sub­se­quent years they grad­u­ally ac­quired ex­tra sec­tions of the house.

Spread over three floors there are plenty of pas­sages and rooms to ex­plore and all the rooms are sur­pris­ingly spa­cious, it doesn’t feel like a house that was con­stricted to make sep­a­rate liv­ing ar­eas. Its his­tory is ever present with the fire­places, Georgian pan­elling and plen­ti­ful win­dow seats. And the Wick­steads have left their own le­gacy, adding to the story of this house – Myles com­piled the Gov­ern­ment’s 1997 White Pa­per on world poverty from his study at The Manor House.

Al­though pleas­ing to see it as one com­plete build­ing again, there are plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to cre­ate sep­a­rate liv­ing spa­ces. The fi­nal piece of the jig­saw fell into place when the Wick­steads bought the last flat which oc­cu­pied a cen­tral area on the first floor. Apart from tak­ing out an old kitchen the cou­ple have left it un­touched and it’s ripe for an ex­cit­ing project. All the rooms con­tained within are big and one in par­tic­u­lar has a beau­ti­ful old fire­place with win­dows look­ing out across the grounds. It must have been a very grand Tu­dor room at one time.

Af­ter ex­plor­ing the house we go back to the gar­den and be­hind a yew hedge (which is old enough to be listed) there’s an­other huge lawn.

The cou­ple re­call a happy mem­ory of a party, when they had 90 peo­ple stay­ing for a week­end, 30 in the house and the chil­dren camped out on this lawn.

De­spite their trav­els, which in­cluded a pe­riod of time liv­ing in the United States when Myles served on the Board of the World Bank, the cou­ple, and their chil­dren Ed­ward and Kathryn, see this place as their home.

“The chil­dren knew that Nor­ton was their home,” says She­lagh. “I def­i­nitely wanted them to go to the vil­lage school – Ed­ward was known as ‘the Amer­i­can boy’. He was al­ways thrilled to bits to come home and go to the vil­lage school for a month at a time.”

We fin­ish with an­other cof­fee and the cou­ple talk about the early days when they’d come back to The Manor House for the week­end and would sit

in the court­yard, catch­ing up over a glass of wine with their neigh­bours who lived in the other flats.

Now that Ed­ward and Kathryn have left home, they want to move on, but will it be hard to leave this house?

They con­fess that they couldn’t live any­where else in the vil­lage, such is their per­sonal at­tach­ment to The Manor House.

It’s time for fur­ther trav­els for the Wick­steads, but in The Manor House they’ve left a new ad­ven­ture for some­one to ex­plore.

The Manor House at Nor­ton­sub-Ham­don is for sale at £1.35 mil­lion. En­quiries should be made to Ash­ley Rawl­ings at Sav­ills Wim­borne on 01202 856 800.

‘Myles com­piled the Gov­ern­ment’s 1997 White Pa­per on world poverty from his study’

ABOVE:She­lagh and Myles Wick­stead TOP AND RIGHT:The ex­te­rior of The Manor House, Nor­ton-sub-Ham­don

ABOVE:The orig­i­nal fire­place in the en­trance hall

LEFT:One of the spa­cious bed­rooms FAR LEFT:The study where Myles com­piled the 1997 Gov­ern­ment White Pa­per Elim­i­nat­ingWorld Poverty: A Chal­lenge for the 21st Cen­tury

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