A significant country house re-emerges from obscurity, this prestigious Grade II* listed mansion stands in a parkland setting with far reaching views across the Trent and Witham Valleys.
A lot has been said about the views from Harmston Hall, on the Lincoln Cliff overlooking the River Witham. From its parkland, on a clear day, you can see the Derbyshire Hills, some 60 miles or so away. This spectacle is foremost in the estate agent’s selling brief, along with the floors – oak floors, oak floors inlaid with mahogany detailing, and lots of pine floors. Yes. A lot has been made about the wooden floors here.
The oddest thing is that outside the North Kesteven district of Lincolnshire, not many people have heard of Harmston Hall. The fact that it has re-emerged from obscurity is due to it being offered on the open market at Savills with a guide price of £3.45 million.
The land on which it stands once belonged to the Thorold family, resident here since 1456. The present Queen Anne house was started by Sir Charles Thorold (1655-1709), but it was his younger brother, Sir George Thorold who completed it in about 1710. The mansion became the summer retreat of the Lord Mayor of London, a man who acquired a baronetcy and distinguished title ten years later. Sir George added a tall north front to the house, but this was pulled down in 1892 when the family departed Harmston Hall for good.
The buyer was William Henry Morton, a farmer, magistrate and county alderman, who, in 1892, spent a considerable sum of money altering the house, employing Lincoln architects William Mortimer and his son, William Malkinson Mortimer, to carry out the designs. A new front was created in the same style as the original building, incorporating a new entrance and porch, surmounted by a tower. The roof was stripped of its tiles and recovered in green slate, while new windows were added to the upper storeys. Inside, all the rooms were completely renovated, but despite his extravagance, Morton only stayed at Harmston Hall for six years.
The estate was sold in 1898 to Nathaniel Clayton Cockburn, a grandson of Nathaniel Clayton, a Lincoln iron founder. Its new owner was a military man, a Major in the Imperial Yeomanry, who ended up serving in Palestine during World War One. Cockburn died in 1924 and its big rooms briefly became the domain of his sister.
The inevitability was that Harmston Hall was far too big and expensive to maintain. Therefore, it was no surprise when it was sold to the Lincolnshire Board for the Mentally Defective, who opened it as a ‘Colony for Mental Defectives’ in 1935… and consigned the country house to decades of bleak insignificance. Just imagine the despairing shrieks from the inmates echoing through those long corridors. This was a time when Britain wasn’t particularly good at dealing with mental health… many of its occupants probably shouldn’t have been there at all. The hospital was eventually absorbed into the National Health Service (NHS) and buildings spread across the parklands.
Harmston Hall Hospital later became an administrative block and closed for good in 1989.
As always happened, the abandoned hospital was left to decay – broken windows, leaking roof, rotten floors and ceilings – its former institutional use adding to the air of dereliction.
Its saviour was Peter Sowerby, a local property developer, who bought the estate in 1996. There were probably those who thought him mad enough to have been one of the hospital’s former residents. However, when Sowerby flattened the hospital outbuildings and built a new housing development, there appeared to be some wisdom attached to him after all. He doubled the population of Harmston and transformed the quiet village into an important commuter settlement for Lincoln.
Decisively, Harmston Hall itself was restored and turned back into a family home over a period of ten years. In 2008, it was on the market for £4.5 million, considerably more than the guide price being asked for today.
There are few signs of its former use. The house is entered through a panelled entrance lobby with stone flooring. This leads into a Reception Hall, complete with Rococo chimneypiece, Georgian fanlight doorways and Ionic columns in front of the staircase. The principal rooms include the main Drawing Room, along with a former Ballroom (complete with the oak flooring and inlaid mahogany detailing). The Dining Room and yellow Sitting Room all have original Queen Anne wooden panelling with pine and oak floors respectively. An ornate Billiards Room is embellished with mahogany panelling, carvings, huge mahogany doors along with decorative cornices, and, of course, more oak flooring. Upstairs there are seven primary bedrooms.
Being a former Historic Formula 1 Champion, it is no surprise that Sowerby has also included garaging for 20 cars. The big difference from its former existence as a country house is the addition of both an indoor and outdoor swimming pool.
The Grade II* listed house stands within 13-acres of land, including a terraced garden with those spectacular views, and a further 30-acres of former parkland available separately.
John Lloyd Davies inherited one of Wales’ largest estates when he was ten-years-old. He died at 28, having squandered his fortune, and leaving behind a series of ‘dubious’ wills
On the market at Savills with a guide price of £800,000 is Alltyrodyn Mansion, a substantial three storey late Georgian Grade II* listed country house. It is thought to date from about 1827, built in the style of the architect John Nash and retaining many of the original features throughout including decorative plasterwork.
The house, at Capel Dewi, near Llandysul in Ceredigion, was rebuilt for the Lloyd family, owners since the early 17th century, either for David Lloyd (1748-1822) or John Lloyd (d. 1841). According to the 1873 return of owners of land, this estate was once the sixth largest in the county, part of an estimated 6,877 acres of land owned by John Lloyd Davies (1850-1878) in Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire.
And it is to this person that we focus on the house’s most infamous years, a young man whose eventual death caused scandal and turmoil in the courts.
