7 The Gar­dens, Rous­don Es­tate, Lyme Regis, Dorset

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Inside Track - Har­riot Lane Fox

Sir Henry Peek was the very model of a Vic­to­rian phi­lan­thropist. He made his for­tune in tea, served as MP for Mid-Sur­rey and thwarted an at­tempt by Princess Diana’s great-great un­cle, the 5th Earl Spencer, to en­close and build on a large part of Wim­ble­don Com­mon. It is thanks to Sir Henry that Wombles and dog-walk­ers still have the run of its 1,000 acres. He is also thought to have ini­ti­ated hot school din­ners in this coun­try, be­liev­ing chil­dren couldn’t learn un­less they were well fed.

As the new squire, Sir Henry built a school for Rous­don af­ter buy­ing the vil­lage in 1870. Then he com­mis­sioned ar­chi­tect Ernest Ge­orge to de­sign him a man­sion. Ge­orge favoured red brick and ter­ra­cotta and an ex­u­ber­ant Vic­to­rian neo-Tu­dor style (Ed­win Lu­tyens was an ap­pren­tice in his prac­tice).

Sir Henry’s es­tate be­came a charm­ing, Tu­doresque, mini-new town with bake­houses, larders, and a walled gar­den to fill them; china stores, a laun­dry, coach-houses and a chapel. There was even a bowl­ing al­ley, ri­fle range and mu­seum. His son, Cuth­bert, em­ployed an as­tronomer for the ob­ser­va­tory.

The Peeks’ en­joy­ment of their king­dom, in its nowl­isted “de­signed land­scape” 500ft above the sea, was brief. Sir Cuth­bert died in 1901, three years af­ter his fa­ther. By 1937, the fam­ily no longer lived at Rous­don and sold it to All­hal­lows School. Apart from putting up some ugly, new build­ings in in­ap­pro­pri­ate places, as schools do, All­hal­lows made re­mark­ably few changes. Hence the ker­fuf­fle among the con­ser­va­tion­ists when it closed in 1998 and this gem was sold to in­vestors.

East Devon Dis­trict Coun­cil has rig­or­ously con­trolled de­vel­op­ment and use of the build­ings, while de­mand­ing the re­moval of eye­sores and restora­tion of the walled gar­den. In its hey­day, the es­tate had a pop­u­la­tion of 600; now, there are about 100 homes. One of the last un­fin­ished con­ver­sions, 7 The Gar­dens, is for sale. Richard Pit­ten­drigh, of agency Martin Di­plock, is an All­hal­lows old boy and re­mem­bers teach­ers liv­ing in the end-of-ter­race, sin­gle-storey cot­tage. There is per­mis­sion to turn it into a four-bed­room house by ex­ca­vat­ing a lower floor that will lead out to the gar­den.

“At the mo­ment, you come through the front door to see a big hole in the ground,” says Mr Pit­ten­drigh. “The ven­dors have re­built the front wall and at­tended to parts of the roof, but that’s about it.”

They es­ti­mate it would take £30,000 to com­plete the project (al­though you can see the TV ren­o­va­tion pun­dits shak­ing their heads, es­pe­cially as the plans in­clude a strik­ing glass roof over the dou­ble-height liv­ing area). But Rous­don is a spe­cial place; it’s in an Area of Out­stand­ing Nat­u­ral Beauty, pro­tected by a belt of farm­land in which all the res­i­dents own a share, and with ac­cess to a private beach. Good rea­sons for stretch­ing the bud­get.

7 The Gar­dens, Rous­don Es­tate, Lyme Regis, Dorset is avail­able for £225,000 through Martin Di­plock (01297 445500; www.mar­tindiplock.co.uk).

Work in progress: 7 The Gar­dens

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