One of England’s great equestrian painters, the 19th-century Royal Academician John F. Herring was inspired not just by the grace and power of the racehorses he painted, but by the backdrop of the English country estates whose wealthy owners were his patrons. Looking at the flowing lines and elegant proportions of Meopham Bank, near Hildenborough?the classic Regency house which was Herring’s home from 1853 to 1865 (he used the present coach house as his studio)?it is clear that sources of inspiration were rarely lacking in his life. Even now, its pastoral setting and panoramic views would not disgrace an 18th-century landscape.
Meopham Bank is thought to have been designed by Septimus Burton and built in 1810, with later 20th-century additions by Edwin Lutyens. Its present art-loving owners, who bought the house in moderate condition in the early 1990s, have completely restored and updated its Regency interior with its high, moulded ceilings and original oak doors, floors and panelling. The four inter-connecting ground-floor reception rooms?which can be joined to create one huge, 130ft-long salon?are particularly impressive.
The Arcadian dream lives on at Meopham Bank?inside, in the grand master suite, long bedroom corridors and rambling servants quarters, and outside in the stable courtyard, tennis court and surrounding 32 acres of pristine gardens, grounds and paddocks. The first of Kent’s many fine country houses to come to the market this year, Meopham Bank is on the market through Jackson-Stops & Staff (01732 740600) at a guide price of £5 million. The owners’ collection of contemporary garden statuary is not, however, included in the sale.
Across the county border in Sussex, this week sees the launch of another classic English house set in an archetypal English landscape. Built in the Georgian style in 1910, Catercross at Fittleworth, West Sussex, was carefully sited at the end of a long, tree-lined drive to take full advantage of its glorious far-reaching views across the South Downs towards the sea. To complete the rural idyll, the pretty village of Fittleworth with its ancient mill was painted by John Constable, whose students are said to have paid for their drinks by painting the panels in Fittleworth’s celebrated Swan Inn.
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Joint agents Barrington & Co (01798 342242) and Savills (01483 796820) quote a guide price of £4m for the immaculate Catercross, which has seen no expense spared by the owners in renovating the house to 21st-century standards.
It now has three large reception rooms, a family room/cinema, a gym, a grand master suite, six further bedrooms, three further bath/shower rooms, and a two-bedroom cottage. Extensive equestrian facilities include stabling and outbuildings, a stick-and-ball polo field, an exercise track and paddocks?18 acres in all.
The horticulturist Sir Harold Hillier was an artist who worked in the medium of flowers and plants, a legacy enshrined in the gardens at Romsey, Hampshire, which bear his name. The launch in this week’s Country Life of another Georgian house, the classically proportioned but unpretentious Kingston House in historic Hyde Street, Winchester, reminds us of his contribution to gardening. Bought in the 1880s by his father, Sir Harold grew up there and lived in the house for the first 20 years of his married life, until he sold it in 1953.
The buyer was a Miss Manson, who used the house as a retreat for the clergy? services were held in a portable chapel in the grounds. Miss Manson’s preoccupation with matters spiritual left little time for repairs and maintenance, and Kingston House was in poor condition when the present owners, Mr and Mrs Ian Berridge, bought the house in 1993/94. They immediately embarked on a serious programme of renovation, which took a full year to complete. With its tranquil walled garden and peaceful setting in the heart of the old city, this is one of Winchester’s special houses. Strutt & Parker (01962 890077) quote a guide price of £1.75m for Kingston House, which has four reception rooms, three bath/shower rooms, and an adjoining converted coach house.