John Lloyd Davies was born in October 1850 and married in July 1872, shortly after reaching his majority. He became a rich man, possessing real estate in Cardiganshire and other Welsh counties, yielding a rental income of about £4,000 a year. The property he inherited at Alltyrodyn was derived through the old Welsh Lloyd family, long settled in Cardiganshire. The last of the line, John Lloyd, died unmarried and devised the estates to a female cousin, Anne Stewart, who survived her husband. After his death she married a man called John Davies (later called Lloyd Davies), a servant at a hotel in the neighbourhood in which she resided. He was her junior and considered to be illiterate, but before marrying him she had him educated.
The issue of this marriage was one child, a son, Arthur Lloyd Davies. He married Adelaide Lacy, the daughter of a publican, and he died in 1852, leaving surviving him his widow (who subsequently remarried) and two children, John Lloyd Davies and Ann Justina Lloyd, later Mrs Massey. John Lloyd Davies Sr survived his wife. He re-married and died in 1860, leaving surviving him two young sons – Hardwick Lloyd Davies and Powell Lloyd Davies. Though having only a life interest in the Alltyodyn estates, he dealt with them as if he were the owner in fee and disposed of them by will.
The consequence was a suit in Chancery in which 10-year-old John Lloyd Davies Jr inherited his estate, but managed by trustees until the child reached his majority. He became acquainted with James Allen, then a Chancery managing clerk and later a member of a firm of solicitors called Eyre and Co, of Bedford Row, London, who acted in his interest.
Lloyd Davies Jr gained full control of his estate at the age of 21, but was of an obstinate and intractable disposition and though gifted, with considerable intellectual power, had little inclination to study. When aged 20 he formed a relationship with Miss Susannah Crowhurst, a ballet-dancer at the Alhambra Theatre, and in April 1872, shortly after reaching 21, made provision for her in the first of a series of wills he executed. He gave her a legacy of £1,000 and an annuity of the same as well as a legacy of £5,000 to Mr Allen. He devised his real estates to his uncles by half-blood, Powell Lloyd Davies and Hardwick Lloyd Davies, in succession.
He married Miss Crowhurst the following July, and the will having been revoked, was revived by codicil, in which the gifts to her were made as to his wife. In June 1873, he executed a second will, and by it he increased the annuity to his wife to £2,000 and the legacy to Mr Allen to £10,000, leaving the remaining parts of the will unaltered. Lloyd Davies subsequently added further codicils, including adding a further £10,000 to Mr Allen’s legacy.
Shortly after the marriage Lloyd Davies needed money and mortgaged his estates to pay succession duties and supply his extravagances. He made a trip to South Africa to hunt ‘big game’ and visit the diamond fields. He sailed, leaving behind James Allen as power of attorney. He returned in 1874, but during absence had written several interesting letters of his adventure to Mr Allen, signing himself ‘your sincere and affectionate friend’.
On his return he went to live with Mr and Mrs Dewdney in Regent’s Park (and would later include them in his wills). Lloyd Davies needed more money and sold a portion of his landed property raising about £75,000.
About this time, James Allen’s relationship with his wife had deteriorated, and he thought it necessary to leave London for a considerable time. He was still a clerk, though admitted an attorney at Eyre and Co, of which he didn’t become a member until 1877. He made known his difficulties to John Lloyd Davies, who placed at his disposal a gift of £10,000. The marriage subsequently collapsed, and Allen stayed away from London.
In the meantime, John Lloyd Davies had stretched himself financially after dealings with a man named Morgan, a horse dealer, with whom he had entered into partnership. In 1875, he left his wife for America, visiting New York, and the Niagara Falls. He then journeyed into the far West, hunting in the Rocky Mountains, visiting the gold digging sites in California, and finally San Francisco.
On his return to Alltyrodyn he communicated for the first time with his sister, Ann, who visited his wife and became very friendly with her. A codicil was made by which she and her children were benefited to the extent of £300 a year. However, John Lloyd Davies developed pulmonary consumption and sought medical advice in London. His sister, perhaps sensing what might lay ahead, suggested that the estates, upon his death, go to her children, also his wife’s diamonds and jewellery. This so enraged him that he made another codicil, leaving her nothing. In the final will all the estates were given to James Allen, his most intimate friend, a legacy of £1,000 to his wife, in addition to an annuity of £2,500 per year during widowhood. By now, he had strained relationships with his family – particularly from his uncles, because their guardian would not allow them to associate with him.
He died in May 1878 aged 28. In opposition to the claim for probate, his sister and brother-in-law, Mr and Mrs Massey, alleged that the execution of the final will had been obtained by the undue influence and fraud of Mr Allen, and that at the date of the execution of the wills and codicils, John Lloyd Davies was not of sound mind.
In the end, James Allen’s name was struck out of the will of 1858, by which all other wills were revoked, and was instead given the sum of £5,000, presumably in aid of legal expenses. John Lloyd Davies’ sister, Ann Massey, became the possessor of the Alltyrodyn estates, a situation that caused bemusing celebrations at Llandysul. ‘The brass band marched through the town, followed by the drum and fife band in uniform; The Church bells rang, and bonfires, illuminations and other signs of rejoicings were prominent objects at night’.
