Country houses for sale

Buying a country house to restore

It’s a long road that has no turning, and for Luke and Alison Wessely, the bend in their particular road, the 10-year long restoration of Grade II-listed Elms House at Twyford, near Winchester, Hampshire, is, tantalisingly, just over the horizon. Having bought the classic Georgian house in 2000, its renovation has dominated the lives of the Wessely family, especially that of Mrs Wessely, who has masterminded the project. Now, perversely, a change in family circumstances has forced the Wesselys to pull out in the final stages, and Elms House-built in 1778 by Joseph Corfe, the organist to Salisbury Cathedral, extended in 1851 by Robert Rich and again in 1910 by Admiral Burnell is back on the market through Knight Frank (01962 850333) and Strutt and Parker (01962 869999) at a guide price of £4.45 million.

Mrs Wessely is disappointed but philosophical. ‘This project has been my life for the past 10 years-24 hours a day, seven days a week-and I would dearly have loved to see it through to the end. The house was a complete can of worms from the outset, and we ended up virtually rebuilding it, inch by inch. Using only historic materials sourced from all over the country, we started from the top and worked our way down to the cellars. The roof was stripped off and replaced; the chimneys were rebuilt, relined and recapped; rotten timbers throughout the house were replaced; sash windows were repaired and damaged plasterwork restored. Believe me, there is nothing left to discover about this house; it just needs finishing off’.

In Mrs Wessely’s view, it will take a further eight months and some £200,000-£300,000 to complete the remaining work, which is relatively straightforward and includes, for example, laying a new wooden floor in the drawing room, plus general decoration. Planning and listed-building consent has been granted for a front porch entrance, rear and side verandahs, and a range of outbuildings within the walled garden, which has been completely restructured and replanted to provide colour all year round. The next owner of Elms House will inherit one of Twyford’s finest Georgian houses, with 4.7 acres of lovely riverside gardens and grounds, and fishing on the Itchen.


Accommodation includes four reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, a five-room cellar, six first-floor bedrooms with four bathrooms, and four attic bedrooms with a box room and storage. Outdoor amenities include a pool, a tennis court, a thatched summer house and a pony paddock. An even larger project, but on a much shorter timescale, has been the experience shared by Devon farmer and property developer Simon Robshaw and his wife, Kirstie, at stately, Grade II*-listed Pynes, at Upton Pyne, which overlooks the Exe valley three miles from Exeter. Having bought the imposing William and Mary mansion-previously the main house of the surrounding Pynes estate in December 2008, Mr Robshaw embarked on an ambitious restoration of the house and parkland.

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The gardens, parkland and outbuildings have already been transformed, with new trees planted, new hedges and fencing installed and rundown outbuildings repaired and updated to house chickens, lambs, pigs and cattle. Work on the house, which still needs substantial restoration-including a new roof, as well as extensive internal refurbishment-is also under way, but sadly, ill health has forced Mr Robshaw to abandon the project and Pynes (pictured) is for sale through Savills (01392 455755) at a guide price of £3.25m.

One of Devon’s most distinguished houses, Pynes was built at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries for the Stafford family, and is believed to be the inspiration for Jane Austen’s Barton Park in Sense and Sensibility. Built on four storeys with the garden front (originally the main entrance) to the south-east, the house has five grand reception rooms, 10 bedrooms, five bathrooms and 10 attic rooms. An imposing ceremonial entrance hall was added in 1852 by Ambrose Poynter for Sir Stafford Henry Northcote, later Earl of Iddesleigh, prior to a visit by Queen Victoria. The main rooms have original 18th-century shutters, fine ceilings and elegant fireplaces; the impressive dining room seats 34 people and has two 19th-century, Adam-style fireplaces.

‘This is a major project that needs further expenditure over time of probably not less than £1 million, the main concern being the roof, for which the necessary planning consents and materials are now in place,’ says selling agent Richard Addington. ‘In the meantime, Pynes is a cracking house, and perfectly habitable as it stands.’ Budding restorers with more limited financial horizons might consider the renovation of Grade II*-listed, 15th-century Redbournbury, with seven acres of meadows and woodland and frontage to the River Ver, three miles north of St Albans, Hertfordshire. Carter Jonas (020-7493 0676) quote a guide price of £1.6m for the manor house, once owned by the Abbey of St Albans. The mainly timber-framed house is in remarkably pristine condition, and still has its original stone archways and arched stone fireplace on the ground floor.

The present owners, who bought the property some 15 to 20 years ago, have done a serious amount of structural repairs, but having let the house throughout the period, the interior, which comprises an impressive reception hall, four reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, seven bedrooms and two bathrooms, now needs upgrading and modernisation. Richard Hatch of Carter Jonas estimates the cost of renovation at £200,000-£300,000, to include damp-proofing of the 3ft-thick flint walls at the house’s core.

Even less daunting is the opportunity offered by Cornish agents Lillicrap Chilcott (01872 273473) to renovate No 15, The Parade, Truro, Cornwall, for an initial outlay of £525,000 for the freehold, plus refurbishment costs estimated at £200,000. One of a terrace of Georgian-style houses built in 1850, No 15, The Parade, listed Grade II, was bought as a restoration project by its country-based owners, who anticipated an eventual move into town, but, happily, no longer find this necessary.

The entire main façade has already been professionally restored, using traditional lime plaster and conservation glass. The interior, 3,268sq ft in all, having so far escaped any form of modernisation, is ripe for sensitive restoration, with current listed-building approval, planning permission and building regulations all in place, the agents say. Once completed, this could be the perfect family house, with two good reception rooms, five bedrooms, three bathrooms and a quarter of an acre of garden, right on the doorstep of the much-vaunted Truro School, in the heart of the cathedral city.

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