Quick news roundup: Gelli Aur, Raasay House, overseas buyers

Welsh mansion appeal for armed forces retreat‘ [BBC News]

Raasay House: ‘Work to start on fire hit centre‘ [BBC News]

Overseas buyers snapping up country houses‘ [Country Life]

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Cherkley Court closes to the public

Cherkley Court, Surrey (Image: geograph.co.uk)

Despite the continued visitor success of the more famous country houses such as Castle Howard, the closure of Cherkley Court  in Leatherhead, Surrey, to the public shows that the smaller houses can find it much harder to make a profit.

The house was built in the 1860s but rebuilt in a French chateau-style following  a serious fire in 1893 and was home to the press baron Lord Beaverbrook. Now the charitable Beaverbrook Foundation which owns the house has decided that their funds can no longer subsidise the running of the house.  Previously the grounds had been open to the public and a new cafe and gift shop had been built in 2008 but even this failed to lift visitor numbers sufficiently. 

So what does the future hold?  The foundation have confirmed that it will honour all events and weddings already booked but will not be taking any more.  Although the house and estate was recently valued by Savills, it’s unlikely (though not impossible) that it might be put up for sale.  However this might actually be good solution as the many millions the sale would surely raise would be a healthy boost for the Foundation’s other charitable work but would also ensure that the house was in use which is the main protection against creeping neglect.  Fingers crossed that whatever the outcome, this interesting house is preserved for the future.

Full story: ‘Beaverbrook’s Leatherhead country home Cherkley Court closes to public‘ [Epsom Guardian]

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Eshott Hall, Northumberland, finally sold

Eshott Hall, Northumberland (Image: telegraph.co.uk)

One event which can always creates a certain risk for country houses is the bankruptcy of the owner.  Once the contents have been sold, apart from the lack of maintenence, an empty house can be a magnet for the thieves who think nothing of stripping fixtures and fittings and even the lead off the roof.  So the news that Eshott Hall in Northumberland has now been sold following the bankruptcy of the owners is to be welcomed as hopefully the house will remain in use.

Full story: ‘Future of hall to become clear as sale nears‘ [The Journal]

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Stanwick Hall to get a makeover on TV

Stanwick Hall, Northamptonshire (Image: Daily Telegraph)

When the beautiful Grade-II* listed, Queen Anne-era Stanwick Hall came up for sale in 2006, many would have been surprised at the relatively  low asking price of £1.1m.

Though the house came with seven bedroom and 11-acres in the Northamptonshire countryside, it also came with an ‘At Risk’ rating from English Heritage due to the structural problems.

Despite this it did sell and now Endemol have expressed an interest to the architect in charge of the restoration, Anthony Rickett, who has agreed to let them follow the work.  It’s always pleasing to hear of houses being restored and it’s even better when the work is brought to the attention of the wider public so they can also appreciate the hard work that is done to maintain these vital pieces of our heritage.

Full story: ‘Hall’s restoration to be shown on TV‘ [Evening Telegraph]

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The lack of modern country houses: FT Special Report

Grafton New Hall, Cheshire (Image: Ushida Findlay Architects)

The building of a country house used to be the ultimate expression of success. It was the sign that a man had achieved much that he wished to do and was now able to devote time and resources to this rural ‘badge of honour’.  Importantly, the success, learning, and attitude of the owner was to be expressed through his choice of architecture.  This determined individualism led to a vast range of styles – French chateau, gothic, ne0-classical – but one style which is lacking is the modern(ist) country house.

The FT report highlights how, after the decline in country house ownership during the early 20th century, those few country houses which have been built have been largely of a Classical design.  Indeed, when Ushida Findlay Architects proposed a radical ‘starfish’ design to replace the old Grafton Hall in Cheshire, the plan languished for years, never attracting an owner wishing to invest in the concept.  However, permission has now been granted for the construction of a large Classical house by Robert Adam.  This is another sign of the hold that this elegant style of architecture still not is aesthectically pleasing but also appeals to the ‘masculine’ objectives of building a house which states the power and wealth of the owner.

This attitude has moved modern country houses into the realm of the bespoke, ultra-luxury market and away from the aspirations of the merely wealthy.  In many ways, it’s good to see our exsiting stock of houses being cared for but there is also an important architectural history which needs to be expanded through the building of high-quality, modern country houses – able to meet the demanding standards of the contemporary rich but also to push forward the design of one of the most important elements of British architecture.

Full story: ‘Building Blocks‘ [FT.com]

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The plot thickens and a row brews: Brook House, Essex

Brook House, Essex (Image: Daily Gazette)

It seems that, despite the claims of the owner/developer of Brook House in Tiptree, Essex, English Heritage haven’t said that the house should be demolished.  Following on from the earlier story (Another house at risk from a developer: Brook House, Tiptree, Essex – 25/11/09) a local resident has flagged up a new story with EH now saying that although they believe the house to be in poor condition they have not said it should be demolished.

John Neale, English Heritage team leader for Essex, has confirmed that they are still examining the application – leaving the statements of the owner in his application to demolish looking somewhat precarious.  Let’s hope that EH, and Colchester Council listen to the concerns of the local residents and Tiptree Parish Council and not only refuse the demolition but also serve an urgent works notice to save this interesting part of the local architectural heritage.

Full story: ‘Listed Brook House row is brewing‘ [Daily Gazette]

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Lib Dems attack national heritage

So the Liberal Democrats have decided to make it harder to maintain a key part of our national heritage, that of our country houses.  Whilst I’m sure that it must look attractive from a ‘get-a-few-headlines’ point of view to be seen to be demanding money from the rich, the impact is much harsher.  Those who happen to have perhaps inherited a historic house – but usually little cash – will again find that the money which would probably have gone on maintenance would now be expected to thrown in the goverment’s bottomless pit of expenditure.

Another potential consequence of this is that our artistic cultural heritage is reduced further as owners, faced with mounting repair bills and now reduced funds, will again need to sell of yet more art or furniture.  This is a depressing spiral downwards as a house is shorn of many of the pieces which make it interesting and are part of what makes Britain such an important destination for scholars and tourists alike.  The contents of a house are almost as important as the house itself – one supports other.

So, the main hope is that the Lib Dems are unlikely to gain power and so their attack on heritage will remain just a piece of political grandstanding. Perhaps the main danger is that of a hung Parliament with the Lib Dems making this bad idea a key demand.

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