However, in 1881, the former estates of John Lloyd Davies – Alltyrodyn, Blaendyffryn and Heolddu -were put up for sale by Ann Massey to settle outstanding debts. The mansion was later bought by Captain James Stewart (1830-1908), JP, DL, the second son of Mr Alexander Stewart, of Woodford Hall, Essex. He was a captain in the Royal Madras Horse Artillery and served in the Indian Mutiny. He married Louisa Charlotte Butler, a daughter of James Butler of the Indian Army. His son, Douglas Dormer Stewart, inherited the estate and the house remained with the family until the mid-20th century.
These days, events at Alltryodyn are much quieter and has been home to the current owner for many years.
A stunning portico entrance leads through double doors into the grand reception hall with exposed floorboards and a fireplace providing a warm focal point. A door leads off to the left and dining room with fireplace, and views across the front of the house. On the right of the reception hall is the drawing room again with fireplace, full-length mirror in frame and views across the front gardens. A doorway with fan lights over leads through from the hall to the inner hall with moulded stair hall cornice and staircase. On the right of the inner hall is a small reception room/extra bedroom. Beyond is the impressive ball room with cornice, arched recesses each end, flanked by matching display alcoves and built in cupboards and views across the side gardens. On the opposite side of the floor, the inner hall leads past the pantry, a cosy snug/office with fireplace, access to the wine cellar and through to the kitchen breakfast room with white Aga set in stone surround. A scullery and larder are situated off the kitchen together with a side entrance leading to the rear courtyard.
There are fourteen bedrooms in total, offering purchasers an opportunity to acquire one of the famous houses of Wales either as a home and/or to explore other commercial avenues including boutique B&B, hotel, wedding venue etc (of course, subject to planning permission).
“Where the house at Findon Place, or the Manor House as it used to be called, now stands, there had doubtless been a house for many hundred years, and it is probable that Edward I spent many a night here.”
Findon Place is a stunning example of classical Georgian architecture. It has an extensive and rich history and is listed Grade II* due to its architectural and historical merit. The present house was largely built in the mid-18th century by John Cheale, Norroy King at Arms. It occupies the site of the original Manor House, and some parts of the present building date back to the reign of Henry VII, if not earlier. It is now on the market at Knight Frank with a guide price of £6 million.
At the time of Edward the Confessor, the lands at Findon were in the possession of Harold, the last of the Saxon Kings, who was succeeded in the ownership of Findon (then called Fine-dune) by William de Braose, who as a kinsman of the Duke of Normandy is said to have received no fewer than forty gifts of property from William the Conqueror. At the time the estate equated to a 15,000-acre deer park.
Findon Place stayed in the hands of the Braose family until 1317 when William VIII gave the house to his daughter Aline and her husband John de Mowbray.
The new family ownership of John de Mowbray was cut short as he was beheaded in York in 1322 after being part of the revolt against the Crown. The King granted a licence in 1324 to allow Aline, the ability to grant the manor to Hugh de Spenser.
Findon Place was then in the hands of the Crown from 1525 until 1538, when Richard Rich obtained a licence and passed on the tenure to Thomas Cromwell. During Cromwell’s ownership, a larger house was constructed over the medieval foundations. There is still evidence of one of the grand chimneys between the present kitchen and the sitting room, which is now blocked off.
Edward Shelley was passed the house in 1541 from Cromwell, and it remained in the Shelley family until 1604.
Coming to later times we find Findon Place held by John Cheale, Norroy King of Arms in the reign of George IV, who rebuilt most of the house before passing it to his nephew, William Green, a friend of the Sovereign who, when Prince of Wales, often visited Findon from Brighton, for the excellent shooting on the estate. Green’s devisees in trust reserved twenty acres and the sepulchral Chapel, in the Church, and sold the remainder to William Richardson.
William Richardson bought the house in the 18th Century and was married to Mary Margesson, the eldest daughter of John Margesson of Offington, who died without issue and the property was bequeathed to a cousin, William Westbrook Richardson, himself the son of Frances, second daughter of John Margesson.
It was soon after his arrival in 1787 that the house was restored, and the reception rooms rebuilt. After his death in 1801, his widow built the big room to the west end of the house.
Findon Place was later sold to Lieutenant-Colonel William George Margesson in 1872, who added a storey to the east wing, which improved the servant accommodation. He also built a reservoir holding 15,000 gallons on the hillside. However, Margesson died in 1911 and his two sons died in the First World War, leaving no heirs.
During the early years of the 20th century the house was let and one of the occupiers, Mr E.J. Spencer, carried out several extensive internal improvements, embracing among other things an electric lighting plant, heating, drainage and septic tank, additional bathrooms, panelling to several reception rooms, a new reservoir holding 45,000 gallons, new croquet lawn and two tennis lawns.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Findon Place was let to the Savills and then to the Hartridges, who eventually bought it. John Hartridge sold it to Keith Middlemas, who in 1972, sold it to John Young.
The oldest part of the present house are the cellars, which were originally the base of the medieval house. The hard stone foundations, laid about 1200-1300, can be seen and a cut chalk and red mortar wall from before 1300.
The property is beautifully set back from the lane, with a stone gravel drive. The accommodation is well proportioned and arranged over four floors. Of note are the three principle reception rooms, which have extraordinary high ceilings.
