Ranton Abbey to be resurrected – or replaced?

Ranton Abbey, Staffordshire (Image: Knight Frank)

When the historic Ranton Abbey was accidentally set alight and gutted in 1942 by the Dutch troops stationed there, it was likely that it would go the way of many other houses and simply be demolished. Yet the Earls of Lichfield, who owned the 300-acre estate, simply left it and focused on turning the land into a first-class shoot, allowing the house to slowly collapse, leaving just the ivy-clad walls visible today.

The death of the 5th Earl, the famous photographer Patrick Lichfield, in 2005, prompted the family to look again at the estate.  However, rather than simply sell it they decided to obtain planning permission for the building of a new house and have now put both for sale at £3.5m.  Although an obvious course of action, the choices made seem a bit odd.  The new house is strongly Palladian in design but the projections produced so far have it sited so close to the red-brick shell of the old house, and the grey stone of the church, that it seems to have almost landed there by accident.  It certainly does not seem to appear at home in this location and appears almost arbitrary, resulting in three large architectural elements fighting for prominence in a small area.

As the respected architectural writer Marcus Binney says in the ‘Bricks and Mortar’ supplement of Friday’s Times newspaper, surely the better option would be to restore the original house.  This would bring back the balance which existed before and remove at once the obvious difficulties of leaving the old house as a giant garden ornament to compete with the new house.  Whoever buys the estate and planning permission will hopefully think again about this scheme and look seriously at restoration.

Full story: ‘Historic homes: restoration dilemma‘ [The Times]

Property details: ‘Ranton Abbey, Staffordshire‘ [Knight Frank]

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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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6 Responses to Ranton Abbey to be resurrected – or replaced?

  1. malcolm halsall says:

    I agree with evrything you have said here .restoring the old house itself is surely more logical than the new one proposed.I have been researching the abbey for years now evr since going there as achil when I liveds in the local village. It is rich in history and to restore the old house would surely salute the past in all its glory.

  2. Pingback: Ranton Abbey, Staffordshire - Midlands Heritage Forum

  3. Matthew Page says:

    Having visited Ranton only a couple of weeks ago, I was struck by just how big the shell of the original house is. Why anyone would want to destroy good Regency craftsmanship and replace it with a classic ‘noveau-riche’ Palladian building completely stumps me.

  4. Andrew says:

    Matthew, I agree, but unfortunately because the house shell is so fragile it is cheaper to demolish it than to stabilise and build within. In other words, economics usually wins out over conservation if there is no listing protection – the 1820 house shell and landscape are not listed, but the church tower is Grade II*. Ranton Abbey still remains for sale since Spring 2009 by its investment company owner, who bought it in January 2008 from the 6th Earl of Lichfield. The image shown above is of the proposed new house (on the right), with most of the old house shell planned to be demolished, leaving only the narrow end (on the left) being only 20% of the present shell (a requirement for planning permission). Here are some clearer photos of the present house shell, in addition to the two shown in the Knight Frank online brochure on pages 8 & 16, showing its current size and the recent clearance of tree growth from the structure:
    http://www.thornber.net/staffs/html/ranton.html

  5. Andrew says:

    And how Ranton Abbey looked in its heyday (although the gardens are a little overgrown):
    http://www.search.staffspasttrack.org.uk/engine/resource/default.asp?resource=1640

  6. Matthew Page says:

    Andrew, money really does make the world go round! If someone with enough money to buy the existing shell can do so, it would seem stupid to not rebuild it, but as ‘cash-rich and time-poor’ people want things to be done ASAP, it will probably end up being that there is a new house constructed. It was obvious when I was snooping around that there had been a large courtyard and extension at the back of the house, towards the coach house and old priory steeple. (You can see some more pictures here http://www.search.staffspasttrack.org.uk/engine/search/default_hndlr.asp?txtKeywords=Ranton+Abbey&lstContext=&lstResourceType=&lstExhibitionType=&chkPurchaseVisible=&rbAlphabeticalRecent=1&txtDateFrom=&txtDateTo=&originator=/engine/search/default_hndlr.asp&page=1&records=18&direction=2&pointer=16829&text=0) I was speaking to a local man I bumped into beside the lake at Ranton, and it turned out he was an industrial architect prior to retiring, he told me that by using the methods that have been used in various historic buildings up and down the UK, such as steel framing and also some very modern techniques, like polyethene building blocks, it might actually be cheaper to rebuild the old house. (Also, as it has not been lived in for more than ten years, it would be VAT free, and English Heritage are more likely to give a grant… so I’m told!!)
    I have studied the Knight Frank brochure and all the pictures I can get hold of, and also bought a few lottery tickets, in the vain hope of being the lucky person that gets to restore a great house within the most wonderful parkland.

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