After 20 years of surviving in rural Somerset on the understanding that, ‘if one has a good summer, one can forgive the winter’, David von Zeffman and his wife, Maureen, finally achieved the perfect balance between town and country living when, six years ago, they moved to elegant, 18th century Wilton Place, in the market town of Wilton, three miles from Salisbury, Wiltshire. Having spent four years renovating and improving the classic, late-Georgian house-listed Grade II and arguably the most important house in the town after the Earl of Pembroke’s Wilton House itself-the von Zeffmans, who travel widely and also have a London base, have decided to downsize to a smaller house in Wilton.
Savills (01722 426880) quote a guide price of £3.95 million for imposing, red-brick Wilton Place, set in two acres of magical gardens bordering a carrier of the Nadder. According to its listing, it was built ‘circa 1795 by a man called Moore for the Olivier family’-glove manufacturers of French Huguenot extraction who established a longstanding relationship with the custodians of Wilton House. Wilton Abbey, founded in the 9th century, was a major source of wealth and influence in Wessex from Saxon times until its dissolution in 1539. In 1544, the abbey and its surrounding estate were granted to William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke, who built Wilton House, completed in about 1550, using stone taken from the former abbey buildings. Thanks largely to Pembroke patronage, by the late 17th century, Wilton was a thriving centre of cloth-making and weaving and Wilton House a fashionable centre of art and culture, frequented by royalty and the great diarists and writers of the time.
In the 1840s, the Russian-born Dowager Countess of Pembroke and her younger son, Lord Herbert of Lea, championed the construction of Wilton’s splendid parish church of St Mary and St Nicholas with its signature 105ft-high campanile, built in the Romanesque style by Thomas Henry Wyatt and listed Grade I. By then, the Olivier family was well established within the ranks of the Anglican hierarchy, and Wilton Place became the rectory to the church next door, and the home of the ultraconservative Canon Olivier and his numerous offspring-among them the little-known writer Edith Olivier, who lived there for the first 40 years of her life
Wilton Place, £3.95m, Savills
According to Mr von Zeffman, Wilton Place remained The Rectory until 1967, when it was bought by a local architect, Anthony Stocken, who renamed it St Andrew’s House in the belief that one of Wilton’s four missing medieval churches had been located in the rectory’s side garden. However, by the time the von Zeffmans bought the house in January 2008, the remains of the Church of St Andrew had been discovered under a construction site further along West Street, and the new owners decided to revert to their property’s original name.
Were it not for a sudden resurgence of interest in the life and works of Edith Olivier, and the forthcoming publication by Pan Macmillan of A Curious Friendship by the talented young writer Anna Thomasson, which examines the relationship between the middle-aged bluestocking and the tragic young artist Rex Whistler, killed in action in July 1944, the importance of The Rectory in Olivier’s life story would surely have been forgotten. Miss Thomasson observes: ‘Edith lived an enchanted if regimented childhood and early adulthood at the Rectory, with its elegant rooms, its warren of attics and its long gracious garden that bordered the Wilton estate. And though she left the house in 1912 when her father retired, she would return to it, again and again, in her writing. For her, the influence of a childhood at Wilton rectory was to last a lifetime.’
In an interesting footnote, Miss Thomasson recalls a visit to Wilton a few months ago to take pictures for her book, when she happened to meet Mr von Zeffman as she loitered in the street outside Wilton Place. Invited to take a tour of the house, she was delighted to find it almost exactly as Olivier described it in her memoirs, Without knowing Mr Walkley.
It is a tribute to the sensitivity of the von Zeffmans’ four-year restoration programme that the essence of the house has been retained despite some fairly major alterations. Wilton Place has been substantially rewired and replumbed, the original detailing relieved of generations of paint, and sympathetic fireplaces and period radiators installed- as were a bespoke oak kitchen/ breakfast room, six bathrooms and some additional loos. The sash windows have been repaired or replaced, and the doors and shutters stripped. The second floor attic has been transformed into a ‘fantastic’ space for teenagers or staff, and the dank cellars into an office, wine store and gym.
The service area next to the kitchen is now a comfortable family sitting room, leading to both the gardens and the rediscovered flagstone courtyard, beyond which is a smart guest annexe, with a bright living room/ kitchen, bedroom and wet room. Outside, the western wall has been rebuilt, along with part of the forecourt wall. New gates have been installed, and to the rear, a French oak pergola has been created for alfresco dining. The glorious gardens have been reclaimed; the pond (a remarkable feat of 18th-century engineering) has been desilted; and an oak-clad pavilion has been added, along with some adjoining land that now forms the ‘secret garden’. Within its 8,500sq ft of living space, Wilton Place boasts a grand entrance hall, four main reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, six bedroom suites, attics and numerous ancillary rooms, although, for Olivier, growing up, ‘like all houses, it (was) far bigger for the children than for the grown-ups’.
But she and Mr von Zeffman are at one in appreciating the dual townand- country aspect of the house- ‘the broad, beneficent Georgian building of deep red brick [that] stands only a few yards from the main street of the town; yet behind the house, one steps into the garden to see, beyond it, nothing but orchard land, a glimpse of water, meadows prankt with grey-green willows, and, in the distance, the Downs’.
A Hampshire bird of paradise
The Pheasantry, Knight Frank, £7.95m
Knight Frank (020-7629 8171) quote a guide price of £7.95m for The Pheasantry, with 335 acres of woodland, ponds, parkland and gardens, at Bramshill, Hampshire. The newly refurbished, 9,000sq ft country house adjoins Bramshill police college and was the gamekeeper’s lodge on the Brocket family estate until 1953, when the property was subdivided and The Pheasantry sold as a private house with 55 acres. Successive owners have substantially increased the land holding, and the accommodation now comprises four main reception rooms, an orangery, a snug, three bedroom suites, a three-bedroom guest suite, a cottage, a flat and extensive outbuildings.