The house has been adapted for modern day living with a great balance between formal and informal areas and maintains the ability to entertain on a grand scale. The bedrooms are arranged over two upper floors and as expected are well proportioned. On the first floor there are six principal bedrooms served by four bathrooms, including a generous master suite with bedroom, bathroom and dressing room. The second floor is served by a separate staircase and provides more flexible accommodation with a kitchenette, five bedrooms and two bathrooms giving the ability to create a separate apartment for staff or guests.
The gardens provide the most glorious setting and have been laid out to create a high degree of privacy and protection. They include a mixture of high flint walls, herbaceous borders, mature trees and areas of level lawns. There is a range of additional outbuildings including stables, garden stores and a hexagonal room. They also include a heated outdoor swimming pool and tennis court. The grounds extend to approximately 52 acres and is a mixture of pasture and woodland.
A secretive house built on the riches of West Indian sugar plantations and slavery
Country Life magazine describes this house as ‘a fitting addition to the market in Humphry Repton’s bicentenary year’. Dullingham House, near Newmarket, Cambridgeshire, is being marketed by Savills with a guide price of £2.75 million.
The country house is understood to have been built for Sir Christopher Jeaffreson in the early part of the 18th Century – possibly on the site of an earlier house and is a fine example of red brick Georgian architecture, with patterned burnt headers beneath a slate roof.
A look into the history of Dullingham House shows it was likely constructed from the riches of sugar and the slave trade.
In 1878, two volumes entitled A Young Squire of the Seventeenth Century, edited by John Cordy Jeaffreson, made up from the papers of Christopher Jeaffreson (1676-1686) of Dullingham House, were published.
Within these volumes we learn that Christopher Jeaffreson was born in 1650, and that he was in his seventy-fifth year when he died at Dullingham House.
His father was a ‘fortunate adventurer’, one John Jeaffreson, became a landed proprietor in St. Christopher’s Island, and obtained the title of Colonel from his command of the militia on the island. The Colonel became a rich man and among other estates in England, where he spent the last years of his life, he acquired ‘the manorial property and farms pertaining to Dullingham House in 1656 (from the infant Sir Richard Wingfield), so that his son Christopher, the ‘young squire’, on reaching the age of 22, at which he succeeded to his inheritance, ‘had the revenue of an affluent country gentleman, apart from the rents of his West Indian property’.
Christopher married soon afterwards, but his wife soon died, leaving him a disconsolate widower. He set out on a voyage to St. Kitts ‘in order that he might settle and restore his estate on the island’. He ended up staying five years in the West Indies, where he worked energetically as a planter and merchant, and took an active political interest in the colony.
On his death in 1725, the estates in the West Indies and Suffolk passed to another Christopher Jeaffreson, M.P. (1699-1749), the man thought responsible for building the Dullingham House we see today.
At a by-election in 1744 he was returned unopposed for Cambridge on the interest of his friend, Samuel Shepheard. He was replaced by Shepheard at the general election of 1747, but on Shepheard’s death the next year was again returned. He died in 1749, according to William Cole, the Cambridge antiquary, ‘from too much drinking, which brought him into a consumption. He was one of the tallest men I ever saw’.
When Sir Christopher died in 1749, the estate, its new house and small pleasure ground passed to his son, also Christopher, who remained at Dullingham until his death in 1788. His only son, Colonel Christopher Jeaffreson inherited and in 1799 called in Humphry Repton (1752-1818) to give advice on the alteration of the grounds.
Christopher Jeaffreson died in 1824, and the estate passed to his daughter Harriet, who married William Pigot in 1827. Their son, Christopher William Pigot, born in 1836, took the name of Robinson in 1857 under an inheritance from his maternal grandmother. In 1870 he married Mary Marianne Mariana Dunn-Gardner, the eldest daughter of John Dunn-Gardner, MP, DL, JP of Chatteris, and sister of Algernon Dunn-Gardner, of Denton Hall, Suffolk.
When Christopher Robinson died in 1889, Mary Robinson, a lady of peculiarly fine character, had a high sense of duty and took her responsibilities as the owner of a large estate very seriously, frequently lending the grounds of Dullingham House for flower shows and fetes.
Mary Robinson lived at Dullingham until she died, aged ninety-one, in 1939. The estate then descended to her half-brother’s daughter, Miriam Leader, who sold it in 1947 to Frederick Boyton Taylor (1894-1959). His son, Peter Boyton Taylor (1921-1996), divided up the property, the house, gardens and park being purchased by Angela Tomkins who, together with her father, developed the park as a race-horse stud.
In 1994 the House and its immediate grounds were purchased by Sir Martin and Lady Nourse and the stable courtyard developed for private housing.
Dullingham House is Grade II listed as being of Historical and Architectural interest. The property has been the subject of various additions and alterations over the centuries – at one point (according to the listing) it is described as having had ‘two projecting cross wings to the east and west which were substantially reduced in the 1950’s to be replaced by flanking, shaped walls’. The façade looked very different in Victorian times with altered fenestration, and according to Savills, the top floor was added about 1900 by Mary Robinson. Indeed, there were dormer windows on the upper floor before subsequent alterations resulted in the existing elevations.
