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).
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.
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.
“My wife has been unfaithful. I therefore leave the estate to my mistress.” The strange case of a house bequeathed to the ‘housekeeper’
Bunny Hall is located to the south of Nottingham, close to the historic village of Bunny, which has nothing to do with rabbits, but signifies a marshy place full of water reeds. Built between 1710 and 1725, it was designed by Sir Thomas Parkyns (1662-1741), 2nd Bt, a local architect and known as the ‘Wrestling Baronet’. It comes with historical twists and turns, not least a bitter court case in the nineteenth century and is now on the market with offers wanted more than £3.75 million.
The Parkyns were originally a Shropshire family, and became associated with Bunny about 1573 by the marriage of Richard Parkyns to Elizabeth Barlow, Lady of the Manor of Bunny. Thomas Parkyns was the second baronet; the title having been bestowed on his father by Charles II in recognition of the family’s services to the Royalist cause.
Thomas Parkyns was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College Cambridge (where he knew Sir Isaac Newton). He practised medicine and acted as his own architect for the hall, numerous buildings around the village as well his own impressive monument to the parish church.
He also rebuilt Bunny Hall, at a cost of £12,000, and surrounded it with a park wall, three miles long, which took three years and cost £5,000.
As a young man Sir Thomas took lessons in wrestling, vaulting and fencing from the best masters in London, and after settling on the estate at Bunny, established an annual wrestling tournament in his park in which he himself often took part. The first prize was a gold-laced hat which he often ended up wearing himself.
His servants were all good wrestlers, and his favourite coachman and footman both managed to beat their master in the ring. The matches, which took place on a piece of ground now in the confines of Rancliffe Arms, continued for more than 50 years after Sir Thomas’ death, the last being in 1809.
He was also fond of hunting and shooting, and when he was too old to follow the hunt, would dress in a red coat and watch its progress from the 6o foot tower which he built at his hall. The tower was ornamented with an elaborate coat of arms and a rare oak staircase giving access to the summit. On the ground floor were a continuous suite of rooms on the Hampton Court model.
Sir Thomas Parkyns was succeeded at Bunny Hall by his son, Thomas Boothby Parkyns (1755-1800) who was created Baron Rancliffe in 1795. His eldest son, George Augustus Henry Anne Parkyns (1785-1850), the 2nd Baron, succeeded in 1800 and extensively remodelled the hall in 1826-35.
The second Lord Rancliffe was educated at Harrow and was only fifteen when his father died. He was placed under the guardianship of Earl Moira, later Marquess of Hastings, who bought a commission for him in the British Army and negotiated for him to become MP for Minehead in Somerset (where he never set foot in the town).
In 1807 he had married Elizabeth Mary Theresa Forbes, eldest daughter of George Forbes, 6th Earl of Granard. It was an unfortunate marriage and they became separated on a charge that she had an improper acquaintance with a French nobleman during her residence in Paris. Lord Rancliffe left her in France, never divorced, and returned to Nottinghamshire where he made an acquaintance with Harriet Burtt, married to a GP in a small practice, considerably her senior, and who was at that time was confined to a lunatic asylum. She first lived at Wymeswold, under Lord Rancliffe’s protection, but in a short time went to live with him at Bunny.
Lord Rancliffe died in 1850 without issue and the title became extinct. When his will was read there was great consternation in the family. The English Baronetcy descended to Mr (now Sir Thomas) Parkyns of Ruddington, together with a small portion of his estate. The rest of the small amount of property went to Sir Richard Levinge of Knockdrim Castle, Co Westmeath, son of his eldest sister, married to Sir Richard Levinge, 6th Bt. Every pennyworth of non-heritable property, which was considerable, was willed to Harriet Burtt, who for about 20 years had been living upon intimate terms with Lord Rancliffe. She didn’t take the Leake and Costock property but did take the whole of the Bunny and Bradmore estates.
“I give Bunny Hall to Mrs Burtt for her life, and afterwards to whosoever she may appoint to inherit the said estates. I give Mrs Burtt, for her use entirely, all the goods, furniture, and pictures, with one exception; and I give her all my plate, together with the plated silver tureen and dishes with my crest. I also leave my silver tureen presented to me by the electors of Nottingham, to Mrs Burtt; and I also leave my horses and carriages at her entire disposal.”
