Following the devastating fire which brought down the roof of the central section of the house, one of the other residents has said that although serious, the house would be restored – but he estimated that it would cost around £500,000. Guy Wadsworth, whose son Freddy discovered the fire, has been forced to move out of the house temporarily but said “It’s repairable but it is a big job — it’s not a write-off by any means.”. It has been confirmed by fire investigators that the blaze was caused by an electric blanket which had been tuned on but that without a thermostat it simply kept heating up until it caught fire.
Unfortunately fire is one of the greatest risks facing country houses today and although in this case the house can be restored, it still won’t bring back the historical fabric which has been lost.
Earlier today, the Grade-II listed Holnest Park House in Dorset suffered a serious fire which has gutted the central section of the house leaving the core at risk of collapse. The fire started in one of the seven flats through the careless use of an electric blanket which lacked a thermostat and simply heated up until it caught fire. The fire destroyed the two flats in the central section but the 60 firemen in attendance were able to prevent the blaze spreading to the wings.
The Georgian house was built in 1768, and rebuilt in the 1830s, on land formerly owned by the Bishops of Salisbury. It became a secondary seat of the Sawbridge-Erle-Drax family through marriage, and so was regularly tenented as the family were mainly based at Charborough Park (a large house also in Dorset) and Olantigh Towers in Kent.
The house was sold in 1919 and then used as military hospital for injured servicemen during WWII. It was subsequently sold to timber merchants who stripped the park of it’s fine trees even felling the avenue to the house, and then selling the land off for agriculture. The house then became an island in the middle of the fields, neglected until someone decided to ill-advisedly convert this remote house into a nightclub. The left-hand side was divided up and much damage done to the interior during this process. The right-hand side became (or was) houses. After the inevitable failure of the nightclub the rest of the house was converted into further apartments.
Fire is one of the most worrying dangers faced by country houses as they can be started so easily, especially during renovations, and due to the materials used in construction the fire can spread quickly. Of course, this danger is increased where a house has been split into multiple apartments as there are now more sources of ignition such as kitchens. Older houses are usually not fitted with many of the modern fire safety features as this would compromise the historic fabric of the building meaning there is a extra responsibility for the owners to be vigilant.
Although the intial reports indicate that the fire-damaged section of the house has been declared structurally unsafe, it’s hoped that restoration will be possible. Insurance can cover the cost of re-instatement but it can’t bring back the historical aspect of what’s been lost.
The New Year period can be a very quiet time for the sale of country houses. This can often be easily seen in the much-thinner-than-usual selection of property adverts at the front of Country Life magazine, the weekly bible of the country house. However, someone has obviously decided to steal a march on the spring rush by putting a stunning home on the market; Abbey House in Witchampton, Dorset.
The Grade-II* listed property was originally built in the early 16th century and is thought to be the first brick-built house in Dorset. Formerly known as Witchampton Manor, it has 5 reception rooms, 8 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms (you might want to do something about that), plus the usual selection of outbuildings. The 6.8-acres of beautiful gardens also includes river frontage – perhaps an eco-alternative to the swimming pool.
This is a jaw-droppingly lovely house and I suspect with the currently dearth of decent larger homes on the market the owners may well have timed the sale very well as the bonus money from the City looks to find a country hole to escape to.