Local Inverness councillors have managed to cut off their nose to spite their architectural face - and claim it’s a triumph of cosmetic surgery. Viewhill House (mentioned in this blog on 13 Oct) has been approved for demolition and will almost certainly be built over – another important and interesting piece of Inverness architecture will be lost forever. Meanwhile the builders have been claiming that it was the objections of Historic Scotland which have prevented the restoration of the house. What they mean is that they haven’t been given free reign to do as they wish and now they’re having a tantrum. The worst developers are prone to claiming that their vandalism is ‘necessary’ to secure jobs/investment/tourism/etc but usually the price is paid in lost architectural heritage. Viewhill House is another casualty. Give it a few hundred years and maybe the developers will hold a party when they get rid of the last of these historical speed bumps.
Full story: ‘Heritage in danger of crumbling away‘ [Inverness Courier] / ‘Quango accused of causing failure of three businesses‘ [The Press and Journal]
Oldway Mansion has been called a miniature Versailles – which was the intention of the owner, Paris Singer, who rebuilt the house built by his father, Issac Merritt Singer, founder of the Singer sewing machine company.
The house and grounds have long been a pleasant retreat for the locals who, both old and young, have enjoyed the grounds with many weddings held in the house. However, rising maintenance costs have led the Council into some bizarre logic. To save the house they have now signed an agreement to lease this important local asset to a developer who has claimed that many millions will be spent apparently converting it into a hotel! In addition, the Rotunda (formerly the stables) will be incorporated into this development. In a telling comment, Jason Collard, managing director of Akkeron, said the building was an ‘amazing site’. Why do councils keep falling for this classic play from the ‘developers handbook’? The house is a mere architectural inconvenience to them in many cases which put these houses at risk. The idea that the vandalism of this house should be funded by selling off some of the very gardens which create such a special location is dubious to say the least.
In short, this is a council with little regard for their heritage, selling an architecturally important and much loved local landmark to save a few quid. It may be expensive to keep it public but to deny or severely limit access whilst undoubtably compromising this house should be challenged. I’m sure the council will also find that the plans are entirely acceptable to their planning committee so in this round of mutual backslapping I can only hope that something will happen to bring the council to it’s senses.
Full story: ‘160 homes would have to be built to save ‘amazing’ Oldway Mansion‘ [Herald Express]
In April 2007 a car veered off the road and severely damaged the historic Pytchley Gates, which were originally the entrance to Pytchley Hall (demolished 1824) before they were moved to become the entrance to Overstone School. Parts of the main arch and column were demolished with other damage caused to the surrounding areas. However, Northamptonshire County Council are to be commended for assembling a team skilled in conservation restoration to repair the gates.
Full story: ‘Damaged Pytchley gates restored to former glory‘ [Northamptonshire County Council]
Blaisdon Hall (Image from The Times)
An example of just how cyclical the housing market – particularly for country houses – a house which 60 years ago might have been at risk of demolition is now a trophy purchase.
Blaisdon House, in Gloucestershire, was built in the 1870s for Edwin Crawshay, a local ironmaster, by a Gloucester architect, F.S. Waller. Currently for sale, it includes a convenient 85-acres, sauna and gardens. The house was rescued from the threat of the 1950s when it was converted into a school but has now been skilfully converted back to family home with no trace of it’s former institutional use. One can only hope that more of these houses are rescued.
Full story: ‘The grandiose Victorian country house is back in vogue‘ [The Times]
Dowdeswell Court (Image from Savills)
Although many of the stories in this blog are about houses at risk, it should also be noted that, should funds permit, many a fine country house comes up for sale every week via the big agencies such as Knight Frank, Savills, Chestertons etc. Whilst for most the dream of the large country house is out of reach, the sumptuous photos allow us a brief glimpse of these beautiful buildings. So, watch out for postings of the best of the country houses which have been advertised.
Dowdeswell Court, situated just outside Cheltenham, is an elegant essay in ne0-Classical style. The estate had been in the Rogers family since 1582 but by the early 1800s the house was so dilapidated that it could only be replaced. The new house was built in 1833-7, and was designed by a well-respected architect, Charles Paul of Cheltenham, who incorporated the distinctive Corinthian orders and cornicing. Interestingly though, the final design owes much to the master mason, Thomas Denley, who altered the plans. The interiors are to the 1830s but have been sympathetically restored. The house was then sold the now Coxwell-Rodgers family in the 1900s and it then went through a succession of owners and uses including as a school and residential home. It was from this latter fate that the house was rescued in 2005 and has since been carefully restored. This truly is a stunning house – a great example of it’s type and conveniently sized and located.
So if you have the requisite £7.9m please do contact Savills and ask for a viewing. And if you would like someone to carry your bag or something while you do so, please just let me know.
Full details: Dowdeswell Court [Savills]
Nocton Hall (Image from Wikipedia)
Nocton Hall suffered a devastating fire in 2004 and since then has remained a roof-less, though restorable, shell with no sign that the new owners have any inclination to rescue this interesting and attractive house.
The original Nocton Hall burnt down in 1834 and the new house was built by William Shearburn for the Earl of Ripon in 1841. It was then taken over by the Air Ministry in 1940 for use as a hospital for RAF Nocton. The RAF left in 1983 following which it became a residential home. However, in the mid-1990s the business failed and it was bought by a local developer, Leda Properties. A then sadly familiar story played out with the house ravaged by vandalism and theft before the ‘suspicious’ fire in 2004.
The Victorian Society have now declared that the Grade-II listed Nocton Hall is one of their ‘Top 10 Most Endangered Buildings’ in the country. Hopefully this will again focus some attention and, along with the concerns of locals, will perhaps prompt Leda Properties to declare their intentions. One hopes that this is not another case of a developer hoping that further vandalism or fire will give them the opportunity to apply for permission to demolish. Lincolnshire has lost far too many of it’s country houses already over the last 100 years – there is no reason beyond stubborn greed why Nocton Hall should be added to the list.
Full story: ‘Nocton Hall a ‘top 10′ endangered building‘ [Lincolnshire Echo]
Pell Well Hall (Image from Strutt & Parker)
Sir John Soane was one of the most important Regency architects, responsible for some of the most interesting buildings in the country. However, many of his commissions were urban or were additions to existing country houses. This makes the country houses which he designed alone quite rare – and as a master architect they are usually amongst the most beautiful and elegant buildings in the country. However, despite their rarity and elegance they have often been mistreated.
Pell Well Hall is one such example. Built between 1822-28 for the wealthy iron merchant, Mr Purney Sillitoe, it later became a boys school until the mid-1960s when it passed again into private ownership. This however was a period which ended with the house as a fire-ravaged shell on the verge of collapse. There was widespread concern with the house appearing on the various ‘building at risk’ registers. This led to a concerted effort which removed the unsympathetic Victorian and Edwardian additions (sorry SPAB) leaving an eminently manageable country house. The restoration programme stabilised the building and interior and the house was put on the market about two years ago. Unfortunately, like Soane’s other ‘at risk’ house, Piercefield in Chepstow (also for sale with Strutt & Parker), it failed to find a buyer.
So, once again, the elegant Pell Well Hall is again for sale. Strutt & Parker are offering the Grade-II* house with 4 acres of land, with the guide price of £750,000 reflecting the level of work that will be required to restore this important house (think low single digit millions to do it properly). It could be used for leisure or commercial purposes but really this house cries out for someone to make it a home.
Full details: ‘Pell Wall, Market Drayton, Shropshire‘ [Strutt & Parker]