Anyone restoring a country house?

Blackborough House, Devon (Image: Trouserama / Derelict Places)
Blackborough House, Devon (Image: Trouserama / Derelict Places) - currently for sale with Winkworths

Heritage and the dedicated work of those who seek to rescue it can often be overlooked only to be occasionally thrust into the spotlight of TV – though this can be a useful promotion in these times of austerity.  Sadly, the schedules seem to focus on heritage in bursts, giving us ‘The Restoration Man‘ and ‘Country House Rescue‘ at the same time but it’s good to know that their popularity encourages the programme makers to continue to commission this type of series.  Of course these programmes need material so if you know anyone restoring a UK country house, please read on.

One of the most successful of the heritage programmes was the original ‘Restoration‘, a wonderful series presented by Griff Rhys Jones who has personal experience of restoring his own rural Welsh farmhouse.  This series truly caught the attention of the public and raised awareness of the buildings at risk in their own areas.  Keen to tap this interest again, Endemol, the production company behind ‘Restoration’, have a new series, ‘Restoration Home‘, ready for broadcast in Spring 2011 (and flagged up as a comment already on this blog) – though sadly without Griff as the presenter.  The new series focuses on private owners and follows their restoration of ‘at risk’ houses as modern homes.  Although the intention is that these will be sensitive restorations it will be interesting to see exactly what compromises and sacrifices are made in creating the home the owner wishes to achieve.

As a sign of the confidence that Endemol have in likely popularity of the series, they are already looking for houses to feature in a second series with, ideally, work starting in the next few months and reaching completion around March 2012.  To quote Natasha Evans of Endemol Television:

“Each show will chart the restoration process by the owners of one house, as they restore their home to its former glory. Much as the original series, we’ll bring the property to life, setting it in its cultural and historic context. This is a major aspect of each show and will be interwoven with the restoration. At the same time, we’ll be looking at the different stages of its architectural styles.”

One of the key criteria is that the houses must be owned privately by those who are intending to live in them, that they are currently in need of a bit of love and attention, and that the owners are passionate about their house and specifically interested in the history of their house. So if you are undertaking your own project, or know someone who fits the criteria, please contact Natasha Evans on 0208 222 4326 or by email


If you are inspired by these programmes and would like to find your own building at risk then one of the best places to start is the ‘Buildings at Risk Register‘ managed by the architectural heritage charity SAVE Britain’s Heritage.  To access the register you need to subscribe but this will give you full access to the register of hundreds of properties in need of a sensitive owner.

If Blackborough House (pictured above) takes your fancy, it’s currently (January 2011) for sale with Winkworths for between £1m – £1.5m, but will require at least that (and probably more) spent again on it to restore it as a home.


17 thoughts on “Anyone restoring a country house?

  1. Jim Webster January 13, 2011 / 13:50

    Winkworths are, perhaps, the worst people to attempt to sell a house in the market place. Their web site is flashy but lacks substance and they obviously believe that one distant image is all that is needed to sell a house.

    What the web needs is an agent who specialises in the selling of these historic houses, who can cover them extensively showing potential buyers exactly what is available, work needed and liabilities. This, I believe, would result in an increased interest and more chance of the houses being sold.

  2. Norman January 13, 2011 / 19:23

    Quite agree with Jim Webster about the agent, their single long shot is probably so potential purchasers won’t notice the scrap cars and fridges etc. that have litter the grounds, as it has operated as a scrapyard for decades. Better pictures than the agent’s at

  3. countryhouses January 14, 2011 / 00:12

    I agree – honesty is usually the best policy, especially where the house will require significant amounts of work and money. Winkworths do appear to have been rather lax in the online marketing – compare with the rather nice presentation of one of my favourites, Piercefield House near Chepstow, which is still for sale through Jackson-Stops for around £2m: I’d love to have the house for those splendid Greek temple flanking wings. Now if only I could actually get the right numbers on the lottery for once…!

  4. Andrew January 14, 2011 / 08:05

    The first Restoration Home series will feature Stanwick Hall in Northamptonshire, a Grade II* listed 17th century small country house currently being restored by Anthony Rickett Architects for their client.
    Matt, plans for the Restoration Home first series were only announced by Endemol and the BBC on 22 November 2010, I believe with filming starting soon afterwards, so the call for participating houses that my December comment referred to was for the first series, although I am sure any more than the initial 6 houses will be considered for a second series, if it gets the go-ahead from the BBC after the first series has been aired and the success gauged. However, I’m surprised if the first series airs so quickly in Spring 2011, as this does not allow much time for the restoration work to be completed, unless the series only shows the planning and beginning of the restoration, possibly with a follow-up in the 2nd series.
    Regarding Winkworth, given that Blackborough House has been for sale for 4 years, I gather they are reluctant to spend any time or money putting together quality photos or a brochure on a property from which they are unlikely to see any commission (Knight Frank were unsuccessful back in 2007-8). In August 2007 Kirstie Allsopp (co-presenter of Location, Location, Location) and her property developer husband Ben Anderson almost bought Blackborough House with the intention of making a Channel 4 reality show on its restoration, but pulled out when the credit crunch hit (Mail on Sunday and Times articles). The Italian style Blackborough House, with a loggia on three sides, has been used as a breaker’s yard for over 60 years, but was only listed Grade II in 1987, and has been owned for 15 years by scrap metal dealer Ralph Sanders, who plans to auction the yard’s scrap before moving out. There has also been thoughts for obtaining planning permission to build new houses in the walled garden as enabling development for the restoration of the house.

