The mural’s restored, but the rest is a blank canvas
Dickens, who visited the property in 1854, performing a private reading of his work in the drawing room. The local council bought the house in the Thirties for use as Lord Digby’s Grammar School for Girls, before leasing it to an arts group in 1992.
Fifteen years later, the house was put on the market once more after plans to turn it into an arts centre fell through. Local developer Redcliffe Homes secured planning permission in 2011 to build 44 houses in the manor’s former walled garden. The house itself was included in the deal. “Part of our arrangement with the council was that we would refurbish and do all the structural work for Sherborne House as well,” says Tom O’Connor, Redcliffe’s managing director. “It was in a pretty sad and sorry state.”
The 44 houses are complete and Sherborne House has been bolstered from within. “It needed fairly major work to the roof and the main walls,” O’Connor says. “All of the structural walls were in considerable disrepair, and all the beadwork had to be taken off the roof and renewed.” Now that the core work has been done, the building is in “very fine fettle,” he says. “All of the windows have been overhauled, and it has got lots of light and space.”
David Foot, a director at Chesters Commercial, says the house represents an exciting project for the right buyer. “It’s important that we find someone who loves the building, and is going to do what’s best for it,” he says.
“It will be a labour of love. If it were a concrete/glass structure, the costs would be far lower – whoever takes this on will have to do the work incredibly sympathetically, and clearly that is going to come at a cost. This isn’t a quick-fix deal.”
The house in its current state is a blank canvas, Foot says, ready to be decorated according to the tastes of the new owner – be they an owner-occupier or a commercial venture. But there’s one element of the property that is far from blank: the staircase is surrounded by a Baroque mural depicting a scene from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It was painted by Sir James Thornhill, better known for his work on the murals of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral and on the ceiling of the Great Hall at Blenheim Palace.
The Sherborne mural has been painstakingly restored by Richard Pelter’s team at International Fine Art Conservation Studios. “The biggest amount of damage was in the floor above, where there was quite a lot of woodworm,” Pelter says. “During the Victorian period they’d built a fireplace in that particular room, which we took out and stabilised, and then stabilised the ceiling itself.” His team is usually
For the buyer with a little more in their pocket, a modern four-bedroom property between Dorchester and Weymouth, with landscaped gardens and a swimming pool, is on the market for £1.8million with estate agency Domvs, while eight miles from Sherborne, in East Coker, an eight-bedroom farmhouse with 50 acres and extensive equestrian facilities is listed with Symonds & Sampson for £1.875 million.
In comparison, “Sherborne House is being sold as a large contemporary townhouse with easy access to everything and minimal maintenance,” says Ben Horne from Middleton Advisors. “Each type of property attracts a very different type of buyer.”
The size, presentation, and scale of Sherborne House fits the “big house” rural market, but without land, it can’t really compete, says Foot. “Historically, if you wanted a big house in the West Country, you could expect it to be in some parkland setting, but I think that trend is changing, given the success of Poundbury. I wouldn’t dismiss the fact that just because it hasn’t got any land it means that someone wouldn’t want a large, grand house.”