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]