Tread softly in the Cotswolds.
Pam Ayres, the poet, broadcaster, entertainer, occasional Country Life contributor and all-round national treasure, is selling her cherished country home in the Cotswolds and moving to a Georgian former vicarage in a nearby village. The project sounds simple enough, but, despite years of meticulous plan- ning, she and her husband, Dudley Russell, are finding the downsizing process tough going. ‘I just want it alltobeover,sowecanmoveonto the next chapter of our lives,’ she says in that familiar gentle voice.
It’s 40 years since Miss ayres embarked on an unlikely career in show business and almost 30 since she and her husband bought the handsome Georgian, Grade II-listed Norcote House with 20 acres of land on the outskirts of Cirencester, following the death of Patience Chester-Master, whose husband’s family have been progressive landowners and farmers in the county since the marriage, in 1742, of Elizabeth Chester Cann and Thomas Master the younger, MP for Cirencester. The Russell family’s ‘home for half a lifetime’ is now for sale through Knight Frank (01285 659771) and Savills (01285 627550) at a realistic guide price of £2.5 million.
For Pam, who has vivid childhood memories of being chased off land by crusty farmers in the Vale of White Horse where she grew up, Norcote’s 20 acres have been a glorious blank canvas on which, over the years, she has created a wildlife haven that is truly unique.
The perimeter of her ‘fortress’ has been planted with 1,000 native trees that screen Norcote House, already well set back from the nearest road, even further from public view. a ‘modest’ wood has also been created in the quarry that supplied the stone originally used to build the house. Twelve- foot-high hedges are alive with birds and a specially designed wildlife pond provides a habitat for newts, water-snails, toads and the odd mallard. Ten colonies of bees yield up to 300lb of honey a year.
Hedgehogs supplied by a local wildlife rescue centre, of which Pam is patron, have been released in the grounds and rare breeds and other animals, from Dexter cattle, Cotswold sheep and Tamworth pigs to guinea fowl (‘they make great guard dogs’), laying hens and two rescue dogs—a Munsterlander and a Jack Russell—have roamed the neatly fenced pasture and parkland
Now that the Russell boys have grown up and left the nest, Norcote House cries out for another lively family to take their place. Certainly, it has all the space and facilities needed for traditional country living in the Cotswolds. The main house, which has been lovingly upgraded and maintained, has five reception rooms, including a 35ft drawing room, a kitchen/breakfast room, Pam’s study, six bedrooms, a games room and a three-bedroom staff flat.
The pretty stone coach house has been converted into two flats, one used by Mr Russell as the hub of his management business, which organ- ises not only his wife’s theatre tours, but also those of other artists such as Alan Titchmarsh, Henry Blofeld, Ruthie Henshall and Richard Stilgoe.
Reflecting on the years that have flown by ‘like pollen on the wind’, Pam wonders what advice she should give the next owners of Norcote House:
Shall I tell them? Shall I tell them there
are bulbs already peeping?
Shall I ask them to tread lightly where my
faithful dogs are sleeping?
Shall I point to little saplings which to
mighty trees have grown?
Or slip away in silence; let them make this
place their own.
Tucked away on the southern edge of the Cotswolds, Warren House at Wotton-under-Edge, 10 miles from Tetbury, is another fine, Grade II- listed, Georgian house in an enchanted setting that invites a new owner to ‘make the place their own’. The current owners, who have lived there for 17 years, have recently restored and modernised large parts of the 9,722sq ft house, but there is still a fair amount of work to be done, particularly in the area of the main staircase, which has been removed—hence the guide price of £1.75m quoted by the Cirencester office of Savills (01285 627550).
Warren House was built in about 1810 by Capt Humphrey Austin, a wealthy clothier and former mayor of Wotton, on 110 acres of wooded and agricultural land at Hentley Warren that he bought from his friend, the Earl of Berkeley, in 1792. The house is thought to have been built on the site of a small monastery that was burnt down during the Reformation, given that the three main requirements for a monastic site were that it should be south or south-west facing, there should be a natural spring nearby and there should be ample woodland or tree coverage.
The site chosen for Warren House obliges on all three counts. Set within the fold of the Cotswold escarpment, the house is sheltered to the north and east by a belt of mature specimen trees, yet to the south and west has spectacular panoramic views across the Tyley Bottom valley, the Berkeley Vale, the Severn estuary, the Mendips and the Welsh hills beyond.
It stands at the end of a long sweeping drive, surrounded by about six acres of formal gardens and paddock. The ground-floor accommodation includes four large reception rooms, all exceptionally light with large sash windows and high ceilings, and a large kitchen/breakfast room divided into two parts. The main reception hall and galleried landing are yet to be completed, as are the downstairs bathroom and the study just off the hall.
At first-floor level, there are five/ six double bedrooms and three bathrooms, all south-facing. An additional three-room wing with its own separate access has been used in the past as a self-contained annexe.
This week’s Country Life also sees the launch setting in the heart of this ancient Saxon town, onto the market, at a guide price of £2.65m through Knight Frank (01242 246959), of the Grade II*-listed Abbey Old House in Cowl Lane, Winchcombe, which dates from the 16th century, with later additions and alterations in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The grounds on which it stands are part of the Scheduled Ancient Monument of Winchcombe Abbey, founded by King Kenulph of Mercia in 798 and eventually demolished after the Dissolution. Abbey Old House stands in a magical three-acre garden setting in the heart of this ancient Saxon town, seven miles from Cheltenham, and was a virtual wreck when its present owners bought it and embarked on a remarkable 10-year renovation programme. The result, says selling agent Nick Chivers of Knight Frank, is a charming ‘shabby- chic but hugely elegant’ house, which reflects the owners’ own relaxed and gentle approach to life.
It offers 6,533sq ft of accommodation, including five main reception rooms, a kitchen/ breakfast room, three bedroom suites and four further bedrooms.