Country houses for sale

Restoration of the century finalists

The most striking thing about the nominations for this competition has been their variety. This has not only been true in terms of scale-from the re-creation of entire buildings to the restoration of individual rooms-but in type. The projects included restorations of grand houses, cottages, museums, college buildings, farm buildings and even follies, all testifying to the quality, quantity and interest of such work over the past 10 years.

There has also been apparent to the most heartening degree a sense of the enthusiasm of owners, architects and craftsmen and women for the work. The sheer investment of time, energy and money is breathtaking.

For the panel from Country Life and Jackson-Stops & Staff, therefore, the task of selecting the shortlist has not been easy. Projects that were set aside with particular reluctance include the parish hall at Gild-house, Devon; Bromley Hall, London, saved from generations of neglect; the hotels at Combe House, Somerset, and Stubton, Lincolnshire; the roof at Wilcot Manor, Wiltshire; and The Round House, Gloucestershire, a hilltop eye-catcher incorporated within a striking new subterranean house. Nevertheless, nothing could more powerfully illustrate the strength and interest of the field than the shortlist itself. If our decisions were hard to reach, then those of the judges will be even harder.

East of England

Somersham Park House, Cambridgeshire (2002-03)
In the 1980s, the Georgian Group managed to save this ruinous Grade II-listed house from demolition. Nevertheless, the building was on the verge of collapse when the present owners bought it. They have meticulously restored it, taking particular pains to retain what was left of the historic fabric. The attention to detail exhibited in this project is exemplified by the building’s 4ft-high chimney pots, which were hand-thrown and fired by a potter in the local village from the one remaining, but damaged, original.

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Cavick House, Norfolk (1999-present)
When the present owners bought this Grade I-listed Queen Anne house, it had been empty for five years and was about to be placed on the Buildings at Risk Register. Therefore, they embarked on a wholesale restoration of the property. Work included the replacement of dormers removed from the front in the early 19th century, and the revival of the house’s principal interiors. Cottages, farm buildings and the Georgian coach house have also been restored. The owners have worked throughout with small local firms and indivi-dual craftsmen, who have brought technical skills and knowledge of period materials to the project.

The Marble
Saloon at Stowe, Buckinghamshire (2003-05)

The late-18th-century Marble Saloon at Stowe is the sensational focus of this celebrated country house, now a school. Its recent restoration involved the stabilisation and repair of plasterwork across the 55ft-high coffered dome and within the Roman triumphal frieze (pictured). Where necessary, lost elements of the frieze had to be remodelled by hand using the evidence of historic photographs. Lanterns reproduced from a 19th-century water-colour have been reintroduced within the space, as have four Atheniennes or incense burners, which have been copied from two surviving originals. Carefully selected plastercasts in the wall niches replace the lost sculptures sold off in 1848.


Town House, Notting Hill (2002-04)
Over time, this town house, built in the 1840s, had been altered and adapted beyond recognition: the building was unsympathetically extended with asymmetrical wings and its internal features were stripped out. During the recent restoration work, as many original fittings as possible have been reinstated, and one wing has been rebuilt so as to balance the street elevation. The garden façade has been altered to improve the relationship of the house with its large garden. Alterations to the building’s historic fabric were executed to a high standard in traditional materials, but in striking contrast, the extensions to the building are deliberately modern in character.

Varden Street and Turner Street, Spitalfields (2006-09)
This early-19th-century Georgian terrace became neglected and derelict. It has been saved from demolition and restored by the Spitalfields Trust. Work to the exteriors includes reinstating mansard roofs-with handmade clay plain and pantile coverings and, to the rear, weatherboard extensions appropriate to the period. All internal and external design features, from panelling to fireplaces, were designed by the trust. The work has brought these historic terraces back to life.

Handel House Museum, Mayfair (2005)
The restoration of the composer George Fredrick Handel’s former home as a museum necessitated the complete internal remodelling of a Grade I-listed structure and its physical connection with a neighbouring Georgian house (formerly occupied by another celebrated musician, Jimi Hendrix). As well as integrating modern infrastructure, including appropriate access and lighting, within the fabric, several rooms were re-created in their 18th-century form. The work was informed by research into Handel’s possessions, as well as wider investigation into London interior decoration of the period, including paintings and furnishings.

South of England

The Grange, Kent (2004-06)
Created by A. W. N. Pugin as his neo-Gothic family home in 1843, this Grade I-listed building was rescued from development by the Landmark Trust in 1996. Seven years of painstaking analysis and research served as the basis for the trust’s attempt to return the building to its original condition. Externally, the work included the reconstruction of the roof and extensive masonry repairs. Internally, the fittings, stained glass and furnishings were exactingly cleaned, restored or re-created. Reproduction wallpaper, for example, was commissioned from the evidence of surviving fragments that were found beneath later joinery.

