The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Movingon -

The emo­tional costs are high when a mar­riage comes un­stuck, but do spare a thought for a lov­ingly ren­o­vated home which also faces an un­cer­tain fu­ture in the process. Af­ter 19 years in Mil­borne Wick, on the Som­er­set-Dorset borders, Hen­ri­etta and Paul Stick­land have split up, so Mill Court, their farm­yard con­ver­sion in an acre of grounds, needs new own­ers.

Eight years ago, they were liv­ing a few hun­dred yards away in Mill Cot­tage, when they heard that the his­toric col­lec­tion of farm build­ings, which in­cludes a 16th-cen­tury cruck-framed barn, was on the mar­ket. With the A303 just 10 min­utes’ drive away and trains to Padding­ton in two hours from Cas­tle Cary sta­tion 20 min­utes away, they knew it would ap­peal... but to whom?

Their fears were well-founded; there was talk of a de­vel­oper itch­ing to turn the barn and out­build­ing — derelict for more than 30 years and, re­mark­ably, not listed — into four homes.

From this vil­lage, three miles from Sher­borne, Hen­ri­etta, 42, ran Ragged Bears Pub­lish­ing, spe­cial­is­ing in works by new writ­ers and il­lus­tra­tors and also re-is­su­ing chil­dren’s clas­sics. Paul, 51, was a chil­dren’s il­lus­tra­tor, au­thor and pop-up book en­gi­neer. Both loved Mil­borne Wick, with its work­ing farms and pas­toral time­less­ness.

Un­der the nose of the cir­cling jack­als, they stepped in and bought Mill Court in 2000 with­out plan­ning con­sent. “It was too spe­cial a place to com­pro­mise,” says Hen­ri­etta, who bought it as a place to keep their horses and ponies rather than as a fam­ily home for Felix, 14, twins Gus and Kit, 13, and six-year-old Arthur.

They also agreed to a covenant — which is still in place — that, should they de­velop the farm­yard in the fu­ture, it would be as a sin­gle dwelling. Sta­bling horses and stor­ing hay there, they got to know the place and did be­gin to won­der if they could live there.

In 2002, Paul, who is an ac­com­plished self-builder, hatched an imag­i­na­tive scheme for the barn and build­ings, which was ap­proved, en­abling him to start work a year later af­ter sell­ing their home nearby for £750,000.

They moved in with the build­ing work pro­gress­ing around them. The for­mer milk­ing shed, which looks out over the iron-age earth­work dom­i­nat­ing the vil­lage to the east, is now a vast kitchen and liv­ing area, from where you can see sheep graz­ing on the hill. As well as five bed­rooms, there is a north-lit stu­dio with views over the for­mal gar­den that Paul has cre­ated.

Res­i­den­tial plan­ning is still in place to ex­tend the house to the west of the stu­dio to cre­ate 4,000sq ft of of­fices and garages, but it is the barn that re­mains the most in­trigu­ing prospect. With its but­tressed walls, two mighty doors, gal­leried ceil­ing and no up­per floors, it is a build­ing of cathe­dral pro­por­tions, so much so that Paul and Hen­ri­etta did lit­tle more than fix the roof and sta­bilise it.

“We never got fur­ther than that and, in truth, we rather en­joyed it for what it has al­ways been... a won­der­ful barn,” says Paul. “But be­cause it’s not listed, whoever takes it on has enor­mous flex­i­bil­ity. Per­mis­sion al­lows for a truly mas­sive liv­ing space for four more bed­rooms over three floors, which, while re­tain­ing the tra­di­tional ap­pear­ance, al­lows you to re­place an en­tire end wall with a huge, glazed oak frame to flood light in from the hill be­hind it. I am amazed we got th­ese con­sents — it al­lows you to do so much.”

So what next? Charles Bladon, of Jack­son-Stops & Staff, thinks noth­ing too dras­tic: “I would say the right peo­ple will buy Mill Court. Those that have viewed it have said they would leave the barn as it is or turn it into a stu­dio or li­brary — none have talked about adding floors and five bed­rooms.”

If this is the out­come, the So­ci­ety for the Pro­tec­tion of An­cient Build­ings will give three cheers. Matthew Slo­combe, its deputy sec­re­tary, says: “It is ex­tremely hard — if not im­pos­si­ble — to save much of the char­ac­ter of an old farm build­ing, which had an in­dus­trial use, if you add do­mes­tic ser­vices and try to live in it.”

Jonny Beard­sall Mill Court is on the mar­ket for £1.2mil­lion through Jack­son Stops & Staff 01935 810141; www.jack­son-stops.co.uk

Mov­ing on: Hen­ri­etta Strick­land (left) and the farm con­ver­sion she ren­o­vated with hus­band Paul be­fore their sep­a­ra­tion

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