Country houses for sale

Recreating Dropmore House, Buckinghamshire

It’s third time lucky for Grade I-listed Dropmore House, near Burnham, Buckinghamshire one of the county’s grandest Georgian country houses, built by Samuel Wyatt for Lord Grenville, onetime Prime Minister to George III, in 1795. Requisitioned as a headquarters for the Canadian army in 1939, Dropmore House was in a sorry state when Lord and Lady Kemsley, who bought Dropmore from Lord Grenville’s great-great-nephew in 1943, undertook a major restoration of the house and grounds in the early 1950s. Its renaissance was recorded for posterity in Country Life articles by Gordon Nares (October 11 and 15, 1956).

Following Lord Kemsley’s death in 1968, the estate was owned for four years by the United States International University of San Diego, during which time the house fell into disrepair and much of the land was sold off. In 1972, Dropmore House and its remaining 195 acres of land were bought by the billionaire Arab businessman and art collector Mohamed Mahdi Al-Tajir, a former United Arab Emirates ambassador to the UK and France. He commissioned a major renovation of the house, redecorating and modernising the interior, and building a swimming-pool complex in the grounds. Beyond that, however, the house was rarely used and little maintained.

With so little of the original 18th-century mansion left above ground, its re-creation represents a veritable architectural tour de force, which would have been impossible were it not for the visual evidence provided by the British Library’s collection of 18th- century drawings of the Dropmore estate by J. C. Buckler, who worked for Lord Grenville both as an artist and as a designer of garden buildings and cottages. The other vital source of reference regarding the original design and layout of the house, and especially the proportions and decoration of its grand main rooms, was the Country Life articles of 1956, according to architect George Kalopedis. As a result, many important original elements such as fireplaces, staircases and Wyatt’s soaring sash windows have been faithfully replicated using materials of the time, many of them acquired from their original source.

With completion of all essential building work at Dropmore now less than a year away, April 12 is the date set for the launch onto the market, through Savills in Sunningdale (01628 526 792), of the first six of 57 properties. These include 17 sumptuous, two- and three-bedroom apartments in the main mansion, each with own unique character and outlook; a mix of 13 apartments and cottages in the delightful Grade I-listed, red-brick Victorian service wing and Edwardian dairy courtyard; 23 state-of-the-art, two-bedroom apartments in the new wing, where large roof-terraces will be a major ‘draw’; and a solitary, ‘one-off’, two-bedroom house in the converted four-storey Victorian water-tower built by Lady Grenville’s nephew and heir, George Matthew Fortescue, in 1901. Apartment sizes range from a minimum of 900sq ft in the new wing to a maximum of 4,000sq ft in the mansion houses, and prices range from £850,000 to about £4 million.

Meanwhile, for Andre Meyers, the beat goes on, as he embarks on the final phase of restoration at Dropmore Park the repair and reinstatement of iconic garden structures, such as the aviary, the ornamental Chinese tea-house (where Queen Victoria is rumoured to have taken tea), the restoration of extensive gardens created by Lady Grenville during her 30 years of widowhood, and the reclamation of the estate’s neglected woodland. His 21st-century vision for Dropmore Park matches that of Lord Grenville, who built his mansion for £14,000 at the end of the 18th century, and even had a hill removed to reveal his favourite view of Windsor Castle to the south a view that can now be shared in perpetuity by the new custodians of this unique estate.