A glimmer of hope: ‘Country House Rescue’ visits Kelly House

Kelly House, Devon (Image: English Heritage)

Kelly House has a series of long associations; there has been a house there for over 900 years, it has been the seat of the Kelly family for that entire time, and, sadly, has been on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register for over five years.  Now the latest twist in the tale is that the house will feature in Channel 4’s ‘Country House Rescue’ on Thursday 1 April when expert Ruth Watson offer possible solutions which will help the Kelly family remain in their ancestral home.

The Kelly’s are one of the very rare families able to trace their lineage back to pre-Conquest times.  Warin Kelly is the 31st squire of the family to live in a house which has been passed down since 1100 through fathers, grandfathers, and brothers.  Described as being ‘in a class of its own’ by Marcus Binney*, the elegant Palladian house was built in 1743 -45 for Arthur Kelly by Abraham Rundle (d.1750), a joiner and provincial but obviously skilled architect who lived in Tavistock.  The house is grade-I listed and features a Portland stone doorcase, sash windows glazed with Crown glass and made in London, with local slat stone walls with moorstone quoins. Inside, the extensive high quality woodwork  features superb carving including panelling, chair rails, and a particularly good staircase with chunky corkscrew balusters.

However, the fine panelling hides serious issues such as the periodic bouts of dry rot which break out. Mr Kelly, as a conservation architect advocating minimal intervention, admirably refuses to treat it with chemicals or by stripping out the panelling.  This ongoing damage is largely the fault of death duties, with two demands being levied in swift succession which have severely limited the family’s ability to maintain the house.  Kelly House is exactly the sort of house which the Historic Buildings Councils would have provided grants for when they were set up in the 1950s.  Today, with English Heritage’s budgets under severe pressure, Mr Kelly was told in 2005 that they were unable to provide funds as the increase in the value of the restored house would be greater than the grant – meaning that they force owners towards the sale of their ancestral homes.

Much as it would appear difficult to argue for the provision of public money to preserve private residences, there has to be a better solution than just letting them slowly grow more derelict despite the often heroic efforts of the family involved.  The current generation doesn’t want to be the one which is remembered for having to sell the family seat, leading to a battle against the elements of decay which saps finances and families and often doesn’t provide a long-term solution.  Outside expertise is to be welcomed as it may show the way to a sustainable future for these beautiful homes. Hopefully Ruth’s suggestions can be taken on by the Kellys and other families to ensure their homes are self-financing and not a burden to either the state or the owners who are then able to look forward to the prospect of handing a home and not a liability to their descendants.

Programme details: ‘Country House Rescue‘ (Channel 4)

More information: ‘TV show could help manor restoration‘ [Western Morning News]

Official Kelly House website: ‘Kelly House

* – ‘Houses to Save’ – article by Marcus Binney in Country Life magazine (8 September 2005)

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About Matthew Beckett - The Country Seat

An amateur architectural historian with a particular love of UK country houses in all their many varied and beautiful forms.
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5 Responses to A glimmer of hope: ‘Country House Rescue’ visits Kelly House

  1. Eva Paynter says:

    Loved the programme and do hope that Kelly House can be restored to its former glory.
    would like to visit and wish you every success for the future, keep me posted of any future events.

  2. Gary says:

    Wonderul house, such a shame about its condition. The idea of paying inheritance tax illustrates how historic houses suffer without the government giving a damn or the lottery fund being used properly. However, it also illustrates how some families just dont deserve such houses when they have done bugger all over the years. The family are so “thick” and quite frankly arrogant. Father has his head in teh clouds, mother is so weak, daughter is pitiful and son in law has an arrogant attitude. The house is beeter off in the hands of a different owner.

  3. Craig says:

    A shame that these beautiful houses have to suffer so much. I am sure that any rescue operation or group could be extended to members overseas if a program was set up allowing buy in to just a wee bit of the place, e.g. a tree planted in the sponsor name etc.

    So come on Kellys give it a go and find your long lost relatives OS’s and see it they too want to help

  4. Neville Bell says:

    Have just watch the house rescue programe on Kelly House viewed in Australia. GREAT to see today the family took Ruth’s advice and things are happening at Kelly House.

  5. Ruth Widdowson. says:

    We also have just watched Ruth Watson in action at Kelly House, Devon. I am pleased to see by browsing the Kelly website that there has been and is continuing to be, PROGRESS. Hooray, I can’t bare the thought that these absolutely wonderful old houses in England have been going to wrack and ruin for the last 100yrs or so. I have read so much about life in English country houses,both fact and fiction, and I am so pleased to see they are now slowly but surely being brought back to life by the inspiration and subsequent hard work of intelligent people as Ms Watson, the great programmes using apprentices, and most of all the enthusiasm of volunteers. Congratulations to the Kelly family for having the courage to take Ms Watsons advice and applying themselves so diligently to the restoration such a beautiful house.

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