In 1927, having built and sold Deanery Garden at Sonning-on-Thames, Berkshire, and later restored Lindisfarne Castle in Northumberland, Country Life’s founder, Edward Hudson, was restlessly seeking his next project, and found it in the pages of his own magazine. This was Plumpton Place, a moated Elizabethan manor house at the foot of the South Downs, near Lewes, Sussex, which was in a major state of disrepair when, in June 1927, Hudson bought the mid-16th-century main house, with its mill house and 60-odd acres of land and lakes, from the Chichester estate for £3,300.
Hudson was already nearing retirement age when he, his favourite architect Edwin Lutyens, and garden designer Gertrude Jekyll embarked on a massive restoration programme, which was still unfinished when Hudson died in 1937. In 1938, Plumpton Place was sold for £9,000 to racing enthusiast Lord Manton, who built the charming, 19-box stable yard beside an enormous, Grade II-listed Elizabethan barn.
In 1972, rock star Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin bought the property for £200,000 and, 10 years later, sold it to developer Philip Gorringe for £650,000. Shortly afterwards, Gorringe sold it on to legendary American venture capitalist Tom Perkins, the current owner, for a reputed £800,000. Today sees the launch in Country Life of Grade II*-listed Plumpton Place-rightly described by Pevsner as ‘an enchanted place’-at a guide price of £8 million through Knight Frank (020-7629 8171) and Savills (020-7016 3701).
Plumpton Place was built for the Mascall family in 1568 on the site of an earlier manor house mentioned in Domesday. Water was as important an element of the estate then as it is now-and the source of its wealth, judging from the staggering £4,000 paid for the property in 1620 by Sir Thomas Springett of Arundel Castle. Having worked with Hudson at Deanery Garden and Lindisfarne, Lutyens was well attuned to his mentor’s wavelength, and while Hudson organised the clearing of the lakes, his architect set about converting the Grade II-listed Mill House, built by the Earl of Chichester in 1802, into a romantic, three-bedroom, brick-and-weatherboard secon-dary house, from where operations could be directed.
Lutyens then started on the main house, where his first action was to disconnect the manor from ‘the mainland’, by replacing the existing narrow isthmus with a delicate two-arched bridge. The ground around the house was banked up by a massive brick retaining wall to form a rose garden and terrace, supported above the water level by oak planking, and reached by three flights of brick steps. The approach to the new ‘island’ was embellished with an imposing gateway leading to a delightful pair of cottages, built in typical Lutyens style and listed Grade II.
The original house was E-shaped and probably thatched. The north and south fronts are the earliest parts and possibly date from the 1400s. The flint west front is 16th century, but the east front is almost entirely Lutyens, dominated by his dramatic, double-height music room, which rises from the water’s edge on a plinth of stone, beneath a huge catslide roof and tall chimney stacks. The interior, which has been sensitively improved by Mr Perkins over the years, flows easily for a house of its age. In addition to the music room/great hall, ground-floor rooms include a panelled library, a morning room overlooking the moat, an intimate family dining room and a kitchen. A newly crafted staircase leads to master and guest suites, and two further bedrooms on the first floor, with two further bedroom suites on the second floor.
Although Lutyens, with Gertrude Jekyll, who died in 1932, is undeniably the chief architect of the gardens at Plumpton Place, much of their present design and layout can be attributed to the current owner, whose wife laid out the rose garden and other main areas some 25 years ago. In every direction, there are delicious glimpses of the lakes and water-courses, or the banks of the moat carpeted with primroses and daffodils in spring, all set against the backdrop of the peaceful South Downs, seen through the leaves of towering ash, oak and sycamore.
Knight Frank and Savills are also joint agents in the sale of another magical house, Grade II*-listed Pusey House, near Faringdon, Oxfordshire, which is being offered with 100 acres of wonderful gardens, grounds, parkland and a Grade II-listed stable block, at a guide price of £27m. The remainder of the surrounding 643-acre estate, which includes a polo pitch, farm buildings, and the estate yard with planning consent for development, is available for an additional £4m to £5m.
The ancient Pusey estate takes its name from the family of that name who were gifted the property for loyal service to King Canute between 995 and 1035. The present house, claimed to be ‘one of England’s most beautiful’, was built between 1746 and 1748 for John Allen Pusey; the temple in the garden commemorates his daughter, Mrs Brotherton, who inherited the estate jointly with her sister Jane. Pusey then passed to the Hon Philip Bouverie MP, founder of the Royal Agricultural Society, whose son, the Rev Edward Bouverie Pusey was an influential member of the Oxford Movement in the 19th century. The estate remained in the Pusey family until 1935, since when it has had only three owners, the most recent being John and Felicity Loudon, who bought it in 1997.
A talented interior designer, Mrs Loudon has worked wonders with the interior of the house, which has accommodation on four floors-five magnificent reception rooms, including a large hall, with wonderful views of the gardens and lake, a billiard room, 14 main bedrooms, a staff flat, domestic offices and an indoor swimming pool. Even more spectacular, if that were possible, are the gardens laid out as a series of rooms. A flight of stone steps leads down to lawns that sweep on to the lake, where a Chinese bridge crosses over to more lawns and an arboretum of splendid specimen trees and woodland walks. The walled garden known as Lady Emily’s, smothered with roses bordered by box, is perhaps the most delightful of all.