Country houses for sale

Restoring country house gems

With perfect houses in short supply, vendors of problem houses more inclined to negotiate, and builders keen to secure work for the coming winter, this could be the ideal time to embark on a renovation project. But only if you’re a cash buyer in the first instance, and have the nerve, tenacity and financial back-up needed to steer a potentially complex restoration through to its bitter end.

‘Fingers crossed that we can find a knight in shining armour to restore Darsham House, one of Suffolk’s finest country houses,’ says Harry Sheppard of Strutt & Parker (020–7629 7282), who is handling its sale. Darsham House, listed Grade II*, stands in 42 acres of tranquil gardens and parkland on the edge of Darsham village, near Saxmundham, and 19 miles from the Suffolk Heritage Coast.

Built in 1679, extended in 1730 and further enlarged with the addition of the south wing in 1750, and the north wing in 1906, Darsham was sold through Savills for £2.7 million in 2004. Then, the house had six reception rooms, 11 main bedrooms, six bath/shower rooms and four attic rooms, all in fine condition, except for the attic rooms, which needed renovation.

Three years later, at the height of the boom, the next owner put the house, virtually untouched, back on the market and sold it for £3.6m. Today, it’s for sale again, at £2.5m a victim not just of the credit crunch, but of the depredation wrought by its last owner, who literally gutted the interior, ripping out fireplaces, floors and panelling before handing it back to the bank, the current vendor. As a result, Darsham House is now the subject of nine enforcement orders. Fortunately, the basic structure is still sound, but Mr Sheppard reckons that it will take a dedicated buyer with a budget of at least £1m over and above the purchase price, and the ability to work successfully with English Heritage, to restore this sadly abused house to the splendour it deserves.

Another fine Suffolk house, historic Lawshall Hall, stands in 53 acres of grounds, woodland and farmland, opposite All Saints Church in the village of Lawshall, 10 miles from Bury St Edmunds. Listed Grade II* and also on the Buildings at Risk register, it represents the ultimate country-house restoration. The hall dates from the mid 16th century, and was originally much larger than it is today; the Hearth Tax Return of 1674 lists it as having 14 hearths. In 1547, it was bought for £700 by Sir William Drury, who entertained Elizabeth I there during her ‘progress’ of 1578. Unfortunately, Sir William refused to bow to Her Majesty’s will and, after lunch, he was summarily dismissed to the Tower of London.

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Lawshall Hall has stood empty since the 1950s, but the present owners have done a great deal of work in preparation for its restoration. The house has been reroofed and derelict farm buildings removed, along with acres of concrete hardstanding. According to selling agents Savills (01284 731100), who quote a guide price of £995,000 for the property, plans have been approved for extensive reconstruction, including the addition of a new wing, the conversion of an existing brick building to an orangery and a cottage, and the construction of a new drive and equestrian facilities. The total cost of renovation is estimated at £1m–£2m.

For sale with 68 acres of woods and farmland, at a guide price of £1.5m through Savills (01952 239500) and George F. White (01665 600161), dilapidated Knightley Grange stands in a ‘triple A’ spot on the northern edge of the 992-acre Knightley estate in Staffordshire. The Grange was built in 1860–8 as the main estate house by Maj R. Hargreaves of Cob Hall Farm, and remodelled about 20 years ago, with the removal of a tower, a top storey, an area on the south side and the bay windows on the front façade, to create the present 8,948sq ft neo-Elizabethan house.

Uninhabited now for a number of years, Knightley Grange is in a pretty rundown state, although wind- and weathertight, and according to selling agent Tony Morris-Eyton, wired and plumbed to ‘first fix stage’. Shrewsbury-based architect Graham Moss has produced an impressive set of drawings indicating how the house and its courtyard of ancillary buildings could look once restored. It makes an appealing picture, at an estimated construction cost of £1m-plus.

George Burnand of Strutt & Parker in Winchester has happy childhood memories of a teddy-bear’s picnic in the woods of Abbots Worthy House at Abbots Worthy, near Winchester, Hampshire, when it was run as a nursery school with residential accommodation, still its current planning usage. Now owned by the bank, this once-grand Victorian mansion, built by Sir Thomas Baring for his son the Rev Charles Baring at a cost of £9,000 in 1834–35, and rebuilt following a fire in the 1950s, is being offered by Strutt & Parker (01962 869999) and Carter Jonas (01962 876838) at the recently reduced guide price of £2.25m. A number of offers below that figure have been declined.

The original building was designed by John Buckler in the ‘decorated Tudor’ style, with a tall central tower, sky-scraping gables and tall patterned chimneys, some of which survives at the west end of the house. Described by Mr Burnand as ‘a glorious house with a sad history’, Abbots Worthy House has four reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, 9/10 bedrooms, five bath/shower rooms and a three-bedroom staff flat, plus outbuildings and workshops all in need of ‘substantial updating’; the secluded 12.55 acres of gardens and grounds are seriously overgrown.  

It’s a measure of the task facing a potential restorer that prospective purchasers are advised to exercise ‘due caution’ and ‘must NOT be accompanied by children’. The cost of restoration is estimated at £1.5m to £2m.
By contrast, the modernisation and renovation of pretty, 18th-century Wisteria House, listed Grade II, at Hook Norton, near Banbury, Oxford-shire, should be a ‘doddle’. For sale through Strutt & Parker (01295 273592) at a guide price of £670,000, the four-bedroom stone house has three good-sized reception rooms, a large attic space suitable for conversion, and an attached stone barn that could also be converted to provide additional accommodation, subject to the usual planning consents. It’s the sort of project where you can spend as much or as little as you like, but, to my untrained eye, there should be some change from a renovation budget of £200,000–£250,000.