Anyone restoring a country house?

Blackborough House, Devon (Image: Trouserama / Derelict Places)
Blackborough House, Devon (Image: Trouserama / Derelict Places) - currently for sale with Winkworths

Heritage and the dedicated work of those who seek to rescue it can often be overlooked only to be occasionally thrust into the spotlight of TV – though this can be a useful promotion in these times of austerity.  Sadly, the schedules seem to focus on heritage in bursts, giving us ‘The Restoration Man‘ and ‘Country House Rescue‘ at the same time but it’s good to know that their popularity encourages the programme makers to continue to commission this type of series.  Of course these programmes need material so if you know anyone restoring a UK country house, please read on.

One of the most successful of the heritage programmes was the original ‘Restoration‘, a wonderful series presented by Griff Rhys Jones who has personal experience of restoring his own rural Welsh farmhouse.  This series truly caught the attention of the public and raised awareness of the buildings at risk in their own areas.  Keen to tap this interest again, Endemol, the production company behind ‘Restoration’, have a new series, ‘Restoration Home‘, ready for broadcast in Spring 2011 (and flagged up as a comment already on this blog) – though sadly without Griff as the presenter.  The new series focuses on private owners and follows their restoration of ‘at risk’ houses as modern homes.  Although the intention is that these will be sensitive restorations it will be interesting to see exactly what compromises and sacrifices are made in creating the home the owner wishes to achieve.

As a sign of the confidence that Endemol have in likely popularity of the series, they are already looking for houses to feature in a second series with, ideally, work starting in the next few months and reaching completion around March 2012.  To quote Natasha Evans of Endemol Television:

“Each show will chart the restoration process by the owners of one house, as they restore their home to its former glory. Much as the original series, we’ll bring the property to life, setting it in its cultural and historic context. This is a major aspect of each show and will be interwoven with the restoration. At the same time, we’ll be looking at the different stages of its architectural styles.”

One of the key criteria is that the houses must be owned privately by those who are intending to live in them, that they are currently in need of a bit of love and attention, and that the owners are passionate about their house and specifically interested in the history of their house. So if you are undertaking your own project, or know someone who fits the criteria, please contact Natasha Evans on 0208 222 4326 or by email  natasha.evans@endemoluk.com

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If you are inspired by these programmes and would like to find your own building at risk then one of the best places to start is the ‘Buildings at Risk Register‘ managed by the architectural heritage charity SAVE Britain’s Heritage.  To access the register you need to subscribe but this will give you full access to the register of hundreds of properties in need of a sensitive owner.

If Blackborough House (pictured above) takes your fancy, it’s currently (January 2011) for sale with Winkworths for between £1m – £1.5m, but will require at least that (and probably more) spent again on it to restore it as a home.

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Lodges to lost houses: Thorington Hall Gate Lodge, Suffolk

Thorington Hall Lodge, Suffolk (Image: buildings_fan on Flickr)

Often the only visible sign of  a grand estate is the lodge house seen as we drive past; their varied size and designs indicating the wealth and aspirations of the owners.  Although still a integral part of the functioning of some estates, providing security and accommodation, sometimes these beautiful buildings lie abandoned, intriguing those who go past them everyday.  ‘The Restoration Man’ series on Channel 4 has been showing people who have been willing to take on abandoned listed buildings and bringing them back to life. The episode to be shown on Sunday 25 April features Thorington Hall Gate Lodge, a forlorn reminder of Thorington Hall, one of the many elegant demolished Suffolk country houses.

Although their main function was to provide shelter for the estate worker who opened the gates, lodges were often designed by the same pre-eminent architects who were working on the main house.  Far from being an afterthought, these houses were often strongly imbued with the overall architectural style of the estate and were seen as an important way of announcing the status of the estate and owner.  Alternatively they gave scope for the owner to indulge in some architectural experimentation.  The styles of the lodges are as varied as the many houses they protected, from Victorian Gothic follies to small thatched cottage orne to minature Greek temples, such as at Thorington Hall.  The publication of ‘pattern books’ such as Joseph Gandy’s ‘Designs for Cottages, Cottage Farms and other Rural Buildings, Including Entrance Gates and Lodges‘ (1805) also enabled the discerning owner to select particular buildings from an established design without the need for an architect.

Many of these lodge cottages are now no longer part of the estate and have been turned into interesting family homes.  Their smaller, more domestic, scale also ensured that they often survived the demolition of the main house.  One example is Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire where all nine lodges at each of the estate entrances survive despite the palatial mansion being demolished in 1938.  Increasingly, the modern estate owner is buying back these buildings to reintegrate them with the overall estate.  However, some still survive as neglected shells and these can prove to be an exciting opportunity to create a home.  One important factor bear in mind is that these houses are often very small (sometimes only two rooms) and their listed status means it’s not always possible to add significant new extensions.  One of the joys of these houses is their diminutive size and that should be respected when considering restoration, but completed sensitively, these houses can be an interesting feature of your local heritage.

To find lodge houses which may be available for sale, join SAVE Britain’s Heritage and access their ‘Buildings at Risk Register’ where you can search for these properties plus many others.  Their latest ‘Buildings at Risk’ report – ‘Live or Let Die’ – will be published on 1 June 2010 and can be pre-ordered now.

To find out more about the many country houses which have been demolished in Suffolk there is a superb book which has been recently published called ‘The Lost Country Houses of Suffolk’ by W.M. Roberts [amazon.co.uk].

Programme details: ‘The Restoration Man‘ [Channel 4]