If you thought ‘The Restoration Man’ projects a bit small-fry; try Overstone House

Overstone Hall, Northamptonshire (Image: Martin Sutton on flickr)
Overstone Hall, Northamptonshire (Image: Martin Sutton on flickr)

Although hated by Samuel Loyd who commissioned it, Overstone House is fondly remembered by the generations of girls who were taught there after it became a school.  A vast, rambling property, it was sold to an obscure evangelical religious group who lived there until a devastating fire in April 2001 destroyed the main part of the house – although Loyd might have been quite relieved.

Overstone House replaced the earlier Overstone Hall and was built in 1862 for the banker Samuel Loyd, who became Lord Overstone for services to finance.  His wife  was keen to have a property commensurate with their status and so her husband decided to rebuild on a grand scale.  However, he inexplicably picked the unknown architect William Milford Teulon (brother of the more famous Gothic revivalist Samuel Sanders Teulon) who was instructed to design with a mixture of Elizabethan and Renaissance features.  This choice led to the creation of one of the most derided houses created in the Victorian era.

Both Girouard and Pevsner were uncomplimentary with the latter describing it as ‘drearily asymmetrical’.  However, the most damning verdict  came from Samuel Loyd himself, who, in what could be regarded as a wonderfully amusing piece of architectural criticism, said:

“The New House I regret to say, is the cause of unmitigated disappointment and vexation.  It is an utter failure – We have fallen into the hands of an architect in whom incapacity is his smallest fault.  The House tho’ very large and full of pretension – has neither taste, comfort nor convenience.  I am utterly ashamed of it … the principal rooms are literally uninhabitable – I shall never fit them up … I grieve to think that I shall hand such an abortion to my successors.”

As if this wasn’t enough, Loyd’s wife died before the project was finished leaving him with this rather large problem – which he promptly ignored by going and living with his daughter at Lockinge house in Berkshire where she had become Lady Wantage. Loyd must have eventually finished it as, on his death in 1883, it passed to Lady Wantage who, along with her husband, used it regularly during the hunting season until 1901.  After her death it was tenanted until sold to become a girls school in 1929.

It remained a girls school until 1979 when the pressures of looking after such a vast pile became too much and it was eventually sold to the New Testament Church of God for £100,000 in 1980 who are the current vendors.  The devastating fire in 2001 destroyed approximately 60% of the building including all the principal rooms and the impressive carved staircase.  Parts of the grade-II listed house remained in use as an old people’s home but the rest became a concern, leading to it being added to the ‘Buildings at Risk’ register.

However, the house is now for sale as a grand project with the opportunity to create a truly palatial home – the original house contained 119 rooms totalling around 20,000 sq ft.  The local council’s preference is that it become a single house – but to do so would require someone with big ideas and very deep pockets, willing to spend at least £5-10m on restoration on top of the £1.5m to buy the house and 50-acres.  However, as the main cause of Loyd’s distress has now been destroyed, this is great opportunity for someone to perhaps create a house which might meet with greater approval.

For anyone with the necessary funds and Kevin McCloud on speed-dial, please call Robert Godfrey of Bidwells (01604 605050).

A detailed history of the house is available on the Overstone School for Girls website.

More details: ‘Property restoration project: Overstone Hall, Northampton‘ [Daily Telegraph]

Still available for sale – the country houses proving difficult to sell

Despite the enthusiasm of the estate agents, it seems that some of the most impressive houses featured in the glossy adverts at the front of Country Life magazine are proving difficult to sell.  Whether this is due to a poor local market or unreasonable prices, or just bad luck, here are a few stunning country houses which are still looking for buyers.

Noseley Hall, Leicestershire (Image: Knight Frank)

Noseley Hall in Leicestershire has been in the family of the present Lord Hazelrigg for nearly 300 years but was put up for sale in April 2009 at a guide price of £14m for the grade-II* listed house plus the 1,200-acre estate.  Built in 1728 on the back of Northumberland coal mining wealth, the house is decorated with works of art (though fewer now following several auctions), and fine plasterwork.  However, Lord Hazelrigg admitted that the estate doesn’t cover the costs of running the house, and so he decided to sell, but it’s still listed on the Knight Frank website – and still with a guide price of £14m.   More details: ‘The last of the romantics‘ [Sunday Times]

Dowdeswell Court (Image from Savills)

Another house which has been for sale is Dowdeswell Court in Gloucestershire which was first advertised in 2005 and then sold for £4.75 but then came back on the market in summer 2009 with a guide price of £7.9m (and was featured in this blog).  When serial restorer James Perkins took on the house it had been a 46-room nursing home resulting in a huge restoration project and since he sold in 2005 has moved on to restoring other country houses including Aynhoe Park.  The grade-II house was built between 1833-35 by local architect Charles Paul of Cheltenham and was originally three storeys but during the 1920s the top storey was neatly removed.  The more manageable house is a beautiful example of neo-Classical detailing combined with modern comforts. The house is available through either Knight Frank or Savills.

Compton Pauncefoot Castle - Somerset (Image: Bidwells)

The final property for this list is the impossibly beautiful Compton Pauncefoot Castle in Somerset which has been for sale since 2006.   Built in 182o, the grade-II listed house sits in a 1,278-acre estate with 40-acres of stunning gardens and lakes.  Originally on the market for £22m, it failed to sell even during the boom years of 2007-8 and despite 20 buying agents being invited to a launch event, and being featured in the The Sunday Times, it’s now being sold at auction – though I suspect the reserve would be near the current price advertised on the agents websites of in excess of £17m.  Perhaps the fact that it’s only for sale as a whole may have put off those who might just want the house and immediate grounds – but this would deny the owner the certainty of privacy that the surrounding estate would bring.  The house is available through Bidwells and Knight Frank (who despite putting it as their lead advert in Country Life this week fail to have it on their website).