City confidence leads to increased interest

As the City starts to recover from the tumult of the last two years, workers are increasingly feeling that they can once again venture into the property market.  The City has always been a strong source of buyers and their absence has been keenly felt at all levels of the country house market.  Prices seem to have stabilised and in some cases even risen – but this relies on sellers pricing their properties realistically as buyers are now, more than ever, very price sensitive with over-priced houses languishing.

More details: ‘City confidence boosts country house sales‘ [Country Life]

Minor fire at Chastleton House, Oxfordshire

Visitors had to be evacuated from the beautiful Grade-I listed, Jacobean, Chastleton House on Saturday 11 July when a small fire broke out in an upstairs bedroom.  Luckily, damage was minor and the house was largely unharmed, but yet another reminder that fire is always an ever present danger.

Full story: ‘Firefighters tackle stately home blaze‘ [Oxford Mail]

Simon Halabi and Mentmore Towers

The Times (‘Halabi may have to sell-up to pay loan‘ – 16 July 2009) is reporting that Simon Halabi, the multi-millionare businessman, may have to sell part of his London property portfolio to satisfy bond holders after the value of the properties dropped by nearly half, breaching the loan-to-value ratio of the bond secured against it.  In 1997, Halabi bought the Grade-I listed Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire, formerly one of the Rothschild banking family’s most famous and impressive houses,  with the intention of converting it into a luxury hotel.  It’s not known how far work on that project has progressed but the grand chateau-style house, which also starred in the film ‘Batman Begins’ as Bruce Wayne’s house, is just too important to be forgotten so I hope that his other issues don’t impact on the work being undertaken as part of that project.

2009 English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register

Another year, another sad list of important, interesting, beautiful and sadly at risk properties.  Each year the English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register and that produced by SAVE Britain’s Heritage give another sad reminder that though the UK is rich in vernacular architectural heritage there are still significant individual buildings at risk even today, after 50 or 60 years of interest in heritage protection.  Perhaps of equal concern is the fact that only 60% of local councils have their own BaR Register and often it is out of date – local councils should be the first line of defence for their local heritage.  Ask your council for their Register and if they say they haven’t got one or that it’s out of date demand to know why.

If you have the resources but most importantly a sympathetic understanding of restoration then please do consider taking on one of these buildings.  Remember that listed buildings – when well looked after and sensitively restored – always command a premium in the housing market.

Below are David Brack of English Heritage’s top five tips when taking on a restoration project:

  1. You’ll need to discover why the property is in the state it is?
  2. Get a proper survey.
  3. Appoint a good architect.
  4. Employ a good builder.
  5. Maintain contact with your Conservation Officer throughout your renovation.

Full story: ‘The pitfalls of buying a romantic wreck

Prince Charles and SPAB

It seems such a shame that Prince Charles and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings have fallen out.   This seems to be a classic case of dogmatic positions leading to the removal of a nose to the detriment of the face.  Both the Prince and SPAB have campaigned for the same causes and seem to sing from the same hymnsheet so often yet I can understand why SPAB felt as they did and similarly why HRH felt slighted.  Compromise can be the bitterest pill to swallow and I can only hope that there is a rapprochement in the future – for the sake of providing a better voice for conservation in the UK.

Full story: ‘Prince Charles resigns over restoration rumpus

Burglars in £200,000 raid on Upton-upon-Severn stately home

The former seat of the Earls of Coventry, the 16th century Earls Croome Court, near Upton-upon-Severn in Worcestershire, which was sold by the family following the death of the 11th Earl in 1992, was recently for sale. However, as a classic example of an empty house being a prime target, thieves broke in and removed historic (and some less historic) fixtures and fittings which will no doubt turn up somewhere inappropriate thus depriving the house of some key elements of it’s historic fabric.  These thieves have such a callous disregard for the damage they visit on these houses and their contents. Full story: ‘Burglars in £200,000 raid on Upton-upon-Severn stately home‘ [Birmingham Mail]

So why this blog?

My great love is country houses, particularly those which grace the counties of England.  Each is a fascinating example of the hopes, aspirations, aesthetics and wealth of someone.  One of the best aspects of what has been called the UK’s most significant contribution to architecture, is that each is different – whether the grand Palladian palaces sitting in parkland, to the mid-size expressions of Victorian industrialists to the smaller manor houses which nestle in countless small villages.  However, it must be recognised that many have been demolished or otherwise lost and many exist now only to be abused by unsympathetic owners or to be used as schools, hospitals and offices.

The aim of this blog is to highlight interesting stories relating to country houses in the UK with the occasional comment from me.  I hope to bring greater awareness of the vast heritage we have within the UK and hopefully to build a greater appreciation and respect for it.