West Wycombe House at risk from high-speed rail link?

West Wycombe House

Concerns have been raised that the proposed route of the £34bn Network Rail project to provide a high-speed link to Scotland will severely compromise many areas of natural beauty and a large number of listed buildings including the setting of the Grade-I listed West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire.

The main problem lies in the fact that to achieve high speeds, the 1,500 miles of railway lines would need to be laid in the most direct line between two locations.  This would mean that the line would simply carve through the landscape, destroying areas of Special Scientific Interest and unspoilt countryside in the heart of the Chilterns such as the Misbourne valley.

One proposal of particular concern is to build tunnels beneath High Wycombe but the Chilterns Conservation Board (CCB) fear that the tunnel would surface near the historic village of West Wycombe – threatening the  stunning setting of the architecturally important West Wycombe House.  The Italianate-style house with it’s rococo gardens were built by Sir Francis Dashwood – of Hellfire Club fame – over a period of 60 years from 1740. The defining exterior feature is the rare double colonnade (see picture) which was certainly inspired by Palladio’s work in Italy such as the Palazzo Chiericati which Dashwood would have seen on his Grand Tour.  Further Palladian and neo-Classical flourishes in both the house and parkland make this house worthy of protection from crude spoilation by the planners.

More details: ‘High speed rail line will blight Chilterns‘ [Chilterns AONB]

Country house content sales continue

Following on from the recent auction of contents from Powerham Castle in Devon to pay for much needed repairs and maintenance, Lord Gerald Fitzalan Howard, second son of the Duke of Norfolk, is doing the same. Lord Gerald’s home, the Grade-I listed Carlton Towers in Yorkshire, requires approximately £1m spent on essential repairs.  Carlton Towers is a fine example of type of large Victorian Gothic houses which were particularly popular in the North.

With the help of the family archivist and architectural writer John Martin Robinson the family have selected 120 lots including furniture, ceramics, silver – including a set of four silver wine coolers by Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, dated 1809 and 1811, and Old Master paintings – including two views of Venice by Canelletto.

The sale is on 4 November at Sothebys, New Bond Street, London.

Catalogue: ‘Carlton Towers‘ [Sothebys]

For sale: country house with good local shopping

Stone Castle
Stone Castle

To call Stone Castle a country house is pushing it really.  The house, built on the site of the castle where William the Conquerer signed a peace treaty with the men of Kent in 1067, is now besieged by property development which has marched to within 70ft of the front door.  Current owners, Land Securities, have used the house as a venue for conferences and weddings.

The house is perched on an outcrop high above the old quarry which now houses the vast Bluewater shopping centre. The house has a tower dating from the 14th-century but the majority of the house is late Georgian, built in 1825.  The house now only has 2.5-acres of gardens but luckily the developments are to the rear of the property leaving lofty views from the lawns.

The house is being auctioned on 5 November with a guide price of £750,000 – but expect to spend even more to make it a home.

Full story: ‘STONE: Hidden castle from medieval era up for auction‘ [News Shopper]

Ouch – Melville House sold for £1.6m; down from £4.5m

Melville House, Fife
Melville House, Fife

In a cautionary tale of how ambitious restorations can come unstuck, Melville House has been sold for a ‘knock-down’ £1.6m by agents Knight Frank.  The 17th-century Palladian mansion boasted 11 bedrooms, seven receptions plus stables, a tennis court and even a cricket pitch.  It was built in 1697 for George, the 1st Earl of Melville, then secretary of state for Scotland by James Smith.  The 1st Earl died a few years after his creation was finished but the house remained in the Melville family until it was sold – along with the contents – in 1949.

It had been requisitioned by the Army as a barracks during the war (the probable damage from which led to the sale) and then became a hospital and subsequently a residential school before being sold to a developer for £400,000.  It was then sold on again in 2003 for £1m and the new owner then spent over £2m on restoration.  The latest owner has secured a bargain – here’s hoping it’s now in safe hands.

Full story: ‘Repossessed mansion sold for ‘knockdown’ price‘ [stv]

Odd goings-on at Oddington

The Sunday Times reports that permission has been granted to Sir Anthony Bamford to demolish the lodge at Oddington House.  Sir Anthony bought the Grade-II listed house as a £10m wedding gift to his son – who decided to decline (wonder what else was on the wedding list!).  Rather than sell the house it appears the JCB tycoon has grand plans – but looking at a photograph of the lodge it is obviously a substantial and attractive building  so one hopes that the report is wrong as this sets a rather worrying precedent.

Mentmore’s London sibling for sale

Mentmore Towers
Mentmore Towers

Simon Halabi’s original plan was to develop a super-luxury, six-star club experience with members enjoying country facilities at Mentmore Towers, in Buckinghamshire, with a London base at the In and Out Club on Piccadilly.  However, the recent global crisis seemed to put the plans on hold and concerns had been raised (including in comments on earlier blog post: ‘Simon Halabi and Mentmore Towers’ – 17 July) as to whether sufficient maintenence was being undertaken at both locations.

The master plan appears to have now been changed with the news that the In and Out Club has been put up for sale.  Included in the deal are various neighbouring buildings which give the potential for the sale to raise up to £250m. It’s not known what Mr Halabi’s plans are but one can only hope that the money raised will benefit Mentmore Towers, preserving and protecting this important country house.

Full story: ‘Mayfair’s In and Out Club on market‘ [Financial Times]

Viewhill House to be demolished

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 apparently ‘needs’ 160 homes built nearby?

Oldway Mansion
Oldway Mansion

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]

Pytchley Gates restored

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]

Anyone looking for a very large country house?

Blaisdon Hall (Image from The Times)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]