Eleven years after the death of Lord Rancliffe, Sir Arthur Rumbold, his brother-in-law, had doubted the validity of the will. The Bunny Hall estates were worth about £7,000 a year, and it troubled them that the money had gone out of the family. Efforts to upset the will failed and Harriet Burtt was left in full enjoyment of the estate.
Harriet Burtt later married George Fortreath and lived at Bunny Hall. On her death in the 1870s, the estate was bequeathed to her niece, Arabella Hawksley, who married Mr Robert Wilkinson Smith, a GP, in 1898. Robert died in 1907 and left the greater part of his large fortune for the benefit of Nottingham’s poor widows and spinsters.
Arabella Wilkinson Smith died in 1909, and in a strange development, the Bunny Hall estate was left to the Levinge family in Ireland. It so happened that Sir James Levinge, seventh son of Lady Levinge, had long ago taken rides with Harriet Fortreath and was one of her greatest friends. Doubtless out of gratitude, Mrs Fortreath had entailed the property on Sir James, but had given her niece, Arabella Hawksley, a life interest.
On the death of Mrs Wilkinson Smith, the estate passed back to the Levinges. In the interim, however, both Sir James Levinge and his son had passed away, the next of kin being the grandson, Sir Richard William Levinge.
Sir Richard Levinge (1878-1914), who succeeded his father in 1900, was educated at Eton and served with the 8th Hussars in South Africa. He had married Miss Irene Desmond, a well-known actress in The Merry Widow, The Belle of Mayfair and Les Merveilleuses. There was a rumour that Sir Richard would live at Bunny, but it was entirely without foundation. Almost as soon as the property came into his possession he gave instructions for it to be sold. Sadly, he was killed in 1914 while serving with the 1st Life Guards in France.
In December 1909, Bunny Hall, its 4,000 acres, extending into five parishes, was sold to Albert Ball (1863-1946), the Mayor of Nottingham, a man who has been on these pages more than once. It might seem unscrupulous now that a man in such a precious position should take advantage of property, but Albert Ball was a man that might be considered the scourge of the country house. The son of a plumber’s merchant, he rose to a position of dominance in Nottingham’s civic and business life. In 1908 he had bought Bulwell Hall, later selling 225 acres to Nottingham Corporation.
Before reaching his middle-age he’d began speculations in real estate. At the outset his purchases were small, but he made money and as his experience and resources increased, so did the magnitude of his deals, which in the aggregate, must have amounted to millions. Amongst his lifetime purchases were Sedgley Park, West Hallam, Kirk Hallam, Morton and Pilsley, Tattershall Castle, the town of Shaftesbury, the Papplewick estate, Willesley Castle (the home of the Arkwrights), Upton Hall and the Stansted Hall estate of 6,000 acres in Essex, which embraced several villages. His most spectacular deals came in later life with the purchase of the Rufford Abbey estate and the development of a large estate in Edinburgh.
Ball’s method of making money was simple. He would buy a country estate, often at a knock-down price, and immediately sell off the land to property developers. Bunny Hall had cost him £90,000, quite a lot for the time, but the land he sold raised far more. The mansion was of no interest to him and he promptly agreed a deal to sell it to Mr W. Holbrook of Plumtree two months later. The agreement stumbled but he was able to find another buyer very quickly.
In the meantime, there was the small matter of clearing the contents of Bunny Hall. The treasures had belonged to Mrs Wilkinson Smith, inherited by Richard Levinge, and provided a fascinating history. A five-day sale of furniture, antiques and artworks raised over £20,000.
A sensational price – said to be the highest ever paid at the time for a sale in the provinces – was given for a portrait by Hoppner of the Hon. Mrs Parkyns, afterwards first Lady Rancliffe. It had been exhibited at the Academy in 1794, and sold for 8,800gs to Mr Charles Wertheimer, a well-known art expert. Another Hoppner – a portrait of Sir Thomas Parkyns – was sold for 900gs to Major Paget of London.
The new owner of Bunny Hall was Dr Robert Henry Cordeux (1864-1915), the son of a former rector of Brierley, Yorkshire, who had graduated from Cambridge University and settled down as a GP in West Bridgford in 1895. He died five years later and his widow, Ethel Monk Noble, remained until her own death, although she had considered selling the house in 1924.
