The first swallows have already arrived at the magical Blachford Manor estate at Cornwood, near Ivybridge, in Devon’s tranquil south-west corner, to the delight of the estate’s owner, international investment banker Roland Peeters. ‘I’ve lived in a lot of places around Europe, but this has been my dream,’ says Mr Peeters, who bought Blachford at the nadir of its fortunes in 2001, and has spent the past decade transforming the Grade II*-listed house and its 734 acres of land into a model West Country estate. Sadly, the constant need to travel makes it impossible for Mr Peeters to enjoy his creation to the full, and this week’s Country Life sees the launch of Blachford, the first major estate to hit the market in Devon this year, at ‘offers over £8 million’ through Savills (01392 455755).
One of three ancient manors in the sprawling parish of Cornwood on the edge of Dartmoor, Blachford was held in the early 1300s by the Prior of Plympton, before being bought, post-Reformation, by the Hele family of South Hele. In 1694, John Rogers, a high-ranking Customs official and wealthy merchant from Plymouth, acquired both Blach-ford and South Hele, and, in 1698, became a baronet and MP for Plymouth. That same year, he made Blachford over to his newly married son, also called John. Sir John was succeeded by 10 baronets, seven of whom became MPs, before the barony died out in the early 1900s.
At that time, the vast estate lands extended onto Dartmoor itself, and a number of boundary stones on the moor still bear the inscription ‘BB’, for Blachford Bounds. In 1917, the new owner, Margaret Deare, gave the bulk of the estate to her cousin, Maj Frederick Passy, retaining only the gardens, deer park and some surrounding land. Parcels of land were later reacquired to restore the estate to its current size.
The east wing of Blachford Manor (pictured) reveals a much older, possibly Jacobean house, which was enlarged and re-fronted with a Georgian façade in the early 18th century; Blachford’s famous deer park and lake were laid out by James Green in 1827. The manor then stood still for decades before the present owner undertook a major restoration of the house, gardens, cottages and land.
For Mr Peeters, this has been a project in two parts. First came the complete renovation, after decades of neglect, of the historic, 17,760sq ft mansion, which stands in a breathtaking setting overlooking the lake and surrounded by towering beech, oak and chestnut trees. The house had been divided into seven flats and, although no major structural changes were involved, the interior, originally designed to accommodate large numbers of staff, had to be virtually gutted before being rearranged as a proper family home.
It now has accommodation on three floors with some notable formal rooms, including the splendid dining room and drawing room linked by triple-height doors, nine luxurious bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a nanny flat, a staff flat and another two-bedroom annexe. Stone out-buildings include two detached cottages, stables, workshops, an old dairy and a coach house.
‘Much more exciting’, however, has been the revitalisation of Blachmore’s ring-fenced acres, bounded for the most part by woodland, with undulating pasture providing ideal grazing for livestock and horses. The well-run farming operation is split between two tenant farms, and the sale includes a further 281 acres of sporting rights on adjoining land.
Mr Peeters has worked his way around the estate, starting with the gardens and parkland, rebuilding stone walls and gateways, replanting hedges, and planting new trees to provide connecting wildlife corridors between the various belts of woodland. ‘As a result, the whole place is alive at this time of year, with all sorts of birds coming and going, deer and other wildlife wandering about, and plants of all kinds, from snowdrops and daffodils to rhodo-dendrons and camellias, springing up all over the place-it’s pure enchantment.’
With demand for prime Lincolnshire farmland as strong as ever, and supply still limited, the £12m price tag quoted by selling agents Brown & Co (01652 654833) for the 1,050-acre Dalby Hall estate at Spilsby, southern gateway to the Wolds, is unlikely to deter serious farmers or investors. At the heart of the estate is the elegantly proportioned, Grade II-listed Dalby Hall, which was rebuilt in 1856 following a fire that destroyed the previous hall in 1841. Later additions to the interior and rear of the house are reputedly the work of Victorian architect Temple Moore.
Set in 6½ acres of lawned gardens and grounds, the 9,930sq ft hall has impressive accommodation on three floors, including four main reception rooms, eight bedrooms and five bathrooms; other estate houses include a four-bedroom farmhouse and seven cottages. The estate is organically farmed as a mixed arable and livestock unit and boasts a large herd of organic Lincoln Red cattle and a flock of Hebridian sheep. The land divides naturally into two main farms-Dalby Hall to the south and Fordington to the north-served by three farmyards.
Rolling hills and belts of woodland enhance the sporting value of the estate where shooting rights over the Fordington farm have been let to the Dexford shoot in recent years. The estate grounds also include a trout lake, with ease of access provided by a private airstrip. Price correction: The guide price of Spencers, Great Yeldham, north Essex (Property Market, March 23) should read £3.75m, and not as published.