The original producer of Oscar Wilde's 'The Importance of Being Earnest' built himself a great country house on the edge of London — and he employed one of Sir Edwin Lutyens' disciples to design it for him.
There’s more than a touch of the theatrical about substantial, Grade II- listed The Court at Chorleywood, near Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire. It’s not entirely surprising, given that the house was built in 1911–12 for the Victorian actor-manager Sir George Alexander in the style described by Pevsner as Domestic Revival, a precursor of the Arts-and-Crafts Movement.
The house was designed, not by Edwin Lutyens, as some experts claim, but by his pupil, John Duke Coleridge, probably because Lutyens, who was first approached, was too busy building New Delhi when the time came.
Little altered since it was first built, The Court is now for sale through Savills and Knight Frank for the first time since 1967. The agents are seeking ‘offers over £3 million’ — a figure, they say, that reflects the ‘considerable refurbishment’ required to upgrade the property to 21st-century standards. As the pictures here show, however, it’s seemingly a case of redecorating and refurbishing rather than anything structural.
The Court stands in 3½ acres of secluded gardens and grounds backing onto Chorleywood Common on the Hertfordshire/Buckinghamshire border, a mile from the centre of the village and close to the boundary of the Chilterns AONB.
The house offers 9,890sq ft of living space on two floors, with a full-width loft space above. It comprises, on the ground floor, reception and entrance halls, five reception rooms, a kitchen, flower room and laundry, with a cellar below.
The first floor houses a large principal bedroom suite with views over the garden, plus seven further bedrooms, three bathrooms and a dressing room/study. The Lodge is currently split into separate, two-bedroom flats, each with its own private entrance. Secondary buildings include a summerhouse/folly, various storage sheds and a tiled swimming pool in need of restoration.
The tale of the house’s first owner is fascinating. Having started out as a leading actor with Sir Henry Irving’s theatre company, Alexander took over as actor-manager of London’s St James Theatre in 1891. He soon became known as a producer of witty, slightly risqué plays designed to appeal to the upper echelons of London Society, such as Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest.
The latter was an immediate hit on its launch in 1895, but was withdrawn a few months later when Wilde was tried and imprisoned on charges of homosexual behaviour. Alexander later revived it, in 1909, following the rebuilding of the St James Theatre. He was knighted in 1911 and died at Chorleywood in March 1918.
Originally known as Little Court, the house was renamed The Court by a subsequent owner, businessman James Batty, who moved there in 1936. Reputedly inspired by Tudor models, the house is built of red brick with stone-and-tile dressings, as well as liberal use of sham timber-framing, some tile hanging and interior panelling in 17th-century style.
Emphasising its theatrical credentials, a date-stone above the front door shows a carved monogram and theatrical masks, whereas a mock Venetian well in the centre of the front courtyard was designed to be part of a stage.