At the time of the Domesday survey of 1086, Holt Castle in Worcestershire was held by the formidable Urse d’Abitot, Sheriff of Worcester, as a sub-tenant of the Bishop. Holt Manor passed to the Beauchamp family when Urse’s daughter and heiress, Emeline d’Abitot, married Walter Beauchamp of Elmley Castle, Worcestershire, and it remained in the hands of the Beauchamps, later Earls of Warwick, for more than 300 years.
Some time around 1350, Sir John Beauchamp, a favourite of Richard II who fought at Crécy and Poitiers, built the fortified tower of local pinkish sandstone that now forms the main entrance to Holt Castle. When he died, the Holt estates passed to his son, another Sir John, who was shortly afterwards impeached by the ‘Merciless Parliament’ and beheaded on Tower Hill. His lands and possessions were seized by Parliament, and Holt Manor was leased to a distant kinsman, Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick.
But in 1398, Parliament reversed its decision, and returned the luckless Sir John’s lands to his son, yet another Sir John Beauchamp, who died without a male heir in 1420. At this point, the manor was divided into three parts, and it took more than 150 years before the estate was finally reinstated, following a series of complex transactions between a number of influential local families, including the Bournes, the Fortescues, the Crofts and the Bromleys.
According to Arthur Oswald (Country Life, July 20 and 27, 1940), Holt Castle although purists would call it a fortified manor acquired its present form when, in about 1690, William Bromley had the east front remodelled, incorporating a medieval hall and solar wing at its north end; fitting the hall, staircase, drawing room and dining room with some fine early-18th-century panelling; and installing what is believed to be ‘the tallest window in Worcestershire’, which rises from the half-landing.
As Lord Chancellor, William Bromley’s great-grandfather, Sir Thomas Bromley, presided over the trial and condemnation of Mary, Queen of Scots. In 1606, his grandfather, Sir Henry Bromley, a magistrate, rounded up two Jesuit priests, the last men wanted for their part in the Gunpowder Plot, and held them for a while at Holt Castle, treating them kindly before sending them to face their fate in London. In 1750, Sir Henry’s descendants sold the manor to Lord Thomas Foley of nearby Witley Court; it later passed, with Witley, to the first Lord Dudley. During the latter half of the 18th century, Holt was mainly let, and occupied for a time by Anne, Countess of Coventry, who died in 1788 at the ripe old age of 98.
The estate was finally broken up in the 1920s, and in 1928, the castle, which had been home for many years to Lord Dudley’s agent, was bought by Mrs F. Pepys Cockerell, who made a number of improvements to the house, as well as restoring and enhancing Holt’s charming formal gardens.
After the Second World War, Holt Castle was bought by the Harper family, local farmers who took over the land and converted the castle into flats. In 1986, the castle was bought by the Hayes family, who used it mainly as a family retreat, when their 10 children were on holiday from school.
The house was advertised with 18 bedrooms when, in 1996, the current owners Worcestershire entrepreneur Steve Worrallo and his wife, Rhoda bought the property and set about restoring its original character and layout, but with 21st-century living in mind. Holt Castle now has four grand reception rooms, a library and a billiard room, a kitchen/breakfast room, a grand entrance hall with two inner halls, four bedroom suites, four further bedrooms and six attic rooms; there is also a converted two-bedroom cottage.
As part of the ongoing restoration process, the Worrallos have also reacquired some original Holt Manor land, on which they have created a tennis court and an orchard the latter a nice touch befitting a uniquely historic house whose name means wood.
The recently refurbished and extended St Catherine’s Farm, on the southern slopes of Bredon Hill at Woollas Hill, Eckington, is a wonderful family house with ‘views to die for’, for which Knight Frank quote a guide price of £1.25 million. Like that of Holt Castle, the history of St Catherine’s Farm has been well documented, in this case by one Douglas Jackson, whose mother, a noted children’s playwright, owned the house from the 1950s onwards. Before that, the farm was part of the Woollas Hall estate.
The core of the original farmhouse dates from the 12th and 14th centuries; later additions include a 17th-century section and a Victorian element, which has been replaced by the more recent main part of the house overlooking the valley. It has four reception rooms, a garden room, a substantial kitchen/living room, eight bedrooms and five bathrooms, plus outbuildings, garaging, stables and paddocks, some 12 acres in all.
Worcester based Andrew Grant (01905 726213) is another country-house agent who finds the current negative mindset of the national media somewhat frustrating. Having sold five out of six houses at auction in recent weeks, he, too, is convinced that there is a market out there, at the right price. Only time will tell whether or not a guide price of £1.65m is right for the impeccably renovated Moat House at Neen Sollars on the Worcestershire/Shropshire border, but Mr Grant is encouraged by the fact that he has already received a number of enquiries at that level, even before the property was launched.
The pristine, 5,300sq ft, Georgian former rectory, which sits in 10½ acres of park like gardens and woodland off a quiet country lane, has four reception rooms, a garden room, a kitchen/breakfast room, seven bedrooms, three bathrooms, cellars, a cottage, a heated swimming pool, a kitchen garden, a moat and a wildlife pond.