  5. Andrew January 19, 2011 / 14:08

    Following on from Matt’s Tweet dated 18 January on Howsham Hall in Yorkshire being the filming location for the E4/Channel 4 UK edition of the Tool Academy TV series (after 3 US series), it should also be noted that the Grade I listed Howsham Hall is still for sale with 83 acres for £5m through Knight Frank and Savills, having been first listed for sale with them in July 2009 for £6m, for only the 4th time in 400 years (brochure). Perhaps the TV series will lift the Hall’s profile in finding a new owner, regardless of the curse.

  6. ldm January 20, 2011 / 20:42

    Howsham Hall, which I’ve never seen photos of before, is lovely, and surely must have been designed by Robert Smythson or someone who had worked with him.

    • countryhouses January 21, 2011 / 00:31

      Hi ldm – according to the listing description (it’s grade-I) the house was “possibly by John Carr or Peter Atkinson”. Full description here: Howsham Hall

      • ldm January 21, 2011 / 01:22


        I believe that refers to the interiors – the exterior, at least of the main facade shown in the brochure linked by Andrew above at 14:08, is surely much earlier, and to my (untutored) eye it is remarkably evocative of Smythson’s work.

      • countryhouses January 28, 2011 / 23:53

        Hi ldm – I agree that it does seem very Smythson-esque. I checked Colvin and Girouard they don’t give any firm attribution either so the mystery continues…

  7. Andrew January 21, 2011 / 14:57

    Another TV restoration programme in 2004, on Duncraig Castle in the Highlands, was BBC Scotland’s 5-part reality series The Dobsons of Duncraig, which followed Perlin and Sam Dobson and their extended family. The Castle was purchased by the Dobsons in 2003, partly restored as a B&B with limited funds amid family disagreements and court battles, then put up for sale in February 2009, and bought by Suzanne Hazeldine in August 2009, who continues the B&B and function business. The castle was built in 1866 for Sir Alexander Matheson, who made his fortune by the age of 36 trading opium in the Far East, his family being part of the firm Jardine Matheson, with his uncle, Sir James Matheson, building Lews Castle in 1847-57. That would make for a gritty blog article on houses built from the profits of activities that are now illegal, such as slavery and drug trafficking (which still occurs today in varying forms).

  8. ldm January 22, 2011 / 16:11

    For slavery, see, irony of ironies, Gladstone.

  9. ldm January 25, 2011 / 01:46

    4th hand gossip about Blackborough House from a friend of a friend who spoke to the real estate agents – the house is structurally unsound (which should not be surprising), but the situation is truly beautiful once one gets past the abandoned cars etc. Also, as I understand fourth hand, the agent also said that English Heritage would be involved with anything that was done to the house, whether it be repairs or a request for demolition.

    • countryhouses January 28, 2011 / 23:37

      Thanks ldm – unfortunately I do fear that it’ll be the location that attracts interest with the purchaser looking to demolish the existing house. Considering that it is one of the last remnants of the grand plans of the Earl of Egremont – the main house, Silverton Park, having been demolished in 1902 – it is worthy of being saved. Also considering the formerly very poor state of the stables at Silverton Park and how they have been magnificently restored by the Landmark Trust, I’m sure the house can equally be rescued.

  10. ldm January 27, 2011 / 20:04

    I’ve just looked up Howsham Hall in my copy of Mark Girouard’s Robert Smythson & The Elizabethan Country House, and found the following:

    “These houses [including Howsham] ….. are more likely to have been, if anything, influenced by Smythson than designed by him; though admittedly Howsham’s amazing spread of glass is very much in the Smythson manner.”

  11. Andrew February 6, 2011 / 13:10

    Baltersan Castle in South Ayrshire, a 16th century tower house ruin, could be another potential project, if someone has a spare £250,000 to buy it and another £2m to restore it. It was previously owned by the Kennedy family as part of the Culzean and Cassillis estates. It has been for sale for a while, being offered for £195,000 in March 2008.

  12. Andrew June 4, 2011 / 10:05

    Jim/Norman/CH, ask and you will receive – last week Winkworth created a new Blackborough House web page with more photos, a floor plan and a cut-down brochure; although no change in the asking price of £1m or the property’s limited details. Better than before, but not that revealing or helpful for the serious buyer! Hopefully something more enlightening will appear by the end of the year. Perhaps by then another room can be tidied up for a photograph!

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