Historic House Solutions

Few country houses survive the passage of time without being altered in some way. In fact, the viability

of many historic houses depends on the ability of their owners to think ?outside the box? when it comes to adapting such buildings for 21st-century occupation.

It is ironic, then, that the failure to move with the times which led to the collapse of the Country Houses Association, early this year, should prove to be a bonus for the entrepreneurs who have bought the retirement charity?s impressive portfolio of grand country houses.

The CHA?s insistence on maintaining its houses in pristine condition, with few structural alterations, makes them that much easier and cheaper to convert to contemporary residential use.

This is certainly so in the case of Grade I-listed Gosfield Hall, near Halstead, Essex (Fig 1), where the new owners have applied for planning permission to convert the 34,000sq ft mansion into 18 splendid apartments, with the backing of English Heritage and the local planners.

They have also secured an option on 43 acres of amenity farmland directly in front of the house, but having decided not to proceed with the project, are now offering the whole development package for sale through FPDSavills (020?7409 9942) and Mullucks Wells (01279 755400) at a guide price of £2.75 million. The house, once used as a location for the Lovejoy television series, could even revert to its role as a private country house.

Built by Sir John Wentworth between 1545 and 1560, Gosfield Hall was substantially remodelled between 1691 and 1715. It has palatial state rooms, including the Grand Salon, the ballroom and the 100ft Queen?s Gallery, and 7.3 acres of formal gardens. From 1854 to 1941, the Hall was owned by the Courtauld family, who made further improvements to the house and grounds. After World War II, the once great mansion stood empty and derelict before being bought by Essex County Council for £14,000, and restored by the Wayfarers Association in 1953. It was then bought by the Country Houses Association in 1958.

In the mid 1980s, a passion for property led Surrey-based developer Julian Macleod to quit the world of television advertising for a career as a specialist in the renovation and conversion of historic houses, among them that of Lutyens?s Grade II*-listed Nashdom, in Buckinghamshire, into

38 apartments and houses. Mr Macleod?s latest project is the conversion of

Ludshott Manor (Fig 2) and its outbuildings near Bramshott, Hampshire, into 23 apartments and mews houses.

The building, listed Grade II, dates from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, although the main house was rebuilt and extended in the early 19th century by the Macdonald family, who lived there from the mid 1820s until 1910. From 1954 to 2001, Ludshott Manor was successively a Carmelite convent, an old people?s home, a homeopathic institute and a retirement home. But unlike Gosfield Hall, Ludshott Manor suffered a number of indignities during its years of institutional use, including the removal of its grand staircase and the addition of unsightly extensions.

But three years of painstaking renovation by Macleod Developments (01483 546555) have changed all that, and the first apartments and houses are now on sale through Hamp- tons International (01428 724674), at prices ranging from £350,000 to £975,000.

Meanwhile, a quiet revolution has been taking place in the heart of Nottinghamshire?s countryside, where the once-delapidated Hexgreave Hall, near Southwell (Fig 3), is now the centrepiece of a 21st-century residential and business community. Since buying the Hexgreave Estate in 1996, local landowner Tony Strawson has completed a £2m programme to restore and convert the Hall, once owned by the Archbishops of York, with backing from Nottinghamshire County Council and the European Regional Development Fund.

The Hall has been converted to 6,500sq ft of business suites, with associated buildings turned into live-work homes. The Dower House and Keepers Cottages have been let, but three more live-work homes are being built, with the creation of a further 7,000sq ft of offices in the estate buildings. Full details of the development are available from Shuldham Calverley (01777 709943).