Country houses for sale

An eight-bedroom, 17,000sq ft Italianate mansion for sale at just £400,000 — and yes, there is a catch…

Blackborough House was built by an Earl with grand ideas, but a century and a half of misfortune and neglect have exacted a heavy toll — and now a brave new owner is needed to restore the place to glory.

Just in case the £400,00 guide price allied to the size (eight bedrooms, 17,000sq ft) isn’t enough of a warning in itself, we’re going to start this piece with a warning. Anyone who buys this house — the superb Blackborough, near Cullompton in Devon — is either going to need exceptionally deep pockets, or else be ready to get their hands very dirty. And probably both.

If the place were any more wrecked than it already is, then the likelihood is that it would be fit for little more than making safe and preserving as a curiosity — a fate which even organisations such as English Heritage often decide is the only possibility. Indeed, the English Heritage Trust’s chairman, Sir Tim Laurence, recently wrote a piece for Country Life explaining the problem exactly, admitting that such problems are well known for ‘causing headaches, insomnia and occasional bouts of teeth-grinding.’

Thankfully, Blackborough hasn’t yet reached the stage of having lost its roof entirely — something which could have been its death knell, due to the prohibitive costs of replacement — and instead it offers, for the brave, a quite amazing opportunity.

There are, nominally at least, six reception rooms, eight bedrooms and three bathrooms in a house that dates to 1838, and which was built by George Francis Wyndham, fourth Earl of Egremont. The architect was James T. Knowles, an exponent of the Italianate style, who was used by Wyndham both here and at Silverton Park.

The latter was the Earl’s attempt to create in Devon a rival to his family seat at Petworth: while George Francis Wyndham inherited his uncle’s title, the third Earl left the great West Sussex house to his illegitimate son — confusingly, also called George Wyndham— who became Baron Leconfield.

Silverton was never finished, what was built was widely criticised, and after its owner’s death without heirs it was eventually demolished in 1901. While Blackborough avoided that fate, it has suffered ignominy. For a while it was the local rectory, going on to become a school, a home for vagrants during the Depression, a Quaker centre and a youth hostel.

Eventually — and almost unbelievably — at the start of the 1950s it became a scrapyard. Stories abound of rusting cars being parked in the gardens and hallways of a building which must once have been a grand and beautiful place.

That evident potential has attracted a number of buyers and false starts (including an application to turn it into a hotel) in recent years, but Blackborough is once again looking for someone who’s prepared to help it live up to its potential.

Agents Strutt & Parker describe the place as offering ‘an exciting opportunity to be restored into one of Devon’s finest architectural gems’ — and it’s clear to see that while there is a huge amount of work to be done, this could be a quite incredible house one day.

The agents quote a guide price of £400,000, with best and final offers solicited by the end of September. We await with interest what becomes of this fascinating building.

Blackborough is for sale via Strutt & Parker — see more pictures and details.


Best country houses for sale this week

Catch up on the best country houses for sale this week that have come to the market via Country Life.