History needn’t be cold and stuffy, as these stylish historic houses prove.
It is rare enough to find a historic house that perfectly reflects the era in which it was first built and rarer still to find one that hasn’t, at some point, been altered or ‘restored’ to within an inch of its life. Then again, how often do you see an important medieval manor house— built in four main phases between the 13th and 16th centuries and basically unchanged since then—which has been sensitively adapted for modern family living but lost nothing of its timeless ancient charm?
Such a house is the exquisite, Grade II*-listed Bramshott Manor (Fig 1) at Bramshott, near Liphook, on the Hampshire-Surrey-West Sussex border. Believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited manor house in Hampshire, this medieval gem is currently on the market through Knight Frank in Haslemere (01428 770560) at a guide price of £1.85 million.
One of four manors abutting the royal forest of Woolmer in 1066, Bramshott is listed in the Domesday survey as being held by Edward de Salisbury, a leading Norman knight, although there is no record of a manor house existing at that time.
In the late 1100s, the manor passed to John de Bramshott and, in 1225, either he or his son, William, built a small single-storeyed hall, possibly with a thatched roof and a cellar. Constructed in the same year as Bramshott’s St Mary’s Church next door, the hall building forms the old- est surviving part of the present manor, which remained in the hands of the Bramshott family and their descendants for the next 500 years. According to its Historic England listing, the hall was later enlarged with the addition of a timber-framed upper floor, followed, in about 1430, by a substantial northern wing and then, in about 1500, by an east wing of similar form, to create the manor house as it now stands.
In the late 1400s, the absence of a male heir led to the manor passing to two de Bramshott sisters, one of whom married Sir John Pakenham. In about 1550, the Pakenham connection resulted in the transfer of ownership to Sir Edward Mervyn, a London lawyer, whose initials E.M. are inscribed on the landing fireplace.
In 1610, John Hooke, a wealthy wool merchant who was related to the Mervyns by marriage, acquired the manor, which was sold, in 1656, to the Bolds and later owned by the Whitehead and Butler families. After the First World War, the manor was bought by Arthur Henry Salisbury, a pioneer in the aviation industry, who restored the house to its former glory and, coincidentally, revived the property’s connection to the 11th-century Salisburys.
Following Lady Salisbury’s death in the 1950s, the manor changed hands several times before being bought, in 1987, by the late William Watkins—described by his son, John, as ‘a lawyer and history buff’— who had been looking at various manors in the area when Bramshott came onto the market.
‘The previous owners had done some work to the house, but there was still much to do and I remember the builders being there for several years. In spite of its age, the house, which is wonderfully quirky with no straight edges, had a lived-in, familiar feel, which made it a great place to grow up in,’ Mr Watkins recalls.
Having clearly inherited his father’s love of ancient buildings, he points out some notable historic features: the original 13th-century ground floor of the west block, now the living room; the delicate 14th-century moulded windows on the south and west walls; the wonderful 16th-century oak staircase in the sitting room that replaced the earlier external stone one; and the crown posts and painted beams discovered during a survey of the 15th-century roof areas.
Although lovingly preserved and maintained by its late owners, Bramshott Manor still has ‘huge’ potential for further improvement, the agents say. Set in almost five acres of delightful gardens, the house has 3,672sq ft of accommodation, including three principal reception rooms, a kitchen, a master bedroom and four further double bedrooms, a library/galleried landing area and two bathrooms.
Ancillary buildings include a double garage with a studio and shower room above, plus a barn, stores and a workshop.
Set in 23 acres of secluded gardens, grounds and paddocks on the western edge of the village of Cholderton, in the sought-after Bourne valley, 10 miles north-east of Salisbury, Wiltshire, picture-perfect The Manor House (Fig 2), listed Grade II*, is just about everyone’s idea of the quintessential Queen Anne country house.
And so it is, having been built, according to its listing, ‘circa 1710’, although with two main additions— a service extension added in 1732 and a wing on the right, built in about 1931—both executed in identical Queen Anne style.
For sale through Strutt & Parker (020–7318 5183) at a guide price of £3.85m, the manor has been updated to 21st-century standards by its pre- sent owners, who bought it ‘in need of refreshment’ more than a decade ago. It boasts 6,386sq ft of free- flowing accommodation, centred on a large reception hall, well-proportioned drawing and dining rooms and a beautifully designed kitchen that represents the heart of the home.
Although generally contemporary in style, the interior retains some pleasing original elements, among them the elm floorboards in the dining room, several fine fireplaces and the mid-18th-century oak staircase that rises from the hall to the attic floor. All eight upstairs bedrooms have compelling views of the gardens and surrounding countryside; the vast master suite has views both of the driveway and the gardens to the rear.
Similar attention to fine detail can be seen outside, where amenities include a fabulous swimming pool, a tennis court and stabling and numerous very pretty traditional outbuildings —all listed Grade II—which include a former stable block with its original stalls still in place and a former granary, which would make ‘a perfect party room or even art studio,’ suggests selling agent Edward Lucas.
Finally, a magnificent example of Strawberry Hill Gothic worthy of mention by Pevsner, Grade II*-listed Charlton Mackrell Court (Fig 3), at Charlton Mackrell, Somerset, stands in 21 acres of park-like grounds on the edge of the village surrounded by open farmland, three miles from the former county town of Somerton and nine miles from Castle Cary. Originally a rectory, first mentioned in 1524 and described as ‘very ruinous’ by the late 18th century, the house was almost totally rebuilt by the Rev Richard Ford, rector in 1792 (COUNTRY LIFE, January 20, 1950).
Now for sale through Savills (020– 7016 3820) at a guide price of £4m, the handsome stone house has been meticulously renovated by its current owners during their 20-year tenure, to the extent that the next incumbent ‘probably won’t even need to change a lightbulb,’ says selling agent Lindsay Cuthill, whose ‘all-time favourite house’ this is. Charlton Mackrell Court offers 8,725sq ft of accommodation, including three fine reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, nine bedrooms and six bathrooms, plus a courtyard of four cottages, extensive outbuildings and a swimming pool set within a walled garden.