Ethel Cordeux died in 1942 and Bunny Hall was bought by Bertram Douglas Edwards (1900-1970), a company director and former Nottingham city councillor for the Meadows Ward, who also owned Newfields Farm at Screveton.
It appears that Edwards never lived here and allowed the Broadgate School, Nottingham, to evacuate here during World War Two. In 1944 it had been considered for the evacuation of large families, but the idea was shelved after it was realised that the £200 cost of black-out blinds would be too expensive.
After the school vacated, Bunny Hall was briefly occupied by a Captain Thompson but was then left empty for more than 40 years, until it was bought by Mr Chek Whyte, a business entrepreneur, in 2000.
‘One more winter and the roof would have fallen in and pushed the walls out. I bought it without going inside. The deal was completed within 24 hours.”
It failed to find a buyer when it was offered for sale at £3 million in 2009.
According to Savills, who are marketing the property, Bunny Hall has been skilfully renovated and restored to the very highest standards. The principal range of reception rooms lie to the south of the house with views over the restored gardens to the open countryside beyond. The leisure suite set within the historic north range of the property includes a heated indoor pool, gym, sauna and steam rooms and a well fitted entertaining kitchen.
One of the most notable features of the property is the historic North Wing of long chequered brick design with a tall narrow facade at the end crowned by a huge Elephantine semi-circular pediment across the whole width and massively castellated tower above it. There are stunning views across the South Nottinghamshire countryside from the open topped roof of the tower building. On the ground floor the original porch area has now been transformed into a stunning Porche Cochere with plate glass inset panels and doors and the creation of a large adjoining Orangery with a finely detailed interior.
The five principal reception rooms include the Orangery, kitchen, principal drawing room, dining room and library. These rooms lie across the principal elevation of the hall with views across the formal gardens adjoining parkland and open countryside beyond.
The principal upper floor is reached by a large wide dog staircase from the ground floor staircase hall. There is a circular glazed frosted dome allowing light to flood through to the hallway and the galleried landing areas. There are two additional staircases to the East and West Wings, providing both internal and independent access to the upper floors if required. There are two self-contained but linked fully fitted apartments suitable for guest or relative accommodation but readily linked back to the main house if required.
In addition to the principal living accommodation is the stunning tower structure, set atop the historic North wing of the main house. A staircase leads up through several floors to the tower roof, which offers glorious views across the grounds and the open countryside of Nottinghamshire and is a landmark structure within the area.
The grounds and gardens of Bunny Hall have been carefully renovated and restored by the current owners and extend now to some 14.5 acres or thereabouts. The approach to the house is through two sets of remote controlled period gates and a tree lined driveway leading up to the main house.
This house’s ownership reflects the changing demographic of wealth over the past century
A social history of our country is often reflected in the country house. A good example is Oakley Hall where the Chetwode family held seat from the 13th century. The baronetcy of Oakley was created in April 1700 for John Chetwode of Oakley Hall, then surrounded by a 300-acre park, with a generous annual income coming in from the surrounding estate. By the turn of the 20th century, the riches from agriculture were diminishing, and somewhere like Oakley Park was an unaffordable luxury. The Chetwodes sold up, and subsequent occupants included a chemical manufacturer, a cotton merchant, a ship-owner and subsequently an investment banker. Now that the Queen Anne/Georgian stately home is back on the market, with a guide price of £3.5 million, it is intriguing to see what the occupation of its next owner might be.
Before reading any further, let’s clear up the confusion as to which county Oakley Hall sits in. The house straddles the border of Shropshire and Staffordshire, the River Tern runs next to the 3½-acre lake and forms the county boundary. Oakley Hall sits on the Shropshire side, near Mucklestone, but continues to confuse interested observers.
The Grade II* listed mansion was built in 1710 to replace an older manor house by Sir John Chetwode, a two-storey mansion constructed of brick on a sandstone plinth, with a severe east entrance front of 11 bays, the first three pedimented, with two sphinx-like figures with female heads flanking the front door. It has two differing facades overlooking the lake to the north and parkland to the south.
