When bling attacks: Ollerton Grange, Cheshire

Ollerton Grange, Cheshire (Image: Knight Frank)
Ollerton Grange, Cheshire (Image: Knight Frank)

A constant danger for smaller, less historic – but no less attractive – country houses is when the local area becomes more fashionable with an influx of newer, brasher ideas which can be unsympathetic to the original designs. Ollerton Grange in Cheshire, now for sale for an eye-watering £30m with Knight Frank, could be seen as a example of what happens when a small country house meets a large amount of money.

From the picture the house has echoes of the early East Anglian Prodigy houses such Blicking Hall with the neat gables and rambling roofline, built in 1619-27.  Yet Ollerton Grange is a fairly modern construction, built in 1901 by the Manchester architect John Brooke for Cyril Lowcock.  The neo-Tudor style was popular in the Arts & Crafts period with it’s evocation of ancient history which the newly rich were keen to adopt.  The octagonal tower with its ogee cap is the main feature of the entrance front with the gables, mullioned windows, and tall, diagonally-set chimneys following its lead.

The house, plus 141 acres, was bought in 2000 by the heir to the Matalan empire, Jamey Hargreaves for between £5m-10m and he has since spent an estimated £20m over the last ten years.  To his credit he has spared no expense on restoring the main house with fine quality Arts & Crafts panelling set off by some excellent quality antiques.  This reflects the fact that he confesses to having been a reader of Country Life magazine since the age of eight – despite the inevitable joking from his family in the terrace house where he grew up.

Plunge pool, Ollerton Grange, Cheshire (Image: Knight Frank)
Plunge pool, Ollerton Grange, Cheshire (Image: Knight Frank)

Yet if this was the only work to have taken place all would be well.  However, the house is situated in the area of Cheshire known as the ‘Golden Triangle’ inhabited by footballers and their girlfriends.  The prevailing interior style is brash and flashy with an emphasis on gadgets and gimmicks.  At Ollerton Grange this has manifested itself in a huge pleasure complex to the north of the house which more than doubles the original size of the house. This features a full spa, a pool with retractable roof, a red-tiled plunge pool with sculpted aluminium ceiling [pictured], sauna, steam room – with the ability to seal all this off from the main house with a steel shutter during the big house parties.

Credit to Mr Hargreaves for not butchering the original house to fit it in these facilities but is it right that now fully half the space of the new extended house is this modern ‘pleasure-dome’? The photos of the exterior of the house all focus on the original house because, I suspect, the exterior of the new wing will not match the careful architectural composition of John Brooke’s original.  This is not to be snobby but merely to highlight that although a house can be restored to within an inch of it’s life, that doesn’t mean that other alterations may not compromise the overall setting.  Planners have to tread a fine line between allowing necessary and hoped for alterations but perhaps there should be a greater emphasis on ensuring that any new extension continues using the architectural vocabulary of the original house to harmonise the overall look of the property.

Property details: ‘Ollerton Grange‘ [Knight Frank]

Source credit: original story ‘Tangerine Dream’ in the Home section of The Sunday Times – 27 June 2010.

Phoenix for sale: Beaurepaire House, Hampshire

Beaurepaire House, Hampshire (Image: Knight Frank)
Beaurepaire House, Hampshire (Image: Knight Frank)

Launched this week ( 23 June 2010) in Country Life magazine is a fine, grade-II* listed, moated manor house set in nearly 250 acres of Hampshire.  Open the first set of impressive wrought iron gates and follow the drive down to the ancient moat and through the second, equally impressive, set of white painted gates over the wooden bridge. Before you stands a beautiful red-brick manor house – but why is the house set in one small corner of the island? Why does the drive lead over the moat but unusually not to the middle of the house?  And why does that tower look a bit new?

The answer to all these questions is that Beaurepaire House, as it now stands, is what remains of an important and beautiful manor house which burnt down in 1942 after a chimney fire.    What happened subsequently is an interesting example of how disaster need not lead to the loss of the whole house or the estate.

Beaurepaire House, Hampshire before the fire (Image: Lost Heritage: England's Lost Country Houses)
Beaurepaire House, Hampshire before the fire (Image: Lost Heritage: England's Lost Country Houses)

Beaurepaire House has royal connections having been visited twice, once by Henry VIII in 1531 and then by his daughter Elizabeth I during her visit to The Vyne.  The moat itself dates from 1369 but the original house was built in the 16th-century but was badly damaged during the Civil War and was only rebuilt in 1777.  The design of the new Georgian ‘Gothick’ house followed the rare structure of having a square core with castellated corner turrets.  There are relatively few examples of these houses – and the ones we have today are all ruined to some degree (Ruperra Castle, Wales / Lulworth Castle, Dorset) or lost entirely (Compton Bassett House, Wiltshire).

At the time of the fire the house was owned by one of the richest men in the country, Sir Strati Ralli, but wartime building restrictions prevented restoration. After the war the estate was owned by Lady Sherfield and in 1965 she decided to restore the remaining servant’s wing as a house and commissioned the well-known architect Tom Bird, who had restored many other country houses, to make the house habitable.  Bird decided to add a sympathetic tower, which continued the existing architectural style, to the fire-damaged southern flank of the remaining wing to not only provide structure but also to improve the proportions of what was left.  The addition was less than 10% of what remained but successfully ensured that the house was able to rise again from the ashes of the fire to retain the role it had enjoyed for hundreds of years as the centrepiece to an impressive country estate.

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Property details: Knight Frank seem to have forgotten to put the details on their website.   Nevermind, here’s a link to all the Hampshire houses they’re selling in the hope that they soon add it in: Knight Frank: Hampshire

Midmar Castle – all that glistens isn’t quite golden

Midmar Castle, Aberdeenshire (Image: The Times)

It seems that an interesting story used to help speed up the sale of a house but for Midmar Castle in Aberdeenshire even a tale of sunken gold hasn’t helped secure a sale a year after the house was launched. The category-A listed castle was launched on the market on February 2009 with a fulsome write-up in The Times relating how the value of the house had underwritten a risky – but ultimately successful – expedition to recover £50m in Russian gold which had gone down with HMS Edinburgh in WWII.

The castle was originally started in 1411 but was greatly extended in the late sixteenth-century by the remarkable local granite-masons known as the Midmar school. They were responsible for Midmar and four other castles built nearby – Crathes, Frazer, Drum, Craigievar – all of which are now owned by the National Trust apart from Midmar.  Based on the traditional defensive z-plan with three main towers, this is an impressive and historic home.

The original price tag of £5m (set by Knight Frank who have now been replaced by Savills) for the house, gardens, outbuildings and surrounding 185-acres has now dropped to £3.5m – which represents an average drop of over £100,000 for each month it has remained on the market.   This may reflect some over-optimistic valuations but it’s still a superb, historic castle set in a perfect mini estate – ideal for anyone who wishes to experience the Scottish country lifestyle but doesn’t want the thousands of acres which often come with a house of this quality.

Property details: ‘Midmar Castle, Aberdeenshire‘ [Savills]

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).