The towering self-confidence of the Victorian industrialists who built the Empire was reflected in the huge country mansions they built for themselves. Twentieth-century captains of industry were, however, generally less flamboyant and Wartnaby House, near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, although mid-Victorian in origin, reflects the uncompromising, but essentially private, character of its late owner, Lord King. The house, with 75 acres of gardens, parkland and paddocks, is on the market through Knight Frank (020?7629 8171) and Shouler & Son (01664 410166) at a guide price of £3.75 million.
John King made his fortune in the engineering industry, but ‘Thatcher’s favourite businessman’ will always be remembered as the man who turned British Airways from a lumbering state-owned leviathan into ‘the world’s favourite airline’. As a City businessman, he was renowned for taking no prisoners, and his 2,000-acre farming estate at Wartnaby was run with the same ruthless efficiency as his various business enterprises. A passionate field-sportsman and country lover, Lord King always hoped to be remembered for being more than ‘the best businessman of his generation’ and the exquisite, ornate gar-dens created by his wife, Isobel, during their 34-year tenure of Wartnaby House, alone make for an impressive and enduring legacy.
Built in 1865 as the vicarage to St Michael’s church, the original Wartnaby House was an altogether more modest affair until 1934, when it was bought and extended by the Player family of Notting-ham. The master bedroom suite was added in 1957 and, in 1998, Lord King added the garden room, built of Somerset Ham stone. The secluded, 9136sq ft main house has four large reception rooms, all of which face south over the terrace, lawn and ha-ha to the surrounding parkland, plus a study, a kitchen/breakfast room, a butler’s pantry and the usual domestic offices. With two bedrooms and two bathrooms, the master suite is big enough to accommodate the biggest business ego; in addition, there are two guest suites, and three more bed-rooms and bathrooms. To the north of the main house, the 2582sq ft Clock House is a sportsman’s retreat, with a billiard room/library, a sporting room, and a three-bedroom first-floor flat.
Lady King’s gardens, a colourful mix of garden rooms sheltered by tall yew hedges, are Wartnaby’s crowning glory. They include a rose garden, a croquet lawn, numerous colourful herbaceous borders, and a delightful pleached hornbeam tunnel lined with hellebores, hostas and alliums. Tall hedges hide a tennis court and a private cricket pitch, and the Japanese water garden to the east of the main house reflects another change of mood, with its series of romantic ponds, waterfalls and wooden bridges.
Life’s bigger picture is familiar territory for European historian Lord Michael Pratt, whose seminal work Great Country Houses of Central Europe is a masterpiece of its kind. The art of trompe l’oeil is also part of his family repertoire, which came into play when his Kent country home, Bayham Manor, near Lamberhurst, five miles from Tunbridge Wells, was built in the early 1970s for his father, the fifth Marquess Camden, who moved there from Bayham Abbey, the historic mansion at the heart of the family estate. The manor is being sold on behalf of Lord Michael’s trustees by Savills (020?7499 8644), who invite offers ‘in excess of £3m’ for the freehold.
Designed along classic Georgian lines by the architect Kenneth Benbow, Bayham Manor is, to all intents and purposes, a classic 18th-century country house, with all the advantages of 21st-century comfort and practicality. Built of traditional brick under a tiled roof, the 7900sq ft house stands well back from the road, on a gentle south-facing slope close to the main entrance to the Bayham estate, surrounded by 32 acres of impeccably maintained gardens,
paddocks and woodland. It has four elegant reception rooms, a study, a large, light-filled kitchen, a master suite, two guest suites, three further bedrooms and a two-bedroom annexe.