Whether it’s history, high jinks or a healthier way of life you’re after, the West Country has it all. Admittedly, the ‘big ticket’ houses normally seen at this time of year remain few and far between, but there is generally a wider choice of properties on the market than has been seen in the West for quite some time.
For history and high jinks, illustrious Grade I-listed Widcombe Manor at Widcombe Hill, Bath-the city’s finest Georgian house, say Savills (01225 474550), who quote a guide price of £10 million-probably has the most to offer. The original house, reputedly designed by Inigo Jones, was built in 1656 by wealthy clothier and city mayor, Richard Chapman, and remodelled in 1727 for Chapman’s grandson, Philip Bennet, the local MP.
The landmark Georgian façade, with its spectacular decorative stonework admirably offset by a 15th-century Venetian fountain added in the early 1900s, is entirely original, whereas the west front was altered in about 1850 to include a bay window and stone balconies at the first-floor windows. Henry Fielding lived in the lodge at Widcombe while writing Tom Jones, whose blustering Squire Western is said to be based on Bennet. The stir caused by the book’s publication in 1749 was nothing compared to the gossip that surrounded the racy parties held at the manor by colourful inventor and entrepreneur the late Jeremy Fry, between 1955 and 1974. Widcombe’s present owners have maintained a considerably lower profile, concentrating their efforts on renovating the magnificent house with its nine acres of 18thcentury gardens and grounds set in an idyllic valley close to the heart of Bath. Elegant accommodation includes an impressive entrance hall with an Elizabethan mahogany staircase, four grand reception rooms, a sitting room/ballroom, a breakfast room, a games room, three bedroom suites, three more bedrooms, two bathrooms and an adjoining cottage.
The tranquil setting of Grade II*-listed Mohuns Ottery at Luppitt, near Honiton, Devon, an intriguing manor farmhouse with 228 acres of land in the glorious Otter Valley AONB, belies its earlier dramatic history as the seat of the controversial Carew family from the early 1300s until the late 16th century.
The original medieval manor was replaced by a Tudor house built by Sir Peter Carew, a soldier and adventurer whose elder brother, Vice Admiral Sir George Carew, commanded the Mary Rose when she went down with all hands in the Solent. The Tudor manor was burnt down in 1868, and rebuilt as a farmhouse of local stone with stone mullions and Tudor-style windows, around the remains of the former 16th-century gatehouse.
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According to selling agent Brian Bishop of Jackson-Stops & Staff in Taunton (01823 325144), who quotes a guide price of £2.85 million for the estate as a whole, the owners (who are prepared to consider a lower price for the farmhouse with less land) have done ‘a superb job’ of restoring the house and land which are both now ‘in really good order’. Mohuns Ottery has 6,230sq ft of living accommodation including three main reception rooms, a conservatory, six bedrooms, three bathrooms and a one-bedroom cottage. Like Mohuns Ottery, Grade I-listed Canonteign Manor at Canonteign, in the scenic Teign valley, 9½ miles northeast of Exeter, can trace its origins to Domesday, when it belonged to the canons of St Mary du Val in Normandy. In 1268, it was turned over to the Black Canons of Merton Abbey in Surrey, hence the name Canonteign. After the Dissolution, it passed to the Duke of Bedford. It was later sold to John Berry of Berry Pomeroy, and inherited by the Davey family, who built the present Tudor house in 1542.
Set in 12 acres of lovely gardens and parkland, gracious Canonteign Manor has been impeccably refurbished by its current and previous owners, and has some wonderful Tudor features, including linen-fold panelling and enormous stone mullioned windows. Elegant accommodation includes a Great Hall, four fine reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, 10 bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a self-contained staff flat and a luxurious 60ft gym and steam room. The sunken walled garden houses a heated swimming pool and a hot tub. Jackson-Stops & Staff in Exeter (01392 214222) quote a guide price of £3.25m.
By contrast, imposing Lee Manor at Lee, near Woolacombe on the bracing north Devon coast, is a substantial Victorian Gothic house set in 133 acres of pasture and ancient woodland, with panoramic sea views over Lee Bay. For sale through Knight Frank (01392 423111) and Strutt & Parker (01392 215631) at a guide price of £3.75m, the manor, which is unlisted, was built in 1896-98 for the squire of Lee.
Approached through a stone pillared entrance along a wide tree-lined drive, the house-well sheltered by trees-has a grand entrance hall with a minstrels’ gallery, four reception rooms and seven bedroom suites. The sale includes Lee Manor Farm, home to a herd of Red Ruby Devon cattle, and four converted holiday cottages, managed by English Country Cottages.
If the answer lies in the soil, where better to enjoy the rural idyll than at Eversfield Manor estate near Bratton Clovelly, on the edge of north Dartmoor, once home to the dashing James Hewitt, Knight Frank (01392 423111) quote a guide price of £7.5m for the 677-acre sporting and farming estate as a whole, or £2.5m for Eversfield Manor with a cottage and 42 acres of paddocks and woodland, and £5m for the 635-acre, organically farmed Ellacott Barton Farm with a 16th-century, eight bedroom manor farmhouse and cottage, a four-bedroom house, a three-bedroom bungalow, and a superb shoot. Savills in Exeter (01392 455755) quote a guide price of £3.85m for secluded, 260-acre Townleigh Farm near Launceston, on the Cornish border.
For sale as a whole or in three lots, it is, say the agents, ‘an
outstanding residential, equestrian and sporting estate’ with a delightful five-bedroom main farmhouse, six cottages with full residential consent, modern farm buildings currently adapted to equestrian use with an adjoining outdoor manège, plus further farm buildings. Sporting facilities include an ‘excellent’ shoot over Townleigh Farm and adjoining land, and fishing on the River Thrushel.
Pevsner’s perfect house
Having leased the classic, early-Georgian Puslinch House at Yealmpton, eight miles from Plymouth, from the Yonge family-whose ancestors built the house in 1720-26-Angus and Catherine Macdonald devoted huge resources of time and money to restoring this remarkable house to its current pristine glory. But following his father’s death last year, Mr Macdonald is moving back to Somerset to take on the family estate, and Puslinch, listed Grade I, is being re-offered for lease through Savills (01392 455755) at a guide price of £950,000 for the remaining 17 years. Described by Pevsner as ‘a perfect example of a medium-sized early- Georgian country house still in the Queen Anne tradition’, Puslinch stands in 5.84 acres of charming formal gardens and has four timeless reception rooms, eight bedrooms and six bathrooms.