Penny Churchill tells the tale of Eardisley Park's destruction and restoration, as it comes to the market for the first time in a quarter of a century.
It was every country-house owner’s worst nightmare when, early one morning in January 1999, handsome Eardisley Park in the picturesque Wye Valley, 15 miles north-west of Hereford, burnt to the ground, leaving only the stone plinth enclosing the basement and the north wall of the classic Grade II*-listed Queen Anne house still standing.
Fortunately, its owners, Nigel and Jane Morris-Jones and their four children, were away at the time, but the disaster was compounded by the fact that they had spent the previous three years restoring the house they had bought in 1996.
Undeterred by the enormity of the task, the couple set about ‘not only rebuilding the house, but rebuilding better than before’; it is now for sale through the Hereford and Worcester office of Knight Frank at a guide price of £1.95 million.
Eardisley Park is classically symmetrical with four double-aspect rooms on each of the four floors, all opening from central landings. On the raised ground floor, the four main rooms — kitchen/breakfast room, dining room, drawing room and study/library — open into one another to provide an interconnected space for large-scale entertaining.
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In total, the house offers 6,224sq ft of accommodation, including the kitchen/breakfast room, four main reception rooms, seven bedrooms, five bathrooms and cellars.
It stands in landscaped gardens and grounds of about 15 acres and comes with a swimming pool, paddock, small lake and ‘an extensive range of Grade II-listed outbuildings arranged as a series of courtyards with enormous development potential,’ adds selling agent Charles Probert.
The original Queen Anne house was built by William Barnesley, a London merchant who bought the estate in about 1700. It stands on historic parkland established as a deer park in medieval times by the Baskerville family, where once stood the 11th-century Eardisley Castle that was razed to the ground after the English Civil War. The attic of the new house was converted into an additional storey later in the 18th century.
Following the 1999 fire, conservation architects Donald Insall Associates were commissioned to oversee the reconstruction; they had not long completed the work to repair the damage caused by the fire at Windsor Castle in 1992. The building work at Eardisley was undertaken by Hereford-based restoration specialists I. J. Preece and Son.
The re-built house was erected on the existing footprint, using materials salvaged from the site wherever possible, including almost all the original bricks, which were laid using inside bricks facing outwards with modern cavity wall insulation behind. Old flooring, panelling and bathroom fittings were sourced from elsewhere and modern heating and plumbing systems were installed.
The works were completed in December 2001. In 2003, Eardisley Park won the Restoration of the Year award from the Georgian Society, followed, in 2010, by Restoration of the Century for the West Region from Country Life.
Announcing the award, the magazine’s Architectural Editor John Goodall wrote as follows:
‘On two counts, the work [at Eardisley Park] can fairly be considered a restoration rather than a re-creation. First, because it has respected the original fabric wherever possible; second, because they have aimed to reflect in the present building the history and architectural evolution of the house… The final product speaks for itself: a wonderful country house with a patina of age that might easily trick the eye of the most keen-sighted enthusiast.’
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