Apart from the normal reception rooms, Dullingham House has eight bedrooms and comes with the Repton ‘pleasure’ grounds and walled gardens, set within 8-acres.
“It is the kind of house that takes a lot of living up to,” Evelyn Waugh wrote in his diary, as if rehearsing his favourite role as country squire
The selling point for Piers Court, on the market at Knight Frank with a £3 million guide price, is its connection with Evelyn Waugh, the author of Brideshead Revisited, who lived here between 1937 and 1956.
Notwithstanding, Piers Court at Stinchcombe, near Dursley, has a history going back much farther. The Grade II* listed house stands on the site of a medieval manor of that name burned down by Parliamentary troops searching for Prince Rupert on his march from Cirencester to Berkeley Castle (about six miles away) in 1645. Piers Court, a safe house for Royalists, was owned by the wealthy land and mill owning Pynffold family who remained for 150 years.
According to Historic England, the remains of the earlier building were incorporated into an 18th century property which is the house we see today.
Evelyn Waugh was born in Hampstead in 1903, the second son of Arthur Waugh, who was a contributor to The Yellow Book, an essayist and a publisher. He was educated at Lancing and Hertford College, Oxford, and, like many other writers, he taught in a private school for a time. His first novel, Decline and Fall, was published in 1928 and he followed it with nine years of travel which included the Arctic, tropical America and Abyssinia. He became a Roman Catholic in 1939 and had a varied war service, including membership of the British Military Mission to Yugoslavia in 1944. He married Laura, a daughter of Colonel Aubrey Herbert, an MP for Yeovil, in 1937 and settled at Piers Court, where he collected books. His novels included Decline and Fall (1928), Vile Bodies (1930), Black Mischief (1932), A Handful of Dust (1934), Scoop (1938), Put Out More Flags (1942), Brideshead Revisited (1945), The Loved One (1948), Helena (1950) and Men at Arms (1952).
Evelyn Waugh bought Piers Court for £3,600 in 1937, having been given the money by his future parents-in-law, in readiness for his marriage to Laura Herbert, his second wife. (His first marriage to Evelyn Gardner had been annulled in 1926).
The outbreak of war meant their stay at Piers Court was cut short. The Waugh’s let the house to a convent school for £600 a year in October 1939, Laura moved to Pixton Park in Somerset, and Evelyn served with the Army in Crete and Yugoslavia. It wasn’t until September 1945 that they returned.
There are contradictory stories about Evelyn Waugh’s feelings towards Piers Court. He was initially said to have ‘fallen in love’ with the house; his son, Auberon Waugh, later recalled in his book Will This Do? how he and his siblings knew “the front of the house belonged strictly to my father . . . one detected his presence as soon as we walked into the pretty hall, with its white and black stone floor and glass chandelier”. The enforced absence might have been responsible for his later abating attitude regarding Piers Court.
Frances Donaldson, in Evelyn Waugh – Portrait of a Country Neighbour, wrote in 1968:
“I always loved the drawing-room at Piers Court. The rest of the house was a question of taste – Evelyn’s taste. Personally, I became very fond of that too, but I could understand why other people disliked it. Evelyn liked dark surfaces and pattern, heavy furniture, silver and glass. There was much that was Victorian in the house, but his taste was masculine and, although the house was enlivened with personal eccentricities, it was genuinely of the period.
“In his library the carved shelves were built out in bays as they are in a public library and painted dark green, but it was a big room and the effect was rather beautiful while this arrangement provided room for his collection of books. The dining-room was sombre but the hall, staircase and landing above were light and elegant. The whole house right down to the Abyssinian paintings in the gentlemen’s lavatory was uniquely different from any other house I have ever been in.
“The drawing-room into which we were shown on that first night spoke as much of Laura as of Evelyn. They both loved and had considered knowledge of fine furniture and they bought eighteenth-century pieces when they could afford to. On the walls hung pictures from Evelyn’s collection of Victorian painters including the Augustus Egg of two girls in a boat, and I remember with vivid affection the faded green velvet curtains banded with chintz which hung in the circular bay window and the cushions which they had bought in a country house sale. On this night a fire burned in the grate and the chintz-covered chairs and sofa were reassuring.”
According to Knight Frank, much can be learnt about Evelyn Waugh and his time spent at Piers Court from his diary entries and the letters he wrote to his friends, many of whom were noted intellectuals in the twentieth century.
Ironically, it was also Knight, Frank and Rutley who handled the sale of Piers Court when the Waughs tired of the house. The official line was that Evelyn had, in June 1955, received an unsolicited visit from Nancy Spain, a reporter from the Daily Express, demanding an interview. He showed her the door, but the damage had been done. Spain wrote up the episode and, within weeks, Waugh put Piers Court on the market. “I felt as if the house had been polluted,” he wrote to the estate agent, furious at the invasion of his privacy. “If you happen to meet a lunatic who wants to live in this ghastly area, please tell him.”
The truth about their departure was probably best summed up by Frances Donaldson:
“Whether or not I am right in my view, the happy days came to an end in 1956. Evelyn began to be restless, ostensibly because he believed the town of Dursley was creeping up to his gates, but really I think because he wished for change, to break the rut of boredom in which he was sunk.”
