How to lose money on a country house: Compton Bassett, Wiltshire

Compton Bassett House, Wiltshire (demolished 1929)
Compton Bassett House, Wiltshire (demolished 1929)

[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.

Compton Bassett, Wiltshire (former stables) (Image: Panoramio)
Compton Bassett, Wiltshire (former stables) (Image: Panoramio)

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’.

Robbie Williams selling £9 million ‘haunted’ Wiltshire mansion in Switzerland move (Evening Standard)

25/02/2021: article updated with further details on the history of the house and the current situation regarding Mr Williams.

7 thoughts on “How to lose money on a country house: Compton Bassett, Wiltshire

  1. Oliver Chettle July 5, 2010 / 22:46

    It might not be the best house available for the money (the ceilings are much too low for a start) but I can’t see why you are so severe about it. It is a quiet and elegant building in a delightful setting.

    • countryhouses July 5, 2010 / 23:54

      Thanks for your comment Oliver. I think it’s a matter of personal taste – the house doesn’t appeal to me and I certainly don’t feel that the house is worth the money they’re asking for it. Architecturally, it’s not a well-designed house as it was never intended to be one and it’s also sited in the wrong part of the grounds to ensure the privacy that someone who has paid that much would expect. More than that, the price doesn’t feel like a valuation of it’s intrinsic worth but more like Mr Williams trying to cover the excessive price he unfortunately paid (which was due to the previous owner’s overly lavish redecoration). I suspect that we’ll see the house either hanging around for long time, or the price will drop or it will be quietly withdrawn and re-marketed later.

  2. Diane January 25, 2011 / 09:03

    It’s got a swimming pool and a gym which are on my dream house wish list.
    I’d spotted it on rightmove last night as I’ve been extending my search area in my search for the ideal property. The tennis court is fantastic too.
    However it’s very close to the church so I’d want to know how busy that was on a Sunday!
    I like the way it looks too but I see what you mean about comparable property in the area – there’s a lot out there when you’re spending big bucks! I’ll have to have a good look at the other properties you suggest too!

  3. Matthew Beckett - The Country Seat June 9, 2013 / 15:01

    The Sunday Times Home section (9 June 2013) is reporting that Robbie Williams is putting Compton Bassett back on the market again, but this time for £5.5m – £2.6m less than he paid for it. Looks like the possible construction of a waste processing facility, which would be less than a mile from the house, may be scaring off those with this sort of budget. That, and the issue that the house still isn’t attractive.


  4. Matthew Steeples June 17, 2013 / 10:55

    This house truly is blighted. A landfill site and a quarry. Who’d pay £5.5m even to have them as neighbours? Poor Mr Williams.

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