A constant danger for smaller, less historic – but no less attractive – country houses is when the local area becomes more fashionable with an influx of newer, brasher ideas which can be unsympathetic to the original designs. Ollerton Grange in Cheshire, now for sale for an eye-watering £30m with Knight Frank, could be seen as a example of what happens when a small country house meets a large amount of money.
From the picture the house has echoes of the early East Anglian Prodigy houses such Blicking Hall with the neat gables and rambling roofline, built in 1619-27. Yet Ollerton Grange is a fairly modern construction, built in 1901 by the Manchester architect John Brooke for Cyril Lowcock. The neo-Tudor style was popular in the Arts & Crafts period with it’s evocation of ancient history which the newly rich were keen to adopt. The octagonal tower with its ogee cap is the main feature of the entrance front with the gables, mullioned windows, and tall, diagonally-set chimneys following its lead.
The house, plus 141 acres, was bought in 2000 by the heir to the Matalan empire, Jamey Hargreaves for between £5m-10m and he has since spent an estimated £20m over the last ten years. To his credit he has spared no expense on restoring the main house with fine quality Arts & Crafts panelling set off by some excellent quality antiques. This reflects the fact that he confesses to having been a reader of Country Life magazine since the age of eight – despite the inevitable joking from his family in the terrace house where he grew up.
Yet if this was the only work to have taken place all would be well. However, the house is situated in the area of Cheshire known as the ‘Golden Triangle’ inhabited by footballers and their girlfriends. The prevailing interior style is brash and flashy with an emphasis on gadgets and gimmicks. At Ollerton Grange this has manifested itself in a huge pleasure complex to the north of the house which more than doubles the original size of the house. This features a full spa, a pool with retractable roof, a red-tiled plunge pool with sculpted aluminium ceiling [pictured], sauna, steam room – with the ability to seal all this off from the main house with a steel shutter during the big house parties.
Credit to Mr Hargreaves for not butchering the original house to fit it in these facilities but is it right that now fully half the space of the new extended house is this modern ‘pleasure-dome’? The photos of the exterior of the house all focus on the original house because, I suspect, the exterior of the new wing will not match the careful architectural composition of John Brooke’s original. This is not to be snobby but merely to highlight that although a house can be restored to within an inch of it’s life, that doesn’t mean that other alterations may not compromise the overall setting. Planners have to tread a fine line between allowing necessary and hoped for alterations but perhaps there should be a greater emphasis on ensuring that any new extension continues using the architectural vocabulary of the original house to harmonise the overall look of the property.
Property details: ‘Ollerton Grange‘ [Knight Frank]
Source credit: original story ‘Tangerine Dream’ in the Home section of The Sunday Times – 27 June 2010.