Various buyers came to light, among them a Colonel and a Sir Anthony Lindsay-Hogg, but it wasn’t until June 1956 that a Mrs Gadsden made an offer of £9,500 for Piers Court, which was accepted. The Waughs moved to a manor house at Combe Florey in Somerset where Evelyn died in 1966.
Piers Court is approached up a long drive, lined with high beech hedges.
According to Knight Frank, the house is extremely well presented and benefits from both an imposing, formal layout ideal for entertaining, yet to the rear of the property lies a homelier arrangement of rooms ideal for family living. Off the main entrance hall are the formal drawing room and library, both of which provide the grandeur that would be expected of a Georgian manor house.
Described by Country Life as a genial, pleasantly rambling family house with some 8,400sq ft of accommodation, including five reception rooms. There is also a kitchen/breakfast room with a beautiful beamed ceiling, tiled floor and lovely rustic feel. Upstairs there are eight bedrooms and six bathrooms … plus extensive attics and a one-bedroom staff wing.
The front garden is lawned with a circular clipped yew hedge encompassing an ornamental fountain. The secret garden is of particular note, with high clipped yew hedges and bordered by a stone wall. Gravel walkways lead to the Gothic edifice which was built by Evelyn Waugh when he was creating the gardens. The croquet lawn and tennis court are well screened by a high beech hedge which creates a corridor of alternating green and copper beech.
Piers Court has an array of deep beds which fill with colour in the spring and summer months. There are many garden components. The Coach House looks over the oval walled garden with ornamental ponds framed by careful planting. The park is arranged as pasture with parkland trees including horse chestnut, lime, oak and copper beech. Lying to the south of the parkland is further grassland divided by a hedgerow. A footpath crosses part of the land to the west of the house.
Of course, there have been a few owners since, and probably most traces of Evelyn Waugh’s existence have long-since disappeared. Back in 2004, the then-custodian revealed that his beloved library was long gone. “Under a previous owner, the library where Waugh wrote was shipped, piece by piece, to Texas, where it was supposed to be reconstructed as a museum but is still in packing cases.”
A supreme example of a property that has been fortunate enough to have been rescued and restored to its former glory
Tillycorthie is in the parish of Udney, three miles south of Pitmedden and about eleven miles north of Aberdeen. The house was built in 1911 for James Rollo Duncan, a local born entrepreneur, and is regarded as a fine example of a steel-reinforced concrete structure. Tillycorthie was built by James Scott and Son of Aberdeen, pioneers in this method of construction throughout England and the south of France. The house is now on the market at Savills with offers wanted over £1.5 million.
James Duncan (1860-1938) was born in the village of New Leeds, near Fraserburgh and had to earn his own living when he was only ten years of age. He became a herd boy, a farm worker, a herring fisherman, and later served his apprenticeship as a stonemason.
He had frequent periods of unemployment during the winter as a stonemason, and being an ambitious and enterprising youth, he went with a friend to Bolivia who had an uncle living there. He had no knowledge of mining but found work in a silver mine. He wasn’t content to be an employee working for someone else and started prospecting gold from a river bed. It wasn’t a profitable scheme and he had greater success as a building contractor where his practical experience as a stonemason proved invaluable.
Duncan could see that mining was the way forward and a prospecting expedition to the Andes was more successful. He struck rich tin deposits, and working at relatively low cost, was able to make money from the scheme. In 1900 he returned to Scotland but soon returned to Bolivia, carrying on at his old mine.
Steadily he developed his interests and remained for over 40 years. Adjoining mines were acquired, and Duncan soon became one of the country’s leading owners. He visited Scotland on several occasions, but it wasn’t until 1911 that he returned to take up permanent residence. Back in Bolivia, tin had once been practically worthless but had risen in value and was now a desirable commodity. Duncan spoke that at the end of a year’s working he paid back everything he owed, put the mine in good working order, and was still about £100,000 to the good.
For a time, Duncan rented the mansion house and estate of Tillery, alongside the Tillycorthie estate. While carrying on the farm at Tillery he found the house accommodation too limited and decided to have a new house built on lower more sheltered ground, about a quarter of a mile away. He hadn’t been the first to contemplate such a scheme, several years earlier Major Ross had considered building a house in the same place.
Duncan didn’t take part in public affairs, but nevertheless took great interest in the welfare of the county. He was the pioneer of the Kintore, Ellon and Ballater electricity schemes, and through Duncan’s Electricity Supply Company, the village of Udney was the first in the north east to have electricity.
He also built several properties including one as a wedding present for a daughter, the public hall and he made considerable use of the old Formartine and Buchan Railway, which his daughters used for getting to St Margaret’s school in Aberdeen. On occasion he was seen waving the train down from the side of the tracks on the rare occasion the girls were late. The line has long since been converted into a cycleway/footpath which winds its way through beautiful countryside.
Work started on Tillycorthie, situated beside a belt of woodland, in July 1911 and took just 12 months to complete, largely due to the nature of its construction. It was built in the style of a Spanish residence, from plans by John Cameron, an architect from Aberdeen.