Stoneacre Farm, Devon (2003-10)

This farm was in a very poor state of repair when the present owners purchased it in 2001. Before commencing their restoration, they tried to unravel the complex architectural history of the building. In the process, they revealed a wealth of historic features preserved in the fabric, including structural timbers, a 17th-century inglenook fireplace and two medieval chapel windows. Apart from the plumbing and thatching, the work has been carried out entirely by the owners, using traditional materials. They have also handmade all the windows and laid reclaimed floorboards throughout.

Shilstone, Devon (2000-10)

In 1830, Shilstone was dramatically reduced in size after it failed to sell. The daunting restoration project undertaken by the current owners is an attempted re-creation of the original house from the available evidence. Local craftsmen were employed on the project, with an on-site carpentry shop being set up, and stone quarried, cut and dressed on the farm. As well as re-creating the house and its interiors, the project has included full restoration of the walled gardens, nearby farm buildings and
 stables, and even the reinstatement of the original 19th-century Devon-bank field boundaries.

North of England

Blencowe Hall, Cumbria (2007-09)
The two
towers of this Grade I-listed, early Tudor manor house have been uninhabitable for many years: one has long served as a chicken coop and cow byre, and the other has been ruinous since the 17th century. Both buildings have been restored, although a gash in one of the towers has been daringly preserved and filled in with glass as a reminder of its former condition. Intern-ally, the original room layouts have been re-created. Local craftsmen were employed in the project and the materials used, such as the solid oak flooring, were sourced locally and sawn at a nearby mill.

North of England

East Bedroom, Harewood House, West Yorkshire (2007-08)
This room restoration results from the discovery of 18th-century hand-painted Chinese wallpaper in an outbuilding on the Hare-wood estate. The paper formed part of the 1769 decorative scheme of the Chintz Bed-room. Because this room had been redecorated in the 19th century, it was decided to use the room below the Chintz Bedroom for the restoration. This did not possess a historic decorative scheme, and-conveniently-lay on the public visitor route through the house. The room is fitted out with a suite of green and gold furniture and a Chinese-style mirror that were designed for it by Chippendale. New wall and bed hangings were created from the evidence of a 1795 inventory.

Wentworth Castle Gardens, South Yorkshire (2002-08)
The spectacular garden landscape and home farm of Wentworth Castle-largely created in the second quarter of the 18th century by Thomas Wentworth-comprises 26 buildings, monuments and follies, all of which have been (or in some cases still are) the focus of a massive restoration project. Among them are the Home Farm, the Sun Monument, the Rotunda (above), the ha-ha, and the folly called Stainborough Castle. The work is currently moving towards the second phase of restoration, which will focus on the much-loved Victorian conservatory attached to the house.

Eardisley Park, Herefordshire (1999-2002)
This house burned to the ground on the night of January 29, 1999. Despite the devastation of the property, the family was eager to restore their old home. They have essentially returned the exterior of the building to its early-18th-century form, with the top floor set within a hipped roof. Where possible, the original fabric was carefully preserved. It proved possible to preserve one façade and two opposing corners of the building to first-floor height. Meanwhile, enough bricks were salvaged to face two entire floors. Where appropriate, the internal arrangements of the house have been adapted. In concealed areas, the construction methods are modern, with concrete blockwork behind the external brick facing and steel beams supporting timber floors and the hipped roof.

Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire (1996-2001)
Stoneleigh is a fascinating architectural palimpsest: a country house that has subsumed the remains of a medieval monastery. Its buildings had suffered both from fire and neglect in the later 20th century. In the course of a major restoration project, the entire complex, including the main house, the 14th-century gatehouse, the riding school and stables, and the conservatory, has undergone a painstaking revival.

Wardington Manor, Oxfordshire (2004-08)
In April 2004, a fire devastated half of Wardington Manor, a Grade II-listed building. In origin, the manor is a medieval building, but it was substantially remodelled in the late 17th century, and again in the early 20th century, under Clough Williams-Ellis and the Arts-and-Crafts radical Randall Wells. The works undertaken at Wardington include the restoration of Mrs Randall Wells’s remarkable plasterwork, oak panelling and principal staircase, as well as the repair of fire-damaged fabric.

What happens next

In the next stage of the competition, the judges from our eminent panel will each visit the shortlisted properties in one of the five regions of England. The judges are Loyd Grossman, chairman of Heritage Link (London); Sophie Andreae, trustee of the Georgian Group (West); author Jeanette Winterson (South); Tim Knox, director of the Sir John Soane’s Museum (East); and Will Palin, secretary of SAVE (North). The judges will then meet and decide on Country Life’s Restoration of the Century. The winner of the competition will be announced in the magazine in October.

Viewing the entries
Readers can view the shortlisted entries and rate each one on the Restoration of the Century microsite

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