According to Historic England, subsequent Chetwode baronets improved the estate, with the addition of walled gardens, a large farm and stable block. The plain south front previously had a four-bay veranda that was removed in modern times and replaced with a conservatory.
The last of the family to live at Oakley Hall was Sir George Chetwode (1823-1905), 6th Baronet, the son of the Rev. George Chetwode of Chilton House, Buckinghamshire, who succeeded his uncle in 1873. He was a military man, serving in the Crimean War in the battles of Alma, Balaclava and Inkerman and the Siege of Sevastopol; he also fought in the Indian Mutiny and was wounded at the Battle of Sindwaho.
Sir George died in 1905 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Major (later Field-Marshall) Philip Walhouse Chetwode, D.S.O., another military man, of the 19th Hussars.
The Chetwodes, meanwhile, remained loyal to their ancestral seat, and spent most of their time at Chetwode Manor, Buckinghamshire.
The house was let to Mr Arthur Reginald Midwood (1863-1936), the Managing Director of Alfred H. Midwood and Co, cotton merchants, Manchester, and a director of the Dennis Motor Company. He later invested in the Lancashire Automatic Glass Manufacturing Company, pioneers in the production of glass-machine made bottles that became extremely popular during the new century. After he left Oakley Hall, Midwood went to live at Oakmere Hall in Cheshire, and died in Sydney, New South Wales, in 1937.
In 1920, the Chetwode family sold Oakley Hall to Charles Cyril Dennis (1881-1964), an Oxford M.A. and chairman of James H. Dennis and Co Ltd, copper and chemical manufacturers of Widnes and London. A member of the North Staffordshire Hunt, he was a keen fisherman and enjoyed shooting on the estate. He had married Mary Scott MacFie, daughter of Mr J.W. MacFie of Rowton Hall, Chester, in 1911, and came from a very old Scottish family. Her grandfather lived at Dreghorn Castle, Edinburgh, and was one of the founders of MacFie and Son, who made a fortune in sugar refining. The Dennis family moved from Broxton Old Hall, and after his wife’s death in 1939, remained at Oakley Hall until 1949. Cyril Dennis moved to nearby Park House in the same year he was appointed High Sheriff of Staffordshire.
During the 1950s, Oakley Hall was used for a time as a boarding school, before being bought by Major Paul Baker Lawson in the sixties. Born in Dresden, he was the son of Francis Richard Lawson, a noted North Staffordshire ecclesiastical architect who had practised in the Potteries for over 40 years. Major Lawson had been associated with Johnson Bros, potters of Hanley.
Oakley Hall was sold to the Crosthwaite shipping family in the 1970s, who ‘considerably altered’ the interior, as did its current owner, Mr Freddie G. Fisher III, who moved here in 1982.
Fisher is a graduate of Harvard University and gained his M.A. at Oxford University and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. With a long career in mergers and acquisitions, he is an international investment banker, particularly in the banking sector. His son, Freddie Fisher IV, gained celebrity status when he appeared as a housemate in television’s Big Brother.
While principally a private house, Oakley Hall has a civil licence for ceremonies, and has hosted up to twelve weddings a year. The stable block has been converted into offices, the main portion occupied by a specialist engineering business, as has the Brew House, which is presently vacant.
Thirty-six years after buying Oakley Hall, considered to be one of the finest stately homes in Shropshire, it is available to buy once again.
The house is approached past the entrance lodge down a long tree-lined private drive that sweeps in front of the house.
According to Savills, the principal reception rooms flow off the main hall with the formality and elegance of the ballroom and dining room, with the library and morning room being less formal. The kitchen overlooks the lake.
An elegant classic Georgian staircase sweeps up to the first floor, with a beautiful principal bedroom suite with curved windows overlooking the terrace and lake. The main house provides eight bedrooms with en-suite, together with a further three bedrooms and a bathroom.
There is a substantial cellar with wine cellar, steam room, walk-in safe and boiler-room. At the side of the house is a private courtyard which leads on to The Brew House.
Oakley Hall sits in about 95-acres of beautiful parkland and grassland, with about 22-acres of mature woodland. The lake is the centrepiece and was restored to celebrate the new millennium. The house also comes with a walled garden, separate tennis court, and gardens made up of mature trees and shrubs.
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.