Duncan wanted Tillycorthie to remind him of the Spanish-styling of his South American past. Hennebique’s British agent L.G. Mouchel published plans and a list of works in 1920, providing evidence that the hollow-walled construction is entirely in Mouchel-Hennebique ferro-concrete. With a lake of some two to three acres to the south-west, fringed with trees at the end furthest from the house, its picturesque situation added to its desirability as a country seat.
James Scott and Son, with a reputation of high-workmanship, were entrusted with the building of Scotland’s ‘first mansion house of reinforced concrete’. (It was not quite the first, Beachtower at Dundee, in 1874, and the Hydropathic at Melrose were earlier). Many tons of granite chips were secured from Stirlinghill quarry and were ground to the size required for making concrete. The material was taken to Tillycorthie and prepared using steel rods and compact, thick wire frames which formed an important part of the construction. The walls were practically double, with an air space between the outer and inner walls. In these cavities, enclosed in metal tubes, were the wires used for electric lighting.
In 1911, the use of so little woodwork in its construction was an innovation, and with electric wiring in its infancy, the risk of fire was reduced. The chief woodwork had been confined to the window frames, which were seasoned teak, strong, durable and neat in appearance.
In the central covered court, with a glass roof, a fountain played, and around it was a circular carriage drive and beds of flowers and evergreens. It is said that the central courtyard was originally chalked out from the turning circle of the Daimler motor car belonging to James Duncan’s wife, Isabella, with its huge South American teak glazed sliding doors providing shelter to the tropical plantings within.
The conservatory was filled with choice flowering plants at the south-east end of the house adjoining the drawing room. Brightness and beauty were the characteristics with views towards the south-west.
Adjoining the drawing room, along the east side of the house, were large bedrooms and adjoining bathrooms, taken from the Spanish custom of having the bathroom immediately adjoining the bedroom. The smoking room, sitting room, business room, morning room, and other accommodation formed the principal features of the east and north side of the building.
When Tillycorthie was built, much was made of the ventilation; the open spaces between the walls were carried up from the cellars, allowing a current of air to pass between the walls, as well as beneath the house. A deep trench was dug, extending around three sides of the house, where it was possible for people to walk, with drainage pipes underneath carrying off any water that found its way into the foundations. A current of air passed beneath the house, the entrance through a protected opening beneath the drawing room window giving ingress and egress from the east, and a similar opening to the other side of the house providing a similar function.
During construction, the Aberdeen Press and Journal described all the rooms as being lofty, with no stinting of air-space or light in any of the rooms, except to the south-west of the basement, where a somewhat extensive, low, comparatively dark space, could be utilised for the growing of mushrooms – ‘an ideal place for such a purpose when the conditions for the successful cultivation of this delicacy can be so well obtained’.
The people of Tillycorthie were somewhat surprised at the mention of a lake. Duncan had chosen a low-lying field and transformed it into a lake of several acres. A foundation of 5,000 old railway sleepers, bought from the North British Railway Company, was laid to a depth of two to three feet from the surface of the water. The lake was filled from an artesian well sunk near to the top of rising ground to the east. (This was also used to supply water for the house). Duncan, from his South American experience, valued water for power, and arranged for the generating of electricity from an overflow in the lake.
A few hundred yards from the house, a bowling green, lawn tennis court and croquet ground were built, sheltered on the north-east side by a belt of trees.
A carriage drive was built from the Udny turnpike road by Mr W. Tawse, a contractor from Aberdeen. He laid a granite foundation 9 inches deep, used by contractors during the building of Tillycorthie, and when finished the drive was finished with a coating of road metal and a surface of tarmacadam.
In 1913, James Duncan turned his attention to the interior of the house. He employed a team of highly skilled workers and decorative artists from Paris, who spent six months on the drawing-room. The aim was to re-produce a faithful copy of the designs of the artist Sir William Chambers from the 1760s. This period had created new styles and gave a rich harvest of the daintiest decoration ever executed and adapted to English homes. Some of Chambers’ work had existed at Carrington House, Whitehall, long disappeared.
To achieve this, the subbase was panelled out of yellow pine and richly carved. In the door the fluting and the patres in the moulds were balanced with delicate Carton Pierre ornament in the panels, while the walls above the architrave were panelled out and the frieze and cornice richly embellished. A dozen coats of paint left the soft surfaces, rich in tone, colour and finish, and formed a background for the figures and cupids painted onto it. The fireplace, with an inlay of antique French gilt, was chased with the same ornament, surrounded with sky-loss marble slips.
James Duncan devoted himself to the various estates he acquired. His practical knowledge of farming was valuable, and he carried on commercial agriculture with success, improving and building up all kinds of crops and livestock. He was a staunch supporter of several agricultural societies and organisations and was a prominent exhibitor at shows in the district.
Isabella survived her husband by 15 years, passing away in 1953, but with no male heir to take over the formidable business interest and farms, the estate was broken up and by the year end Tillycorthie farm and the Mansion House had been acquired by Aberdeen University. While the farm flourished, the Mansion fell into some disrepair until the early 1980s, when a developer managed to acquire the Estate in its current form and proceeded to divide the property into three separate dwellings.
