[This article was originally published in 2010]
The news that Robbie Williams is to sell his country house, Compton Bassett in Wiltshire, for a potential £1m loss shows that with the wrong property it is still possible to buck the generally rising trend in prices by overpaying in the first place.
The Basset family (after whom the village was named) had first built a timber-framed house in the 13th-century. By 1553, the new owner of the manor, Sir John Mervyn (d. 1566) rebuilt the house using a reported 260 oaks, which gives some indication of the size of the house. It was still standing in 1659 and was recorded as being on a U-shaped plan, open to the south east. In 1663, the house and estate were sold to Sir John Weld, of the ancient Dorset family. He made significant changes, spending the colossal sum of £10,000 between 1663-1672 to build the sides up to 130ft and 110ft to create a large rectangle and to then cover over the courtyard. Originally, the house was in a soft, white stone but this renewed in brick in 1814, with the rest of the house following in the late 19th-century, during which it also gained the battlements.
Sir John also added the distinctive corner turrets; a stylistic device which echoed the form of a castle which bears some similarity to the Weld family’s main country seat, Lulworth Castle in Dorset,. This was built as a hunting lodge in 1610 by Thomas Howard, 3rd Lord Bindon, and bought by Humphrey Weld (John’s elder brother) in 1641, but sadly gutted in a devastating fire in 1929. As Humphrey Weld died (in 1684) without a male heir, Lulworth Castle passed to John’s son William who seems to have chosen it as his family seat and sold Compton Bassett in 1700.
The house passed through various owners until it was inherited by George Walker Heneage (d. 1875) who, by 1828 had established an estate covering 1,813 acres in the area. It was Walker Heneage’s grandson, Godfrey, who eventually inherited the estate in 1901 but then sold it in 1918 to the Co-Operative Wholesale Society who sold it again in 1929. It was bought by one E.G. Harding who then parcelled up the estate and sold it off piecemeal.
That period was a dark time for the country house in the UK with many being demolished. The house was bought by Captain Sir Guy Benson who sadly decided that he would rather live in the stables and so this wonderful house was levelled in the early 1930s and the stables converted in 1935 into the new Compton Bassett House. Unlike other successful conversions of stables, this one was obviously designed as a functional building and lacked the grace of so many of the stable buildings we can still see today and so did not lend itself to being the main house. Not that it has stopped various owners over the years trying.
The latest project was started in 1998 by the then owner Paul Cripps and was to take six months and cost £500,000 but ended up taking three years and costing £3m. The house was then launched on the property market in 2007 at an eye-watering £8.5m (no doubt to try and recover some of the lavish overspending on the interior) for the house plus 71-acres. After languishing for many months Robbie finally bought it for £8.1m but never really settled here, preferring his life in the US. So now it is back on the market with Savills (but not listed on their website) for a reported asking price of £7.5m – but once you factor in all the costs involved from buying and selling, Robbie should be about a million down from when he bought it. This also assumes he’d get that price – losses could rise if, remarkably, there was someone else out there who liked the look of the house but decided that it was still too expensive and drove the price down further. To be honest, when compared with some of the other properties Savills have available in Wiltshire for around £6m (e.g. Langley House or Midway Manor) why anyone would chose this one is beyond me.
n.b. the interior and floor plans can be seen in this article in Variety magazine in 2013 when it was again on the market for £5.5m: In Case You Missed It: Robbie Williams
*Update* 2010 Savills have added Compton Bassett to their website so if you have £7.5m and really feel that this house is the best way to spend it, then have a look at the details: Savills: Compton Bassett
*Update* February 2021
So, it turns out that Mr Williams was not able to sell the house in 2010 or 2013 or 2016 when it was variously reporting as being relisted. Again, in 2021, there is renewed interest as he plans to move with his family to a new house in Switzerland and has no plans to stay in a house he (and his daughter) now feel is ‘creepy’.
25/02/2021: article updated with further details on the history of the house and the current situation regarding Mr Williams.