Designed and built by Humphry Repton and his son John Adey Repton for the Upcher family of Norfolk in 1812-17, romantic Sheringham Hall at Upper Sheringham, near Holt, a mile inland from the north Norfolk coast, was Repton’s ‘most favourite work’ and one of his last. This finest of Repton’s ‘creations’, with its elegantly understated Regency house, listed Grade II*, and spectacular landscape setting, showcases both his acclaimed genius as a landscape designer and his less familiar talent as a country-house architect. When Thomas Upcher, who inherited the estate in 1954, died in the mid-1980s, Sheringham Hall and its surrounding park were left to the National Trust, since when the nine-bedroom house and its immediate eight acres of gardens and grounds have been privately let on a long Trust lease. Now, following the departure of the current leaseholder and his family to a new home in Sussex, the remaining 71-year lease is for sale through Jackson-Stops & Staff (01603 612333) and Savills (01603 229229) at a guide price of £2.35 million, with the option to extend the term to 99 years on payment of a £200,000 premium.
For Nigel Steele of Jackson-Stops, who handled the sale of the original lease back in 1988, Repton’s ‘little masterpiece’ now carefully restored although, sadly, lacking most of its original contents is quite simply ‘Norfolk’s prettiest and finest small mansion house in one of the county’s most dramatic parkland settings’. The Upcher family’s long love affair with Sheringham Hall is well documented in the archives of Country Life.
The report of an epic Edwardian shoot (February 20, 1904) attributes Sheringham’s famous high-flying birds to the ‘hilly and broken nature of the ground, the depth of the ravines in some parts, and the height of the trees in others’, and the renowned shooting skills of the Upcher men to years of practice on this testing family ‘training ground’. Detailed articles by Christopher Hussey trace the history of the house from Repton’s first sketch to its ‘rehabilitation’ in the mid 1950s by Thomas Upcher, who filled the house with a wonderful collection of Regency furniture brought from his bachelor home at nearby Bradfield Hall. In July 1811, the young Abbot Upcher bought the estate for £52,000, and a year later, commissioned Repton, who lived at nearby Aylsham, to build a new main house to replace the existing ‘better class farmhouse’ which he found ‘disappointing’. Being himself Norfolk born and bred, Repton was familiar with the glacial winds of the Norfolk coast and he chose a south-facing site in the lee of a wooded hillside, but with distant views eastward to the sea.
The first stone of the new house was laid on July 2, 1813. The grey gault bricks used for the construction were brought by sea from Lincolnshire, and what is now the back drive from the house to the coast road started as a track used for bringing the building materials to the site. Work on the house continued under the supervision of John Adey Repton, who trained with Repton’s ers while partner John Nash, until the death of his father in March 1818, which was followed a year later by that of Abbot Upcher, at the age of 34. By this time, the house itself was probably finished, but his wife lost all interest in the project, and the interior was not completed for another 20 years, when Abbot’s eldest son, Henry Ramey Upcher moved there with his young wife in 1839
Conscious of the need to show restraint in wartime, Abbot and Charlotte Upcher chose a design based on ‘economy and simplicity’, with a single large living room (the present library, and the only room in the house to retain all of its original furnishings), an ‘ample’ eating room (rearranged by Thomas Upcher as a music room, and now the main salon), and ‘no useless drawing room’. Today, Repton’s master’s study to the left of the entrance hall is a charming small dining room, and the former writing room to the right of the hall is a pleasantly informal morning room.
The current owners have decorated reception rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms in an eclectic mix of styles, but there is ample evidence from which to recreate Thomas Upcher’s elegant Regency decor, should a new incumbent be inspired to do so. The owners also commissioned garden designer Arabella Lennox-Boyd to restore and landscape the large walled garden, incorporating a large heated swimming pool and an Astroturf tennis courst. All the adjacent outbuildings are in excellent shape, including the original stable courtyard and coach house (partly converted to garaging), the three-bedroom coach-house flat and the splendid Victorian glasshouse. Sheringham Hall was Repton’s ideal of a family country home; two centuries later, most lovers of the English country lifestyle would probably support his view.