As winter approaches and energy bills soar, many people who dream of living in a period country property may be deterred by the potential cost of heating, damp-proofing and generally maintaining a historic country home. But they need hesitate no longer, for this week brings a rare opportunity to choose from no fewer than eight classic country houses, all of which have been recently, beautifully and authentically renovated, with no expense spared.
Possibly the least-known of those on offer is the romantic House on the Shore at Beaulieu, Hampshire, which stands in some 24 acres of grounds with its own private slipway and foreshore overlooking the Solent, in one of the most exclusive and best-protected corners of southern England. Built in the Arts-and-Crafts style in 1914 by motoring pioneer John Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, the house is for sale for the first time in 60 years, through Knight Frank (020-7861 1065), at a guide price of £10 million.
During the Second World War, the House on the Shore was one of a dozen country houses scattered around the historic Beaulieu estate where, in conditions of the utmost secrecy, the agents and operatives of Churchill’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) received their final training in spycraft before being parachuted into occupied Europe to work with Resistance groups. Of the 3,000 brave men and women-among them Peter Churchill and Odette Sansom-who passed through the gates of this unique ‘finishing school’, at least 1,200 never returned.
In the early 1950s, the House on the Shore was bought by the legendary West Country businessman and philanthropist Francis Showering, who was still in harness as the chairman of the family drinks company at the time of his death in 1995, aged 83. Built mainly of Beaulieu brick, tiles and oak, the house stands well back from the water’s edge, surrounded by sheltered lawned gardens, woodland and, to the north, the arable farmland of the neighbouring Sowley estate.
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In immaculate order throughout following a major renovation programme, the impressive 9,850sq ft house, which isn’t listed, has been replumbed, rewired and insulated throughout, with extensive use of lime-plastered walls, sand-blasted beams and woodwork, tiled fireplaces, oak-boarded floors and the addition of a splendid new conservatory. Three more reception rooms, all interconnected for ease of entertaining, include a drawing room, a dining room and a more intimate winter sitting room.
The original 1950s kitchen has been retained and restored as a guest-friendly kitchen/breakfast room. The bedrooms, all of which have spectacular views, include a master and two guest suites, three bedrooms and a family bathroom on the first floor, with two more bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor. And reflecting Lord Montagu’s passion for motoring, the house includes an integral garage, one of the first houses in England to do so.
Back on the market at a guide price of ‘excess £4m’ through Knight Frank (01392 423111) and Savills (01392 455755) is Grade II*-listed Stone at Exford, Somerset, a striking Georgian manor house built as a hunting box in the mid to late 18th century and set in 586 acres of parkland, grazing and enclosed moorland. Historically owned by Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, the last warden of Exmoor Forest, whose Crown lease expired in 1814, Stone stands on the edge of the village of Exford, famous for its longstanding association with stag-hunting on Exmoor.
As befits a lifelong supporter of hunting, the great outdoors was the preferred environment of Lt-Gen Sir Richard Hull Swinburn, who sold the estate in 2010. The present owner, who bought the working stock farm with its modern farmyard and period outbuildings that include stabling and a two-bedroom converted coach house, has spent the past two years modernising and renovating the main house re-roofing the front façade, rewiring throughout, rebuilding the bathrooms and replacing the old-fashioned kitchen. The farm was originally intended for the owner’s son, who farms in Dorset, but he and his family have now decided not to move, hence its resale in pristine condition.