It has been estimated that there are approximately 2,000 large country houses in the UK with decent size estates (over 100 acres) – but very few are still in the hands of the family which originally built them. Yet despite the many sales over the years it’s still possible for a house and land to remain with one family for many hundreds of years – though that is now coming to an end for Shakenhurst Hall in Shropshire, seat of the Meysey family for much of the last 1000 years and now on the market for the first time at £12m.
The lands were first given to a French Baron, Roger de Toeni, for his help in the conquest of Britain in 1066. It has then passed through inheritance through various members of the Meysey family except when it passed for period to a godson in the 20th-century and then his wife, before being bequeathed to Michael Severne, a descendent of the Meyseys. On his death in 2007 it passed to his only daughter Amanda who died of cancer in 2008 leaving the house and estate to her husband.
The grade-II listed Georgian house, built in the 1790s but with a 16th-century core, is now up for sale as it faces that age-old difficulty of an estate no longer providing sufficient income to maintain the house – and neither of their two sons are in a position to take it on. Michael Severne had run a successful plastics business from outbuildings on the estate but with his death the business folded. Interestingly this mirrors the challenges faced by country house owners in the 19th-century who relied also on a single source of income, agriculture, who were hit particularly hard by the 1870s depression in farm produce prices and land values.
Land has always been regarded as the most important asset (even if mortgaged) and so when faced with the choice of economising, selling land, or selling paintings or books it was usually the latter which went first. This lead to the rise of the art sales particularly from the 1890s until the 1930s which dealers such as Joseph Duveen exploited as they extracted exquisite Old Master Italian paintings and others by the finest English artists which would then be shipped to the United States. Here a new class of exceptionally wealthy financiers and industrialists such as Hearst, Frick, Morgan, Mellon, Carnegie and Rockefeller would compete to secure the finest works of art before donating them to eponymous public galleries.
Although this did leave significantly smaller collections for some houses it did sometimes provide the finance to either diversify into investments or tide them over until agriculture recovered in the 1930s – although for some it merely delayed the more unpalatable choice of demolition which unfortunately was the outcome for hundreds of houses in the UK. With demolition now thankfully out of the question an owner is left with few options and it can be easier to simply sell up which is what appears to be the case with Shakenhurst Hall.
Sad though it is that such a long connection is to come to an end, here’s hoping the next owner will respect the 1300-acre estate, the history and the house to create a rewarding new chapter for this elegant ‘minor’ country house.
Property details: ‘Shakenhurst Hall‘ [Savills]
PS: it’s interesting that two houses should be available which look so alike. I was struck by just how similar Shakenhurst Hall is to Peatling Parva Hall in Leicestershire which is currently on the market for £4.75m. Interestingly the latter only took on it’s current form after alterations in 1910 after the Arts-and-Crafts architect Detmar Blow added two bays to the original house. Was this just a coincidence of architects thinking alike or had Blow seen either Shakenhurst or something similar?
Property details: Peatling Parva Hall [Knight Frank]