Forget foreign buyers: these once-in-a-lifetime properties will attract the British.
For the past several years, the market for high-profile houses in and around London has been dominated by wealthy overseas buyers, notably the Chinese, Eastern Europeans and russians, although the latter have largely gone to ground following the imposition of international sanctions. But it matters not that none of these would consider buying one of south London’s finest family homes, Prospect House (Fig 1) in Wimbledon, SW20, which has slipped quietly back into circulation at a guide price of £16.5 million, through joint agents robert Holmes (020–8947 9833) and Strutt & Parker (020–7629 7282).
‘The next owner of this exquisitely unusual, once-in-a-generation house is far more likely to be a successful Briton with boys at Cothill or girls at St Mary’s Ascot—someone who knows their way around this special area of London and will appreciate the rare privacy and tranquility of Prospect House,’ says Andrew Scott of Strutt & Parker, adding ‘such buyers have been thin on the ground in recent years, but following the Conservative victory, there are encouraging signs that they are now ready to re-enter the fray’.
Although Grade II listed, the present Prospect House is largely the creation of its current owner, the legendary property developer Peter Beckwith, whose much-loved family home it has been since 1999. The original Victorian house, then known as Cottenham House, was built in 1869 for George Walker, a wealthy East India merchant, and was probably designed by John Crawley, who was working at the time on the Atkinson Morley convalescent unit being built by London’s St George’s Hospital on the adjoining land.
In 1899, the house was extended by Adele Schuster, the daughter of a railway magnate, who moved there from nearby Cannizaro House in 1896. According to London Parks & Gardens Trust records, Miss Schuster later wrote to the hospital governors complaining about the collapse of their shared boundary fence, following the construction of some cottages on the hospital side, as a result of which ‘rabbits had gained access to her property, had eaten all her plants and left the garden a wilderness’. The House Governor of St George’s was sent to explain to Miss Schuster that the boundary fence was not a high priority for the hospital.
Cottenham House remained a private residence until 1942, when it was leased by the hospital and bought outright in 1950 for £9,850. It was used first as laboratories and later converted to nurses’ accommodation, but by the early 1990s, the building was derelict, boarded up and awaiting redevelopment.
This neglected area of the former hospital grounds had been an eyesore for years when, in 1995, Mr Beckwith bought a four-acre site from the NHS Trust that included the dilapidated Cottenham House, the former coach house/stable block and some trees dating from the house’s heyday as the heart of a 250-acre estate.
Mr Beckwith only wanted the manor house and, with canny foresight, he teamed up with Surrey-based Octagon to integrate the coach house and stables into an exclusive small, gated development on half the site. All five houses were no sooner built than sold—one to the celebrated barrister George Carman QC.
It took three years to sort out the planning consent that allowed Mr Beckwith to transform crumbling Cottenham House from an English Heritage ‘at risk’ building into what is now Prospect House, a Victorian country mansion set in secluded landscaped gardens, grounds and woodland, with direct access to more than 20 acres of protected metropolitan open land. Miss Schuster’s century-old extension was demolished in favour of a 54ft heated outdoor pool.
The impressive main reception hall, with its distressed limestone floor and imposing wide oak staircase, sets the tone for the rest of the house. The traditional ground-floor reception rooms include an elegant drawing room, a formal dining room and a large, Victorian-style conservatory.
The first-floor master bedroom suite boasts a lady’s bathroom, a gentleman’s shower/steam room and custom- fitted dressing room. Also on that floor are a separate lady’s dressing room and two further double bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms.
The top floor houses two more double bedrooms, a large family bathroom and a huge studio room with a reinforced floor, currently used as a billiards room and fitness suite, reflecting the Beckwith family’s enthusiasm for sport. The main reception rooms and bedrooms enjoy the same ‘extensive prospect to the south’ over the gardens towards the Epsom Downs that, in 1750, inspired London goldsmith Peter Taylor to name this treasured landscape Prospect Place.
Even more extensive are the prospects surrounding the illustrious 774- acre Abbotswood estate (Fig 2) at Lower Swell, near Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire, which comes to the market on a wave of post-election optimism, through Knight Frank (020– 7629 8171) and Laws & Fiennes (01295 256870), at a guide price of £27m. Owned since 1970 by an American family trust, Abbotswood is a Cotswold gem, with a fine, Grade II-listed Cotswold-stone manor house, built for Alfred Sartoris in 1862 and extended in 1902 by Sir Edwin Lutyens, who also created the elegant formal gardens to the south-west of the house.
The main house stands in one of the finest settings to be found anywhere in the Cotswolds, surrounded by 200 acres of parkland originally created by Henry III’s brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall.
It has four magnificent reception rooms, a study, a billiards room, a conservatory, extensive domestic offices and cellars, nine bedrooms, six bathrooms, a staff flat and huge potential for further second-floor accommodation.
The River Dikler, which runs through the estate, not only offers wild-brown-trout fishing, but attracts a wide variety of wildlife and feeds two large lakes in the grounds. Some well-laid-out woods could form an excellent basis for a pheasant and partridge shoot. The land is currently registered as organic and farmed as a mixed, 545-acre, arable and stock farm.
So far, the post-election feelgood factor hasn’t really translated into action as far as the upper end of the country-house market is concerned, says Crispin Holborow of Savills, but if anything can whet the appetite of buyers, both native and foreign, it is the irresistible combination of a house by Lutyens with a Jekyll-inspired garden. The sale of the 507-acre Ruckmans estate (Fig 3) near Dorking, Surrey, at a guide price of £12m through Savills (020–7016 3780), offers both these things, and more besides.
The estate comprises a Grade II- listed 17th-century farmhouse remodelled by Lutyens for the Lyell family in 1894, and again in 1902. Today, the estate is largely made up of two former holdings known from ancient times as Ruckmans and Dawes Farm. It also includes seven estate cottages, a dower house, a four-bedroom farmhouse and two traditional barns with planning potential, as well as some excellent farm and commercial buildings that bring in a total annual income of £254,776.