Living on a grand scale may be more achievable than you think.
Neither a vendor nor a buyer be. The past few years have not been kind to sellers of large historic houses, many of whom have had to reduce prices in a bid to attract purchasers, who in turn have had their wings clipped by the whopping Stamp Duty (SDLT) bills currently levied on houses sold for more than £2 million. Now, thanks to the law of unintended consequences, the 20% post-Brexit fall in the value of sterling has brought overseas buyers knocking at the door again, says Jamie Macnab of Savills in Edinburgh, who saw an immediate surge in international enquiries following the announcement of Britain’s shock decision to leave the EU.
American buyers have always had a romantic attachment to Scotland and Mr Macnab is hoping that the new financial order will kickstart demand for some wonderful houses whose prices have been reduced to a level where they now look exceptional value for money. One of these is the imposing, Category A-listed Castle Gogar (Fig 1)—an impeccably restored laird’s house set at the end of a long, tree-lined drive in 3.65 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens and paddocks in green-belt land six miles west of Edinburgh city centre—for which Savills (0131–247 3711) are now seeking ‘offers over £2.5 million’.
Dubbed ‘the most baronial of Edinburgh’s late-16th- and early-17th-century mansions’, the castle was built for John Cowper in 1625 on a traditional L-plan—probably by the architect William Ayton—on land acquired by his father, Sir John Cowper, Lord Ordinary of the Court of Session, in 1601. The house was extended in the mid 1700s and again in the 19th century, when the Scots Baronial features such as the tower and turrets were added.
Castle Gogar was owned for more than 200 years by the Steel-Maitlands, until the death, in 2002, of the last family member. A year later, the castle was bought by the previous owner, who restored it with funds generated by the sale of four striking contemporary houses in the neighbouring walled garden. the new houses were designed by Ian Aitken of Edinburgh-based architects Yeoman McAllister, who also oversaw the refurbishment of the castle.
In 2007, the present owners bought Castle Gogar and further improved it, while retaining original elements such as the vaulted crypt and reception hall, the turnpike staircases and the turrets with arrow slots and battlements. All windows have been replaced, a discreet modern heating system installed, new solid-oak panelling added in the hall and dining room and high-spec cabling fitted in all the rooms. Luxurious, top-of-the-range bathrooms are by Villeroy & Boch and Heritage, with an impressive kitchen and master bedroom designed by Clive Christian.
Castle Gogar boasts a manageable 8,900sq ft of living space on four floors: accommodation includes grand drawing and dining rooms, a library, a study, a sumptuous master suite with a bathroom, a shower room, a sauna and a dressing room, four further bedrooms and bathrooms and a two-bedroom west wing. With underfloor heating on the ground floor and in the bathrooms, it all adds up to a level of comfort rarely found in historic houses north of the border.
South of the border in Cheshire, joint agents Savills and Jackson-Stops & Staff thought the worst of the recession was over when, in August 2013, they launched the classic, Georgian, Grade II*-listed Bulkeley Hall (Fig 2) at Bulkeley, six miles from picturesque Malpas in the south of the county, on the market at a guide price of £5m. Little did they expect their best-laid plans to be clobbered by Chancellor George Osborne’s savage hike in SDLT. In any event, the hall was eventually taken off the market and has only now reappeared, at a guide price of £2.95m, through Strutt & Parker (020–7629 7282)—surely a Christmas bargain, if ever there was one?
The date stone on the front of the house confirms that it was built in 1709 for the Bulkeley family, major landowners in Wales and Cheshire, before becoming so mired in debt that their Cheshire estates were ordered to be sold by Act of Parliament in 1756. Although the family later recovered their Welsh landholding, Bulkeley Hall passed through a succession of owners as its lands were gradually sold off.
Its fortunes took a turn for the better in recent years, when its present owners bought it and spared no expense in restoring and upgrading the house and its 9.3 acres of gardens and grounds, with input from leading designers, among them Mark Gillette and Smallbone, whose open-plan kitchen takes advantage of panoramic views over the lake and the open countryside beyond.
The owners themselves have helped to revitalise Bulkeley Hall’s 7,884sq ft of opulent, light-filled living space, incorporating fresh new elements into its traditional Georgian layout—the pièce de résistance being the elegant hexagonal drawing room, which has French doors opening onto a terrace overlooking the walled garden. The accommodation includes four formal reception rooms, master and three guest suites, four further bedrooms and a family bathroom. Discreetly concealed outdoor amenities include a swimming pool, stabling and a tennis court. A two-bedroom lodge is available by separate negotiation.
It’s a case of déjà vu for Louis de Soissons of Savills in Norwich (01603 229229) as he relaunches one of Norfolk’s finest Tudor houses, the dazzling red-brick East Barsham Manor (Fig 3), near Walsingham, north Norfolk, on the market at a guide price of £2.75m—the price at which he sold it to its current owner, the artist and entrepreneur Roy Griffiths, back in 2014.
A man of many passions and strong views, Mr Griffiths bought the Grade I- listed mansion, previously owned by Sir John and the late Lady Guinness and described in Country Life (February 26, 2004) as ‘rippling with decorative brickwork, carving and terracotta tiles, with brick turrets and finials, elaborately detailed chimneys and crenellation’, with a view to creating a boutique ‘hip-hop hotel’ within five miles of the fashionable north Norfolk coast. His neighbours, however, had other ideas and the plans came to nought.
East Barsham Manor was built between 1520 and 1530 by Sir Henry Fermor, to reflect his status as one of Norfolk’s richest men and a favourite of Henry VIII, who is said to have stayed at the manor before walking barefoot to Walsingham Priory to pray for a son and heir. Over the centuries, it passed through a number of aristocratic families and periods of dilapidation and rebuilding, as successive owners came and went.
Although now in need of refurbishment, the 9,416sq ft house, set in 4.6 acres of parterre, formal gardens and magnificent woodland, has some hugely impressive rooms, including a 41ft-long great hall, with a massive stone fireplace and a minstrels’ gallery, plus six other reception rooms, six bedrooms, three bathrooms and a tower room. Ancillary buildings include a three-bedroom garden cottage and outbuildings.