The mu­ral’s re­stored, but the rest is a blank can­vas

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

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.”

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