Gordon and Cynthia MacGregor acquired all three dwellings over a three-year period, and by 1998, took down the final wall that separated the property. They have lavished much energy, passion and expense to ensure that Tillycorthie has been reinstated to its former glory. The many ornate fireplaces all have open chimneys and are fully functional. Moulded ceilings, cornice work and ceiling roses are in abundance. Grooved door frames, deep skirting boards, panelled doors and original oak parquet flooring have been lovingly waxed and polished.
According to Savills, the 18-acre gated, and walled estate includes a 4-acre lake with boat house, and within the grounds, there are three properties which have long since been sympathetically converted into detached executive homes, along with a further three lodges at the West and North entrances to the estate. A brick chimney (the ‘sair thoom’) rises in the adjacent field, evidence of a failed plan to have the smoke taken from the basement’s coke fuelled boilers.
The house of McCall: a house of heartbreak, but one likely to net a healthy profit
There were a few eyebrows raised when Davina McCall, the darling of noughties British TV, paid a modest £3.2 million for Faircrouch back in 2009. A year before, the country house near Wadhurst, had been put on the market by Rosaleen Corfe with a guide price of £4.3 million. It was bad timing for Corfe; according to Land Registry records the estate lost 14 per cent of its value in 2008 as the recession started to affect the property market. Nine years later, following the break-up of her marriage to Matthew Robertson, Faircrouch House is on sale at Savills with a guide price of £6.25 million.
Faircrouch is a substantial and elegantly-proportioned Grade II listed country house, probably dating from the 17th century with a later 18th century front portion, set within nearly 38 acres of private gardens and grounds and with substantial secondary accommodation, including a detached Lodge house at the main gate, a Cottage, Barn and Coach House. The house itself has a porticoed entrance porch, entrance hall, drawing room, dining room, study/library, family room, boot room, kitchen/breakfast room, wine cellar, cellar boiler room, and six bedrooms.
According to Country Life, the house was originally a medieval nunnery that was suppressed during the Dissolution. It was later owned by a succession of wealthy ironmasters, starting with John Barham, who bought the property in 1560, and including William Benge, the builder of the Gloucester Furnace at Lamberhurst in 1695. At some point, the remains of the nunnery buildings, including those of the monastic cells, were incorporated into the main house, which has been extended several times since.
The back elevation of the stuccoed house shows the oldest 17th century work, and is three storeys high and five casement windows in length. The front is 18th century, two storeys, with six sash windows. All this sit under a hipped slate roof complete with parapet.
Unusually for the area, Faircrouch is built with local stone quarried nearby. Some historians believe it was stone from an earlier medieval building taken from this property that helped in the building of Wadhurst Castle.
The area grew in the 1850s with the arrival of the railway, linking Wadhurst to the City of London. The then owners of Faircrouch were granted a permanent set of steps linking the house, via a woodland path, to Wadhurst Station ‘in perpetuity, in exchange for the sale of the cutting where the railway now runs.
During the latter part of the 19th century, Faircrouch was home to Mr Walter Prideaux (1806-1889), with links to the famous Prideaux family, a poet and solicitor, who rose to Clerk at Goldsmith’s Hall in London. Born at Bearscombe, he was one of six sons of Walter Prideaux (d. 1832) of Kingsbridge and Plymouth, a Quaker and partner in the Devon and Cornwall Bank.
After he died in 1889, Faircrouch was let to Mr and Mrs Philip B. Petrie before being put up for sale in 1893. When a sale couldn’t be reached, it was re-advertised by the Trustees in 1894, and eventually sold to Mr E. Symes, famous in the area for removing a small iron church in the grounds of Wick House and re-erecting it at Faircrouch in 1898.
During the 20th century, Faircrouch was occupied by successive people, including L.P. Kekewich, Colonel Foster, Geoffrey Grindling, who installed an art-deco music room in the 1930s, and Lady Schuster. During the 1970s it was occupied by Mr Arthur Collwyn Sturge (1912-1986), awarded the Military Cross in 1945, an underwriter at Lloyd’s of London.
By the time the Corfe family arrived in the 1980s, the house was being used as a weekend retreat and in a considerable state of disrepair. At the time, the estate agent described Faircrouch as being ‘in the Eridge hunt country, 400 feet above sea level, keeping free from fog and enjoying the high sunshine statistics associated with Tunbridge Wells, England’s sunniest inland resort’.
Having a background in interior design, Rosaleen Corfe was responsible for the restoration, including a listed barn destroyed by a fallen oak tree in the great storm of 1987. Having lost her husband, and with her sons mainly working overseas, she reflected on ‘a happy family home’ of 26 years, but felt compelled to put Faircrouch on the open market.
Davina McCall moved from her home at Woldingham, Surrey, after snapping up Faircrouch ‘for a song’. Since then the house has been further updated, the main house presented with a stylish contemporary finish which complements the many character features. The many period features include generous high ceilings and large sash windows which enhance the natural light, decorative mouldings and architraves, deep skirting boards, exposed floorboards, wood panel doors and feature fireplaces.
The landscaped area around the house provides interesting colour and structure with well-stocked borders and planting designed to frame the lovely views from the principal rooms.
A south-facing terrace to the side leads to a part-covered loggia whilst a further sheltered terrace is situated to the rear, fringed by scented planting and with a more formal walled garden beyond, incorporating an ornamental pond, clipped evergreen hedging, a level lawn and a swimming pool with a paved surround.