WRECK OF THE WEEK
7 The Gardens, Rousdon Estate, Lyme Regis, Dorset
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